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Poverty, Race, and Public Health in the United States

Margaret Humphreys

Publication Year: 2001

In Malaria: Poverty, Race, and Public Health in the United States, Margaret Humphreys presents the first book-length account of the parasitic, insect-borne disease that has infected millions and influenced settlement patterns, economic development, and the quality of life at every level of American society, especially in the south. Humphreys approaches malaria from three perspectives: the parasite's biological history, the medical response to it, and the patient's experience of the disease. It addresses numerous questions including how the parasite thrives and eventually becomes vulnerable, how professionals came to know about the parasite and learned how to fight them, and how people view the disease and came to the point where they could understand and support the struggle against it. In addition Malaria: Poverty, Race, and Public Health in the United States argues that malaria control was central to the evolution of local and federal intervention in public health, and demonstrates the complex interaction between poverty, race, and geography in determining the fate of malaria.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xi

Like most historians who compose such essays, I have been continually amazed at how cheerfully others have lent their time and effort to my research project. In the eight years that have seen this book to completion, I have accrued many debts, and it is a privilege to be able to acknowledge them here. Without the institutional support of Duke University, it is...

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pp. 1-7

“Has Malaria Disappeared?” one hopeful southern medical editor asked at midcentury. “Malaria Reduced to the Vanishing Point,” proclaimed the U.S. Public Health Service in jubilant answer.¹ American malariologists had good reason for breaking open the champagne in 1950...

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1 The Pestilence That Stalks in Darkness

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pp. 8-29

Malaria is an ancient disease, part of human experience from Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon times. It thrived on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and it was described frequently in the writings of ancient Near Eastern, Greek, and Roman physicians. Perhaps malaria was one of the horrors from which the psalmist sought relief, proclaiming: “You will not fear the...

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2 The Mist Rises: Malaria in the Nineteenth Century

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pp. 30-48

As the nineteenth century opened, malignant mists were thought to cause malarial fevers; one hundred years later a complex chain of parasite and mosquito explained the disease. Over the course of the century, malaria afflicted the American frontier, helping produce the roughness and hardship that defined frontier life in contrast to more eastern civilization...

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3 Race, Poverty,and Place

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pp. 49-68

At the turn of the twentieth century, malaria was in retreat everywhere in the United States except in the South. Analyzing this phenomenon requires leaving the dynamic, feverish communities of the nineteenth-century frontier for the sharecroppers’ torpid life on the South’s plantations. From 1900 to 1950, the southern economy changed slowly, maintaining a...

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4 Making Malaria Control Profitable

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pp. 69-93

The first decades of the twentieth century were a time of great hope and excitement about the possibilites of public health. Diphtheria, the child-killing horror that strangled its victims, had been brought to heel by the curative power of antitoxin and, like typhoid, would soon yield to vaccination. In 1905 the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) slew the fearsome...

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5 “A Ditch in Time Saves Quinine?”

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pp. 94-112

The Great Depression decade was a pivotal period in the history of American malaria. While the first half of the 1930s saw a massive surge in malaria cases, the disease had almost disappeared by 1940. These years offer fertile material for a historical analysis of the causes of malaria’s progress and retreat. It was a time of major socioeconomic turmoil, and the decade saw...

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6 Popular Perceptions of Health, Disease, and Malaria

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pp. 113-139

Perhaps the hardest task faced by the medical historian is to understand how the patient, and not just the physician, experiences health and disease. The physician’s perspective is easily accessible, in printed articles in medical journals and newspapers, testimony before legislative bodies, and reports of physician-staffed governmental agencies, as well as in diaries,...

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7 Denouement

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pp. 140-154

The 1940s were watershed years for malaria control. After decades of waxing and waning in the rural South, malaria suddenly disappeared. The major drop occurred from about 1938 to 1942, although a few indigenous cases would still be recorded in the late 1940s. Paradoxically, the period of steepest drop did not coincide with the period of greatest public spending...


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pp. 155-185

Note on Sources

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pp. 187-189


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pp. 191-196

E-ISBN-13: 9780801875991
E-ISBN-10: 0801875994
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801866371
Print-ISBN-10: 0801866375

Page Count: 208
Illustrations: 9 halftones, 1 line drawing
Publication Year: 2001