Journal of Community Health

, Volume 33, Issue 4, pp 225–240 | Cite as

The Medical Exclusion of an Immigrant to the United States of America in the Early Twentieth Century. The Case of Cristina Imparato

  • Pascal James Imperato
  • Gavin H. Imperato
Original Paper


The medical inspection of immigrants arriving in the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was framed by a need to rapidly process large numbers of people. Scientific medicine, such as it was then, was subordinate to the existing immigration laws which reflected the influences of the powerful anti-immigration forces of eugenics and nativism. The line, or single-file queues in which immigrants were arranged, facilitated rapid processing. The split-second medical gaze was hailed by the then leadership of the U.S. Public Health Service as scientifically sound, based as it was on the alleged exceptional disease detection skills of examining public health physicians. In reality, this system was seriously flawed, led to numerous diagnostic errors, and was free of any form of public outcomes assessment or accountability. In time, trachoma became the principal focus of line physicians because of the belief that it could be easily detected, and those diagnosed with it summarily deported. However, the diagnosis of the early stages of this disease is far more complex since it must be differentiated from other forms of benign conjunctivitis. Described here is the case of Cristina Imparato, a 46-year-old immigrant who arrived in New York from Italy on September 27, 1910, and who was given a diagnosis of trachoma which resulted in her summary deportation three days later on September 30, 1910. Her case serves to illustrate the complex forces at work at that time around the issue of immigration. These included a need to meet the labor needs of expanding industries while responding to the immigration restriction demands of eugenics supporters and nativists and the call to protect the country from imported disease threats.


Medical inspection of immigrants Ellis Island Trachoma Deportation of immigrants 



The research for this article was made possible by the assistance and suggestions of many people and institutions over a number of years. We would like to express our sincere thanks to all of them. In Italy, these include our relatives, the late Carmelina Pescione Maiella, the late Domenico, Giovanni and Marianna Ulini, the late Dr. Florindo Imparato, the late Dr. Mario Imparato, the late Tranquilina Imparato Trepiccione, and the late Professor Agostino Stellato, a former Mayor of San Prisco. We are very grateful to our cousin, Giuseppe Imparato, who greatly assisted us with researching the vital records of San Prisco, and for conducting independent research on our behalf. Without his help, this article would not have been possible. We wish to thank our cousins, Anna Maria Ulini and Antonio and Anna Ercolano of San Prisco, who have assisted us over many years. In San Prisco, we are grateful to our relatives Avvocato Attilio Imparato and Ida Imparato Stellato, and in the United States to our late cousins, Sister Antoinette Casertano, Sister Martha Casertano, and Mother Lina Trepiccione. We are also grateful to our American Imperato cousins, Dr. Anthony M. Imparato for helpful information about the Imparatos of the island of Ventotene, and Dr. Julianne Imperato-McGinley and Dr. Thomas J. Imperato for information about the Imperatos of Vico Equense and the Amalfi coast.

We wish to acknowledge the first telling of Cristina Imparato’s story by our late father and grandfather, James A. Imperato, and all the information that was provided over the years by his brothers and sisters, all now deceased. These include Freeman P. Imperato, RA, Pasquale Joseph Imperato, MD, Alfred A. Imperato, MD, Joseph P. Imperato, LLB, Louis G. Imperato LLM, Carrie Imperato Ragusa, Amelia Imperato Barracca Wise, and Marianne Imperato Smith.

We extend special thanks to Ellen Rafferty for her assistance in searching the holdings of the National Archives, and to genealogist June DeLalio for her very helpful suggestions about Cristina Imparato’s immigration records. Rick Peuser and William R. Ellis, Jr., archivists of the National Archives and Records Administration, greatly facilitated our research as did librarians at the Library of Congress. We wish to thank Elizabeth Yew, MD for her assistance in interpreting the results of Cristina Imparato’s Board of Special Inquiry proceeding.

Special thanks go to Jeffrey S. Dosik and Barry Moreno of the Library at the Statue of Liberty National Monument, National Park Service, for all their assistance, and for providing the photograph of and biographical information on Dr. Carl Ramus. We also thank Rosa Wilson, Archivist at the National Park Service, for her help, and Crystal Smith, Reference Librarian, History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine, for locating the 1910 photograph of ocular examinations at Ellis Island.

We are very appreciative of the excellent and unique resources provided by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints through their Plainview Family History Center in Plainview, New York, without which this story could not have been fully reconstructed. We wish to thank the staff and volunteers at the center for their assistance and support. We are especially grateful to genealogist Marie Scalisi, who first encouraged us to write this article, and express our appreciation to her and to fellow researchers, Eileen Holland, Leo Larney, Peter Lattanzi, and Armand Tarantelli for all their interest and help.

Leonard Kahan expertly restored the studio photograph of Cristina Imparato, for which we sincerely thank him. We wish to specially thank Maria Callender for skillfully scanning all of the photographs and documents, and Lois A. Hahn for carefully preparing the typescript.

Eleanor M. Imperato, wife and mother, meticulously translated a number of Latin and Italian language documents into English, and provided much appreciated encouragement and support for which we are very grateful. We are also very appreciative of the support and assistance of Alison M. Imperato and Austin C. Imperato, children and siblings, during the long period of time that the research for this article was being undertaken.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.State University of New York, Downstate Medical CenterBrooklynUSA

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