Department of History
2017-2018 Rothman Doctoral Fellow
Adrienne deNoyelles received a Rothman Doctoral Fellowship for her dissertation proposal entitled “The ‘Lung Block:’ Tuberculosis and Progressive Reform in Early-Twentieth-Century New York.” During the summer of 2017, she traveled to New York City to complete archival research on a 1903 reform crusade to demolish New York’s “Lung Block”—a tenement neighborhood riddled with tuberculosis—in favor of a park.
The crusade, and its eventual failure, illuminated the significant class and cultural barriers that existed between upper-class urban reformers and the marginalized populations they intended to help. While park advocates based their demolition arguments on scientific method, moral environmentalism, and long-range planning, local politicians and religious leaders decried the project’s potential to displace thousands of working-class immigrants already occupying that space. The resulting conflict promoted an alternative view of reformers’ community-improvement efforts as narrowly conceived, aggressive, and insensitive to the needs of urban ethnic communities. deNoyelles’s study demonstrates how these fundamental weaknesses not only doomed the park campaign, but also reflected broader problems within the New York reform movement.
Her relation of these events from multiple perspectives situates this study at the center of early-twentieth-century American policy debates concerning immigration, public health, social reform, and urban planning. Her work provides a timely reminder of the challenges involved in confronting public threats while respecting people’s rights and cultural identities: a familiar scenario in today’s America, where similar class and cultural barriers complicate the efforts of today’s Progressives to improve public health and welfare.