Health and medical care of the Jewish poor in the East End of London, 1880-1939
The East End of London experienced an explosion of its Jewish population, from 35,000 in 1881 to 120,000 in 1910. The majority were poor, of foreign birth, living in overcrowded, sub-standard housing, and engaged in unhealthy occupations. Their arrival brought problems for both the indigenous population and the existing London Jewish community, threatening a crisis which could have overwhelmed the strained general medical services and irreparably damaged the Jewish community. A further problem was the attempt by various missionary societies to provide medical assistance at the cost of religious conversion. The crisis was averted, due to the efforts of the poor themselves and the wealthy established Jews - not always in harmony; and to simultaneous advances being made in public health, medicine, national insurance, and the improving Poor Law facilities. The major triumph of the immigrants, who preferred denominational institutions, was in establishing the London Jewish Hospital after a prolonged bitter battle against Lord Rothschild and many wealthy anglicised Jews, who considered the existing hospitals sufficient and wished to avoid jeopardising concessions already gained for Jews from the London Hospital and other medical centres. London, and the East End in particular, had many medical resources superior to those elsewhere in the country. The East End Jews enjoyed the added advantage of a comprehensive network of Jewish institutions and organisations, of which the Jewish Board of Guardians was foremost, which supplemented the Poor Law and voluntary systems and which had been created and funded largely by the rich of the community. In many areas of medical care Jewish organisations led the way. The initial effect was that the poor East End Jews, and especially their children, enjoyed better health than their non-Jewish neighbours in similar circumstances; but as the anglicisation of the immigrant increased, so the differences narrowed.