Health services administered by the Office of Indian Affairs were most often poorly equipped to combat the serious cases of tuberculosis, trachoma, smallpox, and other contagious and infectious diseases on Indian reservations during the late 19th- and early 20th-centuries. The federal government's program of assimilation of Native Americans into white culture dominated reservation health care during this period.
Native American traditions with regard to home, child-rearing, and treatment of illness were disregarded in favor of white ways. For this reason, health care was considered most effective when administered off the reservation. This meant removal of patients from their communities, as in the case of Alaskan Native patients of the Morningside Hospital in Portland, Oregon.
World War I briefly refocused United States government resolve overseas, where a number of Native Americans served the U.S. in armed combat. Some were wounded and treated at U.S. Army base hospitals in France, like the two men shown here.
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(From left to right) Dr. H. W. Coe, Native Alaskan, Government Inspector.
The Insane of Alaska: For Sixteen Years Administered Under the Department of the Interior at Morningside Hospital, Portland, Oregon. 1920 catalog of the facility, p. 10.
The Care of the Insane of the Territory of Alaska, Addressed to the Governor and Legislature of the Territory of Alaska, January 17, 1925. Administered by the Department of the Interior at Morningside Hospital, Portland, Oregon. 1925. Many of the patients were Native Alaskans. [another catalog from Morningside Hospital, not shown in online exhibition].
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Wounded Choctaw soldier in the U.S. service is attended. World War I, U.S. National Red Cross Hospital No. 5, Auteuil, France, c.1917-1918 [photographic reproduction/Images from the History of Medicine (IHM)].
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Choctaw patient, World War I. U.S. Base Hospital No.41, Paris, France, c.1917-18 [photographic reproduction/Images from the History of Medicine (IHM)].
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Cherokee patient, World War I. U.S. Base Hospital No.41, Paris, France, c.1917-18 [photographic reproduction/Images from the History of Medicine (IHM)].
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Public Health Service physician with his car stuck in the mud on an Indian reservation, c.1910-1920 [photographic reproduction/Images from the History of Medicine (IHM)].
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Indian Babies: How to Keep Them Well, Office of Indian Affairs, 1916. Pamphlet illustrates assimilationist philosophy of government care at this time.
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Burning of a Navajo Hogan that had been occupied by a victim of smallpox, near Indian Wells, Leupp Indian Reservation, Arizona, c.1890-1910. [Photographic reproduction: From collections of the National Archives and Records Administration.]
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Contagious and Infectious Diseases Among the Indians, U.S. Senate Document, 1913. Native American victims of Trachoma.
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