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Recovering Yiddish Culture in Los Angeles

Caroline Luce, Author

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Tuberculosis/Healthseeking - דער ווייסער פלאג

According to estimates by historian John E. Baur, as many as a quarter of the migrants who came to Los Angeles between 1880 and 1924 did so seeking cures for their ills or those of their loved ones. These ailments included lung diseases like tuberculosis and asthma, pain disorders like rheumatism and arthritis, and then-untreatable illnesses like pneumonia, small pox and influenza. In the absence of antibiotics and other effective treatments, doctors often sent those suffering from these chronic conditions to seek relief in the warm, dry climates of Southern California, known as "Nature's Great Sanatorium." The region's reputation for healthfulness was both actively promoted in newspaper articles, magazines and advertisements sponsored by civic and business leaders as part of their efforts to grow the region and propagated by the health-seekers themselves, who wrote accounts of the climate's curative powers to friends and relatives back home. Alas, while sunshine and ocean breezes of Southern California may have alleviated some of their symptoms, they seldom offered a real cure for those chronic conditions, particularly tuberculosis, which according to one public health official, was to blame for one out of every six deaths in the county by 1910.

Many of the Yiddish poets who came to Los Angeles, including Shia Miller, Lamed Shapiro, and Mattes Lune, were themselves suffering from tuberculosis and part of the city's growing population of health-seekers. For some, like Shia Miller, the disease became the central theme of their work, while for others, it influence their writing style. Both writers who were health seekers and works about tuberculars and other health seekers are included in this thematic tag.

For more about health seeking and tuberculosis in Los Angeles, see "The White Plague in the City of Angels" 

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