Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital

This photo study focuses on Ellis Island and the Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital, which has been largely abandoned for the past fifty years. I photographed this site in 2016 and was moved by the experience. The history here feels even more relevant today, given the controversies around immigration in our country. In addition to the library’s fee, 10% of any sales would go to SaveEllisIsland.org.

Hope and The Lost Legacy of the Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital

Ellis Island holds a unique place in our national memory. It has been estimated that 40% of Americans today can trace at least one ancestor’s entry into the United States through Ellis Island.

The Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital was the first public health hospital in the United States, opening in 1902 and operating until 1930. The facility included both a general hospital and a section reserved for patients with contagious diseases, as well as a power station, morgue, laboratory, and housing for doctors and nurses. At the time, the complex was widely considered a showplace for modern medicine. It was also one of the first public hospitals to employ a full-time female physician.

Of the 12 million immigrants who entered America through Ellis Island, 1.2 million failed their initial health inspection, and were moved to the hospital for further evaluation. Immigrants admitted to the hospital often suffered from such highly infectious diseases as measles, tuberculosis, trachoma, scarlet fever, and diphtheria. Those that were successfully treated were eventually released to continue into the United States. Those relatively few that could not be treated were sent back to their country of origin.

Today, the hospital complex is part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument. Efforts to stabilize and restore many of the closed hospital buildings are being led by the group Save Ellis Island.

In 2016, I had the opportunity to be part of an extensive hard hat tour of the complex and make a number of photographs. Although it was a beautiful day outside, the abandoned interiors felt sad and empty, even spooky at times - but also incredibly moving and evocative when you contemplate the millions of individual stories impacted by this place.

These emotions are even more relevant today, as our country once again grapples with the challenges presented by immigration, and struggles not to lose sight of the benefits.