Ellis Island Closed Until Further Notice
As of May 2013: Due to the conditions caused by Hurricane Sandy, the Ellis Island Immigration Museum will be closed until further notice. A projected reopening date has not yet been established, follow our twitter account for updates. More »
The doctors of Ellis Island were commissioned officers of the U.S. Public Health Service. Officially known as surgeons, they were in charge of the Ellis Island Hospital and the medical examination of immigrants in a routine procedure called the line inspection. As long lines of immigrants slowly entered Ellis Island's Main Building, they were examined swiftly and expertly by the doctors for any sign of disease or signs of physical or mental weakness.
National Park Service, Ellis Island
Other states of health such as poor physique, pregnancy and mental disability also required further review by staff doctors. Any immigrant suspected of being in questionable health was chalk-marked with a letter of the alphabet ("B" for back problems, "F" for face, "H" for heart, see chart on right) and removed to a physical or mental examination room. Those immigrants with "general" illnesses or injuries were sent to the Ellis Island Hospital.
The role of the doctors on Ellis Island was confined to the medical examination, diagnosis, and treatment of the immigrants. Besides conducting the line inspection, doctors played no role in deciding the fitness of a person to enter the country. This decision was left in the hands of the U.S. Immigrant Inspectors. Ellis Island's doctors were not involved with quarantine - this operation took place on Hoffman and Swinburne islands. These two man-made islands, designated as quarantines for arriving immigrants, were created in the 1870's in an area of the Lower New York Bay referred to as Orchard Shoals, just outside "The Narrows", the entrance to NY Harbor, between Staten Island and Brooklyn. (Want to learn more, try this link: http://www.nypl.org/blog/2009/02/25/islands-new-york-city-hoffman-and-swinburne-islands )
Dr. Kimmel of the hospital complex on Ellis Island.
National Park Service, Statue of Liberty NM
An operation on Ellis Island c. 1920.
National Park Service, Statue of Liberty NM
National Library of Medicine
Doctor Carl Ramus was posted to Ellis Island on and off over a span of twenty years (1902-1922). The Chicago native was educated at Rush Medical College and joined the Marine Hospital Service in 1899. Like other doctors, Ramus became adept at detecting contagious diseases such as trachoma, favus, diphtheria, measles, tuberculosis and hookworm. Between his postings at Ellis Island, Dr. Ramus worked at the Public Health Service's quarantine station in Honolulu, serving as chief of the station from c. 1910 to 1912.
After gaining public recognition as an author on health topics in the early 1920s, Dr. Ramus resigned from the Public Health Service and set up his own private practice as a psychiatrist. His books included Marriage and Efficiency (1922), Outwitting Middle Age (1926) and Behind the Scenes with Ourselves (1931).
In the 1930's and 1940's, Dr. Ramus worked as a doctor on board United Fruit Company ships. The new job gave him the chance to travel regularly between the port of New York and such destinations as Cuba, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Honduras, Guatemala, and the Panama Canal Zone. Aside from his writings, the doctor played the viola and enjoyed classical music. After retiring as a physician, he and his wife, Anna, settled in Alexandria, Virginia. He lived to be 91.
Marine Hospital Service - U. S. Public Health Service
The Marine-Hospital Service (MHS) was an organization of Marine Hospitals dedicated to the care of ill and disabled seamen in the U.S.Merchant Marine, U.S. Coast Guard and other federal beneficiaries. They would later become known as the United States Public Health Service (USPHS)
The origins of this service can be traced to the passage, by the 5th Congress, of An Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen in 1798. The earliest marine hospitals created to care for the seamen were located along the East Coast, with Boston being the site of the first such facility (authorized May 3, 1807) later they were also established along inland waterways, the Great Lakes, and the Gulf of Mexico and Pacific Coasts. Funding for the hospitals was provided by a mandatory tax of about 1% of the wages of all maritime sailors.
A reorganization in 1870 converted the loose network of locally controlled hospitals into a centrally controlled Marine Hospital Service, with its headquarters in Washington, D.C. The position of Supervising Surgeon (later Surgeon General) was created to administer the Service, and John Maynard Woodworth was appointed as the first incumbent in 1871. He moved quickly to reform the system and adopted a military model for his medical staff, instituting examinations for applicants and putting his physicians in uniforms. Woodworth created a cadre of mobile, career service physicians who could be assigned as needed to the various marine hospitals.
The Commissioned Officer Corps (now known as the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service or the Public HealthService Commissioned Corps) was established by legislation in 1889. At first open only to physicians, over the course of the twentieth century the Corps expanded to include veterinarians, dentists, physician assistants, sanitary engineers, pharmacists, nurses, environmental health officers, scientists, and other health professionals.
The scope of activities of the Marine Hospital Service also began to expand well beyond the care of merchant seamen in the closing decades of the nineteenth century,beginning with the control of infectious disease. Quarantine was originally a state function rather than federal, but the National Quarantine Act of 1878 vested quarantine authority to the Marine Hospital Service and the National Board of Health. The National Board was not reauthorized by Congress in 1883 and its powers reverted to the Marine Hospital Service. Over the next half a century, the Marine Hospital Service increasingly took over quarantine functions from state authorities.
As immigration increased dramatically in thelate nineteenth century, the Federal Government also took over the processing of immigrants from the states, beginning in 1891. The Marine Hospital Servicewas assigned the responsibility for the medical inspection of arriving immigrants at sites such as Ellis Island in New York. Commissioned officers played a major role in fulfilling the Service's commitment to prevent disease from entering the country.
Because of the broadening responsibilities of the Service, its name was changed in 1902 to the Public Health and Marine Hospital Service, and again in 1912 to just the United States Public Health Service. The Service continued toexpand its public health activities as the nation entered the twentieth century, with the Commissioned Corps leading the way. As the century progressed, USPHS commissioned officers served their country by controlling the spread of contagious diseases such as smallpox and yellow fever, conducting important biomedical research, regulating the food and drug supply, providing health care to underserved groups, supplying medical assistance in the aftermath of disasters, and in numerous other ways.
Today the mission of the Commissioned Corps of the USPHS is "Protecting, promoting,and advancing the health and safety of the Nation."
Did You Know?
The Guastavino Ceiling in the Great Hall: Rafael Guastavino Moreno (1842 –1908) was a Spanish architect and builder. He created a "Tile Arch System" patented in the United States in 1885 used for constructing robust, self-supporting arches and architectural vaults using interlocking terracotta tiles and layers of mortar, it is found in some of the most prominent Beaux-Arts landmarks across the United States