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J Hist Med Allied Sci. 2003 Apr;58(2):153-86.

Prelude to the plague: public health and politics at America's Pacific gateway, 1899.


San Francisco played a crucial in the formulation of American immigration policy vis-à-vis Asia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. During this period, it was often difficult to differentiate political struggles over the exclusion of Asians from other conflicts. This article examines one such arena: an acrimonious, well-documented argument in 1899 between Federal and various State and local authorities over the arrival of a Japanese passenger liner that may--or may not--have been carrying bubonic plague. Six months later, the plague unquestionably arrived, resulting in the well-known San Francisco plague epidemic of 1900 in which more that 110 people died. Reviewing the 1899 prelude, the public attitudes of the various health authorities, and the way the press reported health issues, collectively give some sense of that historical space where the regulation of public health, politics, and the immigration industry intersected and were fiercely contested.

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