Skip to main content

Rear Admiral William C. Braisted, Surgeon General and Chief, Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, to Rear Admiral Leigh C. Palmer, Chief, Bureau of Navigation

March 9, 1917.


     The Surgeon General desire to call attention to the present condition of rapid recruiting with the inflow to the various stations of unusual numbers of the newly enlisted. The tendency is to overcrowding with its attendant evils. Such conditions exist today and are beginning to be felt somewhat acutely at Great Lakes, San Francisco, Norfolk, and with the Marines at Port Royal.

     Overcrowding caused by the introduction of large groups of young men from all parts of the country, particularly at this time of year, is bound to increase the number of contagious diseases beyond the possibility of legitimate and proper control, not to speak of other health conditions due to the crowding together of human beings in spaces not large enough or properly equipped and prepared to house, feed and protect by the regulation of proper living.

     At Port Royal we have now over 100 cases of contagious disease in a community of 2,000.

     At Great Lakes we have 145 cases of contagious disease in a community of about 3,000. Similar conditions to less extent exist at Norfolk and San Francisco.

     The Surgeon General feels that the normal capacity of each receiving or training station should be established and adhered to, and that when this capacity is reached no more men should be sent to the station until space and vacancies are created by men withdrawn, or the facilities of the station enlarged and properly equipped.

     Thus, if for instance, the capacity of Great Lakes Training Station is established at 2,000, no more recruits should be sent there until drafts of healthy and clean men are withdrawn to make room for the new comers.

     So San Francisco should probably not have more then 850, or Norfolk probably 1500.

     It might be possible to remove groups of men from the great stations to selected localities for observation and detention until safe to release them to the ships and stations needing them.

     The Surgeon General feels that some such scheme should be thought out at once to relieve these congested centers now and in the months to come, and before the present conditions become so pronounced that the temporary closing of stations to new personnel becomes imperative to allow the subsidence of contagious disease and other ill effects that always follow overcrowding.

     The Surgeon General is using every care not to send in recommendations which will interfere with the needed augmentation of the personnel, if it can be avoided, but feels that this word of warning is timely and should be carefully considered by the Bureau of Navigation at this time.

     If some plan as xxx indicated above should be considered the Surgeon General will be glad to have a medical officer confer with representatives of the Bureau of Navigation to make some definite plans along these lines.1


Source Note: TDS, DLC-MSS, Josephus Daniels Papers, Roll 46.

Footnote 1: On 20 April, Palmer wrote Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels suggesting that seized German vessels be used to house new recruits. See: Palmer to Daniels, 20 April 1917. A week later, the Navy announced that in New York interned German ships would be used as barracks to relieve overcrowding. Army and Navy Journal, 28 April 1917, 1117. In his annual report for 1917, Daniels touted the fact that in 1917 a large amount of temporary housing was constructed both to house the men and to be used as hospital facilities. Annual Report of the Navy Dept., 1917, 23, 59-60.

Related Content