The Rockefeller Sanitary Commission for the Control and Eradication of Hookworm Disease was created for the purpose of eradicating hookworm disease in eleven Southern States including North Carolina. This picture depicts the first of the Commission’s tasks: to determine the geographic distribution of the infection and to make a reliable estimate of the degree for each individual area (11, Warren and Freymann). This map is a visual representation of the state-wide infection discovered in all of the 91 North Carolina counties that were surveyed (the degree and extent of which varied from rare to as great as 99%) (11, Warren and Freymann). It was moderate in the northern Piedmont by comparison.
In various isolated parts of North Carolina clay or dirt eaters, fed on a white or yellow oily clay, called kaolin (Cooley, 52). One of the many conclusions drawn by the Rockefeller commission was that dirt eating was a reaction to hookworm infestation (Cooley, 51). Clay-eaters were considered a “diseased breed” made clinical subjects by the campaign by their moral failing and dual addiction to “alcohol and dirt” (Isenberg, 137). For five years clay and dirt eaters, among others, were examined and treated for the hookworm entering the body largely via contact with contaminated soils (Cooley, 51).
Cooley indicates that although many dirt eaters were certainly found to be infested with hookworms, many were not, and though the practice of dirt eating became less frequent after treatment for hookworms, it was not eradicated (51). Hookworm was actually spread by the lack of sanitation, “a state wide problem of vast magnitude” (Cooley, 55). Yet dirt-eater’s cultural significance “belied their numbers,” as the practice called their racial status into question (Cooley, 53-4). The work of the Rockefeller Commission resulted in the creation of full-time State and County health departments in North Carolina. However, clay eating served as a reminder of the relationship between food consumption, race and cultural identity in the Southern United States.
Cooley, Angela Jill. To Live and Dine in Dixie: The Evolution of Urban Food Culture in the Jim Crow South, University of Georgia Press, 2015. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/lib/unc/detail.action?docID=2008636.
Ettling, John. The Germ of Laziness: Rockefeller Philanthropy and Public Health in the New South. Harvard University Press, 1981, p. x, 236 p.
Isenberg, Nancy. White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America. Viking, 2016.
Warren, Andrew Jackson, and Moye Freymann. Lest We Forget: The Story of the Rockefeller Sanitary Commission in North Carolina 1910-1914. s.n., 1977, p. 52 p.: ill., map.