Health in the City

Race, Poverty, and the Negotiation of Women’s Health in New York City, 1915–1930

336 pages

3 tables, 6 figures, 9 halftones

May, 2015

ISBN: 9781479867998



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Tanya Hart is an Associate Professor in the Department of History at Pepperdine University (CA).

All books by Tanya Hart

Shortly after the dawn of the twentieth century, the New York City Department of Health decided to address what it perceived as the racial nature of health. It delivered heavily racialized care in different neighborhoods throughout the city: syphillis treatment among African Americans, tuberculosis for Italian Americans, and so on. It was a challenging and ambitious program, dangerous for the providers, and troublingly reductive for the patients. Nevertheless, poor and working-class African American, British West Indian, and Southern Italian women all received some of the nation’s best health care during this period.

Health in the City challenges traditional ideas of early twentieth-century urban black health care by showing a program that was simultaneously racialized and cutting-edge. It reveals that even the most well-meaning public health programs may inadvertently reinforce perceptions of inferiority that they were created to fix.


  • "In its rigorous and interdisciplinary examination of the intersections of gender, maternalist health politics, and ethnicity, Health in the City makes an impressive and appreciable contribution to a robust field. Drawing on historical, literary, and social scientific methods, Tanya Hart gives us the entire landscape of health, including vocational opportunity, nutritional concerns, housing, tuberculosis and other communicable diseases, child health, and the social inequalities which influenced all. Moving throughout this landscape we find physicians, health officials, midwives, social workers and charity agents, and, most importantly, the African-American, West Indian, and Italian women who sought not only health, but medical citizenship."

    —Samuel Roberts, Columbia University

  • "This original and provocative volume reflects the author’s admirable mastery of historical archival research, combined with an artful command of works in literary and culture studies. . . . Health in the City is a richly textured, well-researched, persuasively argued, and engagingly written text."

    —Darlene Clark Hine, Board of Trustees Professor of African American Studies, Northwestern University

  • "At the turn of the twentieth century, black and white women migrated to New York City, a new place and environment swirling with ideas and practices of race, racism, germ theory and sanitation. Health in the City tells us the very human story of how pioneering, yet racialized health care thinking and services complicated the meaning of these women’s motherhood as well as their own health and welfare. Hart’s discovery and analysis of previously untapped archival records, offers an important narrative and reveals a remarkable mastery of historical methods that are a model of interdisciplinary sociohistorical research."

    —Jennifer Hamer, University of Kansas

  • “Utilizing a rich array of health records and medical documents from nurses, physicians, and social workers, Tanya Hart provides a critical analysis of health care in New York City from 1915 to 1930.”

    American Historical Review

  • “[…] Hart’s book offers important insights into the gendered and racialized notions of health and citizenship that animated public health programs in the early decades of the twentieth century and the attitudes and beliefs of the women who experienced these efforts.”

    Journal of the History of Medicine

  • “In illuminating the delivery of (and response to) racialized and culturally insensitive health care to women in two immigrant communities in New York City, Health in the City adds to a growing literature on the history of health and medicine.”

    Social History of Medicine