Iga Mori: An Online Exhibit of a Stanford Medicine Pioneer

Public Health and Chinatowns

Photograph of residents quarantined in Honolulu's Chinatown

The Honolulu Board of Health used this cordon as part of the quarantining of residents of Honolulu’s Chinatown in 1900. Additional measures included updating Chinatown’s sewer system and an attempted controlled burning of selected buildings.
Image courtesy of the Hawai’i State Archives.

Public Health and Chinatowns

At the beginning of the twentieth century, many of Hawai’i’s Japanese sugar plantation laborers lived among Chinese immigrants and native Hawai'ians in Honolulu’s Chinatown. When cases of bubonic plague were diagnosed among Chinatown residents in 1899, Hawai’i’s Board of Health quarantined the district and attempted to burn selected buildings. However, the fire got out of hand and the subsequent blaze destroyed most of Chinatown. Thousands of former residents were left homeless. Cases of bubonic plague continued to be diagnosed among the survivors, and the Japanese Charity Hospital was set up to treat them. Iga Mori served as the Hospital’s first medical director and oversaw its expansion. The hospital continues today as Kuakini Medical Center.

Bubonic plague also broke out in San Francisco in 1900, possibly having been carried on ships traveling between San Francisco and Honolulu. As was the case in Honolulu, the disease disproportionately impacted the residents of San Francisco’s Chinatown, many of whom were forced by race-based housing restrictions to live in squalid quarters. The response to the disease in California, however, was very different than the response in Hawai’i. California Governor Henry Gage was worried that news of a plague would have a negative effect on the state’s white-owned businesses, and he declared that no plague existed in San Francisco. His proclamation was backed up by Dr. Levi Cooper Lane, President of Cooper Medical College and the person after whom Lane Medical Library is named.

Photograph of Levi Cooper Lane

Levi Cooper Lane was a physician and surgeon who served as President of Cooper Medical College from 1882 until his death in 1902.
Image courtesy of the Stanford Medical History Center

Newspaper snippet of California Governor Henry Gage's proclamation

California Governor Henry Gage’s proclamation that no plague existed in the state was published in the San Francisco Call on June 14, 1900.
Image courtesy of the California Digital Newspaper Collection
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