23 Pages

Tuberculosis and r ace in Britain and its empire, 1900–50

ByMichael Worboys

The history of tuberculosis in twentieth-century America or Germany could not

be written without considering race. However, historians of the disease in Britain

have largely ignored the issue and have only considered this great ‘social disease’ in

terms of class, occupation, urbanisation and welfare policy.1 Race was to the fore

in the United States for obvious reasons: the differential incidence of tuberculosis

among immigrants from Europe, the exceptionally high mortality rates among

Native Americans and fears about the rising toll among African Americans after

1870. 2 In Germany, the disease was spoken of as a ‘racial poison’.3 Yet British

work and campaigning with tuberculosis was not completely insulated from race.