Justin's posts

Bernard Harris, ‘Anti-Alienism, health and social reform in late Victorian and Edwardian Britain’

‘Anti-Alienism, health and social reform in late Victorian and Edwardian Britain’ is an article written by Bernard Harris. In this article, Harris writes about how British health and social reforms were motivated primarily by racial prejudices regarding the Jewish immigrants. He does this by illustrating the arguments from several anti-alienists who associate any negative issue arising in Britain as coming from the Jewish immigrants. Harris also incorporates the pro-alienist arguments to strike balance in this argument and to show how the anti-alienist’s arguments were most likely ignorant and based primarily on racial stereotypes.

This article begins by showing how anti-alienists created the widely accepted notion that Jews were allegedly ‘physically enfeebled, without marketable trades, and willing to work for pittance’. This view was based mainly on racial prejudices but was reinforced by the likes of Major Williams Evans Gordon, who used the 1903 Royal Commission to study how Jews lived back home. This study was used to justify the British prejudice, as he had chosen the cities were Jewish poverty was rife and how this way of living would be a threat to the British way of living – particularly those who failed to get into America due to health reasons, so would settle in Britain.

These views also stemmed into racism with many Britons forming the opinion that Jews were an inferior race, hence why they were ‘inherently unhealthy’. Again, this view was exemplified by Evans Gordon who accused the Jews of bringing over diseases such as smallpox and scarlet fever. This was an issue of sanitary conditions during travel rather than inherent ailments, however. Although, Jews were likely to live in overcrowded accommodations with little sanitation – keeping the issue of Jewish health and the British population alive.

Harris later uses several medical professionals’ opinions to refute the claims made by the anti-alienists regarding Jewish immigrant’s health. For example, he quotes Dr James Niven to show that the Jewish population was ‘entirely free of both typhus and smallpox’. Many health professionals of the time also agree that the immigrants were used to a lesser standard of living but would get better after a couple of years of living in Britain. These professionals also note that they were more law abiding than the British natives who showed more care towards their children – with infant mortality rates lessening wherever a large Jewish community was present. Harris notes that 45% of non- Jewish children had rickets compared with only 17% from Jewish children. Also, 51% of Non-Jewish children had poor oral health compared to 27% from Jewish children. This evidence showed that the Jewish immigrants were superior to the Brits regarding health and nutrition – a stark contrast from the pseudoscience displayed by the anti-alienist advocates. This resulted in H.W Ward telling the Royal Commission in 1903 that ‘the foreign settlers in the East End… are a great deal preferable to a large number of our own people living in the same district’.

To achieve better analysis between Jewish immigrants and the British native’s health, Harris uses the large Jewish population (1850-1914) in Leeds as a case study. From this, it is not clear to tell if Jewish infant mortality was lesser than a gentile. It was clear however, that Jewish schoolchildren tended to be less dirty with lesser verminous conditions. Harris notes however, that the criteria’s used to measure children’s health tended to be vague and was open to bias, depending on the medical professionals’ personal prejudices.

From this article, there was little to no difference between the health of the Jewish immigrants when compared to the British. The main motivation for anti-immigration from an anti-alien perspective was either racism or irrationality. This became more evident when Harris quoted a decade worth of medical data from Leeds and incorporated medical observations from professionals.

One thought on “Bernard Harris, ‘Anti-Alienism, health and social reform in late Victorian and Edwardian Britain’

  1. The blog clearly outlines the argument of Harris which was that the health of the Jewish community was used as a motivation for anti-immigrant attitudes but in actual fact the stereotype was inaccurate. The creation of the Jewish stereotype, as being unhealthy, is analysed well and helps provide context. The fact that these stereotypes were reinforced by political figures highlights a system governed by public opinion. The reference to Major Evans Gordon is key as he was a crucial figure in the anti-alien movement as well as a member of the British Brothers League. Furthermore, the structure of the blog is clear and shows the progression of the argument. The attention to the ideals of creating a neutral argument are central to this blog and therefore attention is payed to how the article contradicts stereotypical ideas. Therefore, the classic view of Jewish migrants being unhealthy was inaccurate and in fact British people were the unhealthy ones. Yet there was still professional prejudice which is important point to remember and this is well articulated in the blog. Even though the Jewish community were in better health there was still a professional bias present when it came to children. The blog finishes with a good summary which shows that attitudes of bad health were not applicable and by arguing that the data in the article shows this it highlights an understanding of the topic as well as the article.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *