Activity 2: Creative Letter Writing: Crafting Resistant Narratives
When ships from Germany arrived in 1892 carrying passengers ill with cholera, the New York Port health officials quarantined passengers based on their class. First class passengers, who were largely American and Western European, were quarantined on the ships. Steerage, or second class passengers were forced to quarantine on the Hoffman and Swinburne Islands. The majority of steerage passengers were Italian or Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, such as Poland and Russia. The 900 quarantine beds on the Hoffman and Swinburne islands were all filled, and steerage passengers were eventually quarantined in their cramped spaces on the ships.
Step 1 (15 mins)
Hand out the handout describing the quarantine conditions passengers on Hamburg ships endured when they arrived at the New York Port. Ask students to imagine themselves as steerage passengers on the ships from Germany and think about what they would do given the circumstances.
Step 2 (20 mins)
Ask the students to write their own letters highlighting the quality of their quarantine conditions to a public health official. What would they want to show the officials? How would they suggest improving the conditions of quarantine?
Step 3 (5 mins)
After they write their letters, ask students to share out to the class some things they mentioned in their letters (ex. details of quarantine conditions, what should be done).
Step 4 (5 mins)
Conduct a discussion with students:
Cholera: disease from infected water supply
Quarantine: place where people who have been exposed to a contagious disease are placed
Contamination: polluting or making something impure
Ventilation: fresh air
Steerage: second class passengers