Friday, August 20, 2010

Francis X. Crawford

Year Served: 1911 to 1915

Boston’s last Port Physician was Francis Crawford, a Harvard Medical School graduate who spent over ten years working for various Boston hospitals before taking a position with the quarantine department. Crawford was given the opportunity to serve as Port Physician when his immediate supervisor, William M. Gay resigned his post on September 1, 1911. During the previous six months Crawford served as the assistant port physician when a cholera scare jolted the Mayor Collins and Samuel Durgin, Chairman of the Board Health, into action to avert a potential crisis. In July 1911, Crawford assisted with preparations to make Gallop’s Island capable of housing a large number of potential cholera cases. According to the July 25, 1911 Boston Daily Globe, the Boston Board of Health, held a conference with acting Mayor Collins to transfer $5,800 to the quarantine department for beds. The bed were needed so that “passengers on two steamers expected to arrive at Boston on Aug 1 from cholera infected ports of Europe may be kept on Gallops island, the city quarantine station, during the incubation period of cholera germ.”

The city’s concern with communicable disease was at epic proportions in the years just before World War I and Crawford was at the center of these concerns. As European immigrants continued to arrive in Boston by the thousands the Crawford saw growing pressures to turn the quarantine department over to the federal government. Since 1893, the U.S. Public Health Service had been directing state and local operated quarantine stations in the proper disinfection and medical inspection procedures required to comply with federal law and international sanitation treaties. Mayor John Francis Fitzgerald was hesitant to relinquish control over quarantine services. After all, it represented an important public service and gave him the ability to offer patronage positions to the wide range of “hangers on” that lived in the Irish neighborhoods of South Boston.

Within three years of his appointment Crawford would know that his position as port physician would soon end and be taken over by the U.S. Public Health Service. Anticipating a transition a federally managed quarantine station, Crawford worked behind the scenes to convince Mayor Fitzgerald’s successor, the legendary Michael Curley to cut a deal with the U.S. Surgeon General. The city would be happy to turn the quarantine station over to the USPHS but the deal must ensure that Crawford and some of his staff were retained as federal workers under the USPHS operation of Gallop’s Island. His backroom deals were finally realized in the spring of 1915 when the Boston City Council agreed to sell the quarantine station and Gallop’s Island to the U.S. Government.

When the city transferred its quarantine department to the federal government, Surgeon Samuel B. Grubbs of the USPHS arrived in Boston and assumed charge of the quarantine station at Gallup's Island effective June 1st. The agreement provided that the federal government would hold the lease of the station for one year at an annual rental of $1 pending the agreement as to the price for which the station shall be sold by the city. It also provided for the federal government take over of city employees in the quarantine service so that Dr. Francis X. Crawford could continue in service under Dr. Grubbs.

Crawford’s work for the USPHS did not last long. By 1924, the Boston Daily Globe reported that Crawford was working for United Fruit destined for the Canal Zone. The duties of the medical inspectors working for the USPHS were enervating to most ordinary mortals and Crawford probably saw the need to move on to less tiring work. After all, at the time of his transition to the USPHS, he was one of the oldest physicians to ever work in the quarantine department. Crawford’s work as the medical director for the United Fruit Company may have resulted from his wide ranging connections with the shipping magnates in the Boston area.

Crawford died on August 19, 1944 aged 71, of cerebral hemorrhage.


1. JAMA, 1911, Vol. 57, No. 14, September 30, 1911, p. 1142

2. Dr-Gay Port Physician., Boston Daily Globe (1872-1922); Mar 14, 1911; ProQuest Historical Newspapers Boston Globe (1872 - 1979) pg. 9

3. JAMA, 1911, Vol. 64, No. 25, June 19, 1915, p. 2076.

4. Port of Boston, Boston Daily Globe, January 13, 1924, p. 11

5. JAMA Vol. 126, No. 11, November 11, 1944, p. 721.

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