Poor, White, and Wormy: Hookworm Eradication in the South and the Boundaries of Whiteness and Citizenship

by Tina Irvine

Jan 1, 2017
In Medical reformers believed hookworm eradication was important because it helped reinforce the boundaries of "proper whiteness." Images of barefoot and emaciated families, living in extreme poverty and filth due to the draining nature of hookworm disease, made it hard to boast of the universal superiority of the white race. Although interventionists agreed that there were many steps in remedying "the poor white problem," eradicating hookworm seemed to be a crucial component to re-making cultural perceptions of the class of people most often afflicted with the disease. Those involved with the Rockefeller Sanitary Commission's anti-hookworm work hoped their involvement would be enough to turn poor whites' "improper whiteness" into "proper whiteness," thereby strengthening the race's associated cultural and political authority.
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