Health of New York's Jewish Immigrants

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Health During Late 19th Century

Crowded, Dirty Tenement
Crowded, Dirty Tenement

Living Conditions

Jewish immigrants were exposed to the same undesirable living conditions as other immigrant groups such as the Irish and the Germans. This was due to the high concentration areas that they usually resided in. The Lower East Side, an area of high concentration of Jews, was filled with overcrowded tenements that exposed residents to unsanitary conditions. In these conditions diseases were easily spread. Working conditions were also tough for Jewish immigrants as they worked long hours in enclosed environments. Even though living and working conditions were not optimal, Jewish immigrants still had some of the lower death rates in certain wards as compared to the rest of New York City. [1]


S.S. Massilia
S.S. Massilia
There were two major health related incidents that marked early Jewish immigration. The first was the typhus outbreak of 1892. Passengers that had recently arrived on the S.S. Massilia were reported to have started a typhus outbreak.

Incidentally, most of the passengers had been Russian Jews. A quarantine was soon put into effect for all the Jewish passengers that had been on the ship and the people they had come into close contact with. Just because the disease was traced to some passengers of the ship, the entire immigrant Jewish community was stigmatized. The Tenth Ward, where many Jews resided, became known as the “typhus ward”. [2] The ‘containment’ of the outbreak was also marked with prejudice against Jewish immigrants and preferential treatment based on class and ethnicity. [3]


During the fall of 1892, another incident occurred involving Jewish immigration. A cholera epidemic had begun in New
Fear of Cholera from Incoming Immigrants Lead to Prejudice
Fear of Cholera from Incoming Immigrants Lead to Prejudice
York City, at the height of East European immigration. When people learned that some European cities from where the new immigrants were departing had serious outbreaks of cholera, they became fearful and voiced their opposition to new immigration. Once again, arriving immigrants had to endure terrible conditions during quarantines before being allowed into the city. During these quarantines there was preferential treatment based on race and background. This all resulted in further prejudice and discrimination of East European Jews as a call was made to prohibit continued immigration from Eastern Europe. [3]

Both of these situations had a profound effect on Jewish immigration during the late 1800’s as they caused increased prejudice and discrimination among newer Jewish immigrants.


  1. Dwork, Deborah. "Health Conditions of Immigrant Jews on the Lower East Side of New York: 1880-1914." Medical History 25 (1981).
  2. A., Riis, Jacob. How the other half lives studies among the tenements of New York. New York: Penguin Books, 1997.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Markel, Howard. Quarantine! East European Jewish immigrants and the New York City epidemics of 1892. Baltimore, Md: Johns Hopkins UP, 1997.