Racialized notions of health and disease were not uncommon at the turn of the twentieth century, as the survival of newly emancipated blacks was a commonly debated topic of the Progressive Era. Frederick Hoffman’s “Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro” identified various statistics indicating inherent weakness of black bodies, including “the smaller lung capacity of the colored race”. Though few white scholars publicly challenged Hoffman’s findings, his thesis contradicts claims by asthma doctors about the strength of black bodies and their immunity to asthma.
By juxtaposing how scholars navigated inconsistencies between observed biological differences between races, assertions of asthma as a disease of the elite, and the presence of asthma and hay fever in black patients, this paper highlights the debates about black susceptibility to asthma and hay fever at the turn of the twentieth century.
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