January 27, 1908: Duluth woman deported for being sick and poor

On this day in Duluth in Duluth in 1908, nineteen-year-old Swedish immigrant Mertie Nelson was deported because she had contracted tuberculosis. She had arrived in Duluth months earlier in apparently perfect health to work as a domestic in the home of a family living in Duluth’s West End. The Duluth News Tribune described her plight: “Unable to earn money with which to provide the necessities of life, Miss Nelson was forced to seek charity. In doing so she attracted the attention of Immigration Inspector [William] Dean.” When Dean discovered she was not yet a citizen, she was “taken to St. Johns, New Brunswick, where she [was] placed on a steamship and sent to Sweden to live out what little time she has to spend on earth.” There seemed to be plenty of reasons to deport people at the time, but for most it was a combination of destitution and insanity. In the months surrounding Nelson’s departure, Dean deported Austrian Mike Vuklick because he was insane, and Swede Alex Nillson because “he is insane at times and is unable to get about to make his living.” Another Swedish immigrant, John Carlson, was deported because he had entered the country by sneaking across the Canadian border on a cargo ship, but came to Dean’s attention after he was declared insane. Insanity also led Dean to Swede Andrew Nelson. Nelson had been declared insane after setting two suits of clothes on fire while working as a cook in a railroad camp and tried to kill himself while in the county jail. Authorities planned to send Carlson to an asylum, but when they discovered he was an immigrant they turned him over to Dean, who deported him in the grounds that he was “without funds or friends.” Dean’s job came with perks: He accompanied all those he deported all the way to their homeland with the government picking up travel expenses and paying a stipend of $2 a day ($54 today) on top of his salary. In November 1907 Dean didn’t want to miss Thanksgiving, so he had Swedish-speaking barber Hugo Christopherson take his place escorting Nillson back to Sweden. The newspaper reported that “Mr. Christopherson will see considerable of the continent of Europe before returning and will spend several days in London, Paris, and Berlin” and added that the average cost to deport someone to Sweden or Norway was about $500, roughly $13,500 in today’s dollars.