From the Pale to the Golden Land
Ellis Island: Port of Immigration

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The Hospital at Ellis Island

The construction of the hospital at Ellis Island, 1900.

When the original Ellis Island buildings were in operation (made of wood, that burned to the ground during the fire of 1897), a small infirmary, also made of wood, was used to tend to the sick immigrants. It was not equipped to deal with very complicated cases or a large number of illnesses. When the 1897 fire occurred, the infirmary burned down too. Until a new hospital could be built, patients at Ellis Island had to be shipped off to "nearby" hospitals, at least for while. These hospitals were not very eager to take in these patients, and eventually stopped taking them. Perhaps this had to do with anti-immigrant feelings that existed at the time.

The first Ellis Island "general" hospital opened in 1902 and had one hundred and twenty beds, which later grew to two hundred and seventy-five beds. Within this hospital there existed four operating rooms, a delivery room, and a morgue.

Operating room in Ellis Island hospital.

date unknown
Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The hospital was generally very busy, seeing a wide variety of diseases from different parts of the world. It was not well equipped, however, to handle the mentally ill, and after two mentally ill patients committed suicide, a "Psychopathic Pavilion" was built to handle these types of cases.

In 1911 a larger medical facility was built--this building had four hundred and fifty beds and was meant to take care of those immigrants with contagious diseases. This was quite a large hospital for its time. It had numerous wards; each one handled a different set of conditions. Although there were bigger hospitals than this one, no other hospital saw as many variety of conditions as this one, from the most simple to rare tropical diseases.


There were a number of conditions and diseases that would cause an immigrant to be deported, e.g. trachoma, a disease of the eyelids. However, most immigrants with "Class A" conditions were allowed to be cured in the hospital at their own expense, thus negating the need for deportation. Sometimes, aid organizations, such as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) made it possible for an immigrant to stay at the hospital until cured.

The Red Cross ran a library on Ellis Island for the immigrants, as well as a school for them.

There were a number of children that needed to remain at the hospital for an extended period of time, so the presence of a library and school was very useful.

Student were taught the "three R's" and also learned about proper hygiene and manners, etc. So this was a good opportunity to indoctrinate the children into American culture and teach them how to behave as good citizens.  next ►►

photo: Readers at the Ellis Island Hospital Library.


Photo of Ellis Island hospital under construction from the New-York Daily Tribune, Dec. 17, 1900.





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