Logo for Outside/Inside

Outside/Inside: Immigration, Migration, and Health Care in the United States

By Erika Mills ~

Immigration and migration are important parts of the American story; and health care and medicine have played a role in inclusion and exclusion, “assimilation” and discrimination, and in dividing communities and strengthening them. Outside/Inside: Immigration, Migration, and Health Care in the United States, a new online exhibition, traces the history of ideas about immigrant health and explores immigrants’ and migrants’ experiences with U.S. health care since the late 1880s.

Guest curated by historian and educator Beatrix Hoffman, PhD (Northern Illinois University), Outside/Inside features items primarily from the NLM historical collections, presenting stories of immigrant and migrant communities taking measures to improve access to health care and promote the idea that health care should be available to all, regardless of nationality, citizenship, or refugee or immigration status. The online exhibition also offers education resources, including a K-12 lesson plan and a university module. A digital gallery showcases a 1930s photo album of nurses from the Henry Street Visiting Nurse Service providing care to immigrant families in the Gun Hill neighborhood of New York City.

Here are some highlights from the exhibition:

A group of women with documents and children stand on a street corner.
Greenwich Mothers’ Club of the Henry Street Settlement, Lower East Side, New York City, ca. 1932
National Library of Medicine #101442246

Henry Street Settlement, a social service agency, brought effective health care to immigrants in their homes and their communities. They organized mothers’ clubs to educate expectant mothers on childcare and healthy pregnancies.

Poster: text in both English and Spanish encourages asking for a portable health record and taking the record and any medications along when going to a clinic.
Partners for Health: Compañeros En La Salud!, Migrant Clinicians Network, Austin, Texas, late 20th century
National Library of Medicine #101449641

Migrant workers and their families, who live on the move, face many obstacles to obtaining care. In 1985, nurses and physicians dedicated to improving health care for migrant farmers formed the grassroots-based Migrant Clinicians Network.

A postcard, tinted photograph, interior with a bar and walls lined with drawered wooden cabinets.
“A Chinese Drugstore in San Francisco,” 1800s
National Library of Medicine #101459480

Dispensaries sold herbs and traditional remedies in communities that lacked other health services. Some evolved into modern clinics and hospitals that still serve patients today, providing both Western and non-Western medical care.

The history presented in Outside/Inside reminds us that we all share a desire to protect our health and well-being. To learn more, visit the exhibition.

Erika Mills is outreach coordinator for the Exhibition Program in the History of Medicine Division of the National Library of Medicine.

Erika Mills

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