Nursing in Japanese American Incarceration Camps, 1942-1945

Coffin, Rebecca, Nursing - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Keeling, Arlene, School of Nursing, University of Virginia

Japanese Americans living in west coast states had been a marginalized group long before the attack against Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941 by the Empire of Japan, which accelerated the maelstrom of hysteria and hatred against them. As a result, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, authorizing Secretary of War Stimson and designated military commanders to prescribe military areas from which any or all persons could be excluded. United States military leaders identified all Japanese Americans in the western portions of Washington, Oregon, and California as potential subversive persons that might rise up and sabotage the United States from within its borders. Over 110,000 Japanese Americans were forcibly removed from their homes and transported to one of ten incarceration camps until their loyalty to the United States could be determined.
Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9102 established the War Relocation Authority on March 18, 1942. This civilian agency provided for the shelter, nutrition, education, and medical care of the excluded Japanese Americans as they waited to be redistributed within the interior and eastern United States. Previous literature describing the medical care furnished to the Japanese Americans in the camps concentrated on early system problems related to supplies and sanitation efforts. The contributions of nurses to the health and welfare of the Japanese Americans incarcerated at the camps over the time the camps were in operation have been overlooked.
The purpose of this study is to identify, describe, and analyze the work of nurses in U.S. incarceration camps holding west coast Japanese Americans during World War II, from 1942-1945. This study employed a social history framework to analyze the nursing care at the Poston and Heart Mountain incarceration camps.
While nurses at both camps strove to deliver competent nursing care, the nurses at the Heart Mountain camp in Wyoming met with considerable difficulty in carrying out basic nursing services as a result of power struggles, frequent turnover in nursing leadership, and lack of administrative support. Nurses at the Poston camp in Arizona benefitted from the organizational support of an established agency and fared much better in their relationships with physicians and administrators, as they negotiated their expected gender and class roles as female nurses.
Analysis of the two camps illustrates three major conclusions: (1) Nurses working in camps with established organizational structures in place found administrative support as they developed the nursing service at that camp; (2) Nurses who did not conform to expected gender roles suffered backlash and resentment from the Japanese American physicians, while those who deferred to their place as women received the support of their superiors and the Japanese American physicians with whom they worked; (3) Nursing leaders who demonstrated cultural sensitivity, nurtured interpersonal relationships, and had a clear vision of the goals they wanted to accomplish, were better equipped to manage and influence hospital personnel and processes.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
nursing, history, Japanese Americans, incarceration camps, War Relocation Authority
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