Date of Award

Spring 5-2018

Degree Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Anthropology and Sociology

Committee Chair

Bridget Hayden

Committee Chair Department

Anthropology and Sociology

Committee Member 2

Teresa S. Welsh

Committee Member 2 Department

Library and Information Science

Committee Member 3

Katherine Smith

Committee Member 3 Department

Anthropology and Sociology


The story of the Sicilian immigrants’ experiences in Louisiana is a tale of racial and ethnic evolution in the face of physical threats. With the end of the Civil War, many emancipated slaves migrated to other parts of the country, which left Louisiana planters in need of laborers. Planters turned to European labor to fill that need, bringing thousands of Sicilian peasants to work on their plantations. Extreme poverty and oppression made the opportunity to emigrate highly attractive, but Sicilians found problems in Louisiana as well. In addition to low wages, crowded living conditions, discrimination, and violence, the immigrants faced the threat of disease.

Yellow fever was a recurring threat to the city of New Orleans, striking the city seemingly at random. The 1905 yellow fever epidemic dealt a heavy blow to this ethnic community; an unpredictable killer that tended to hit newcomers the hardest. This fact, along with Sicilian cultural beliefs, language barriers, and the racial tensions of the times influenced how the Sicilian immigrants reacted during the yellow fever epidemic. For the most part, the Sicilian community was insular and distrustful of outsiders, especially the doctors and authority figures. During the epidemic, efforts to educate the public about the disease slowly began to influence a transformation within the Sicilian community. This transformation influenced their racial and ethnic evolution from Dago to white, leading to, at least a partial, assimilation into American culture. This thesis is the story of that transformation.