12 June 2022

"Plague at the Golden Gate" and Records at University of the Pacific

 "Plague at the Golden Gate" 


Records at University of the Pacific

I recently watched a documentary on PBS called "Plague at the Golden Gate."   About halfway through, I realized I knew where records were located that documented the difficulty health inspectors had in tracking the bubonic plague in San Francisco.

University of the Pacific Library, Holt Atherton Special Collections and Archives here in Stockton, California.

A search in their manuscript collection finding aid brought me here:

Title: San Francisco Chinatown residential inspection records

Dates: ca. 1904

Collection number: MSS 130

Four volumes of San Francisco Chinatown residential inspection records. Streets include Bartlett Alley, Brenham, Bull Run, Clay, Dupont,Fish Alley, Jackson, Pacific, Ross Alley, Sacramento, Stockton and Waverly. The registers include names, occupations and, in some cases, brief descriptions of living conditions. Occupations include: cook, store owner, barber, gambler, farmer, clerk, tailor, cigar maker, railroad worker,ranch hand, doctor, dentist and ironer. The records were probably prepared by James R. Dunn, inspector in charge of U.S. Chinese Bureau, San Francisco, or by an assistant.

According to Dr. Guenter B. Risse Affiliate Professor, Department of Medical History and Ethics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA in a 2008 email, "N.K. Foster, who was the Secretary of the California Health Board in 1904, mentions in his June 3, 1904 report to the Second Annual Conference of State Boards meeting in Washington, that there still were many difficulties in finding plague cases in their early stages among the Chinese. These people are quite reticent in reporting them, in part because of the dread of having bodies submitted to dissection but also fears that their social and business relations will be disturbed. A death from plague prompts destruction of what inspectors perceive to be rubbish, then cleanup and disinfection that they also try to avoid. To prevent this, the Chinese claim that the victim came from another place, frequently outside the district, and died as soon as he arrived.

To counter this persistent deception, Chinatown was divided into subdivisions with separate inspectors working in each of them. Moreover, each room in the district received a number, placed prominently on its door, and the particular inspector assigned to that sector possesses a book with house and room numbers, name of occupant and business. At each visit, the inspector recorded conditions and checked on the tenants whereabouts. In this methodic way, the inspectors kept track of the inhabitants and also had a better chance to find cases of sickness, although it was impossible to get around daily. Difficulties arose when sick people moved to other rooms or buildings, often unused ones.

"It seems probable that these records belong to that sanitation effort; since there was no other census of Chinatown, they could have been shared with Dunn, then in charge of the Immigration Service in SF and particularly involved with the movement of migrant Chinese under the provisions of the Exclusion Act of 1902."


1.1: Record book with "Jackson & Dupont Sts." on front cover, arranged by addresses, incomplete index on p. 300. Describes rooms, number of inhabitants, toilets, conditions of kitchen and toilets, arrangement of rooms, entry access, stairways, etc. Addresses of buildings include: Bartlett Alley [scattered]; Dupont Street [scattered]; Jackson Street: p. 506, 602-627, 629-632; Pacific Street [scattered]


1.2: "Bo-Ho" on front cover and spine. (304 p.). Alphabetical listing of names, "Boon to Hui" [Chinese characters as well as English] Index of names p. 302-303. Information includes.: name, address, occupation. Entries only on pages: 1-8,12-16,19-22, 37-57, 103-110, 138- 139,142-143,149,154, 166,169-171, 178-188,214, 218-223, 226-227, 232-238, 241, 246-265,272-279,284, 302-303.


1.3: "J-L" on front cover and spine. Alphabetical listing of names, "Jeoh Chew to Lou Jiu" [Chinese characters as well as English] Index of names on p. 292-293. Information includes: name, address, occupation, age, and some description of arrangement of rooms. Entries only on pages: 1-12, 34-45, 72-77,92-93. 102-103, 106- 113,115, 117, 118, 120, 126, 129-132, 134-142, 152, 187, 202-211, 234-236, 242-243, 252, 254-266, 292-293.


1.4: "L-W" on front cover and spine. Alphabetical listing of names, "Leow to Yuin" [Chinese characters as well as English]. Index of names on p. 298-300. Information incl: name, address, occupation, children with ages. Entries on pages: 1, 4-11, 30, 34-38, 42-44, 58-60, 66-67, 70- 80, 82, 89-90, 92-95, 100-101,106-113, 118-120, 122-126, 138-140, 144-145, 148, 150-152, 155-158, 166-176, 178- 180, 182-217, 256, 263-266, 276-278, 288-293, 295, 298- 300.