Item #6106 [Journal of a pathbreaking Japanese-American nurse.]. Mary Yone Akita.
[Journal of a pathbreaking Japanese-American nurse.]
[Journal of a pathbreaking Japanese-American nurse.]
[Journal of a pathbreaking Japanese-American nurse.]
[Journal of a pathbreaking Japanese-American nurse.]
[Journal of a pathbreaking Japanese-American nurse.]

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[Journal of a pathbreaking Japanese-American nurse.]

Manzanar, Inyo County, California, 1 Jan. 1943–17 Feb. 1945. 8vo journal (8.75” x 7.25), full brown cloth. 49 pp. of manuscript, 34 blank leaves. Front paste-down inscribed, “Mary Akita 9-22-17” (volume apparently re-purposed). Photo, 9.5” x 7.5”, inscribed at verso, “Y. Akita. 1944 at Manzanar.”.

A compelling diary by the first Japanese-American nurse to practice in Los Angeles, kept while she was interned at the Manzanar War Relocation Center, where she continued to work as a nurse, and from which she traveled to other internment camps to provide medical care.

Mary Yone Akita (ca. 1898–1998) was born in Los Angeles and graduated from the city’s second medical school, Angelus Hospital, in 1920. During World War II, she and her husband George Akita were interned at the Manzanar Center, in Inyo County, California, one of ten Japanese internment camps in the U.S. Akita was one of a number of Japanese-American doctors and nurses conscripted by the U.S. government to provide healthcare for their fellow inmates for pay of often less than $25 a month. The government largely neglected the health of internees, leaving Japanese physicians to do the bulk of the medical work in the camps, with limited supplies. Through their own self-sacrifice and ingenuity, these professionals heroically worked long hours to prevent epidemics in the crowded camps, and offered other medical services to their fellow inmates.

While terse, Akita’s diary nevertheless does much to capture her life and activities at Manzanar and other camps, spanning two years and documenting the extensive medical work she undertook, including optometry, surgery, vaccination, midwifery, army physicals, and so forth. Some of the medical procedures she monitors are described, such as on 18 March 1943: “Condition much improved, gave blood plasm at 1 PM, had serum reaction which was the 1st pt. [post transfusion?] here.” She was often on call for ‘emergency work,’ and would work late into the night. It seems she may also have been involved in various administrative roles at the camp (matters of “registration” are often noted), and may have taught in some capacity there (classes are noted, as well as a party for a graduating class). Much of the journal records the comings and goings of doctors and medical professionals at Manzanar and other internment camps—most of these workers apparently being Japanese. On 16 Jan. 1943, she writes: “At 5 pm heard Dr. Soto was ordered to leave Manzanar for Death Valley 9 AM Sunday morning a meeting was held. Much confusion over the entire camp.” Akita herself receives requests to assist with surgeries elsewhere; and one such trip documented here takes her to the Topaz War Relocation Center in Utah (she notes that the camp “seems bare & hot no trees or lawn”). The numerous comings and goings Akita records indicate there was likely a shortage of medical staff in these camps, necessitating such constant movement.

Akita’s leisurely activities include “card parties,” attending baby showers, weddings, picnics, exhibits, barbecues, carnivals and outdoor movies. Other subjects mentioned include the Western Defense; the Fort Missoula Internment Camp; an invitation to a Buddhist church; receiving letters from Los Angeles; sending immunization cards; doctors traveling to LA to perform surgeries; the “relocation” of individuals at Manzanar; rumors about the camp moving; weather and climate; meals she eats; visits from pastors; learning about new relocation projects; medical supplies, etc. Akita had numerous correspondents and their names are recorded throughout her diary, including those of other Japanese nurses. In one instance, she attends a funeral for a woman on whom she performed caesarean section just days before (in “Health in Japanese Internment Camps” (2018) Megumi Corley details the “shocking conditions” in which some mothers had to give birth while interned). Akita also records her own ailments and physical pains; and the journal does much to capture the exhaustion of doing ‘double-duty.’ She frequently records her psychological exhaustion as well: “Sick to stomach from worry. No appetite.” In another poignant moment, she pens: “New stockings hope they will last until we return to our home.” On 17 Dec. 1944, she writes: “Exclusion ban lift was announced over radio today. Date set 1-5-45.” Akita is known to have lived in Cincinnati with her husband after the War.

Prior to World War II and the widespread anti-Japanese sentiment surrounding internment, Japanese-American physicians and patients were often subjected to discrimination at Los Angeles hospitals. While Japanese medical professionals faced a ‘glass ceiling’ in their profession, Japanese patients were often denied basic healthcare by the city’s white medical establishment, often to tragic consequences. Facing these obstacles, Akita opened a clinic circa 1915 in her small home (located just east of LA’s Little Tokyo) to serve the Japanese community, which at this time saw an influx of ‘picture brides’ from Japan. Known as the Turner Hospital, Akita’s home offered maternity and other medical care. In response to the 1918 Influenza Epidemic, her clinic expanded its facilities with the help of Dr. Jyuhei Tanaka, and the hospital was re-named the Japanese Hospital of Southern California. Japanese-Americans suffered disproportionately from the Influenza. By 1922, the noted physician Kikuwo Tashiro joined Akita at her hospital, which increasingly became overwhelmed with patients, and thus needed more beds and more doctors. After raising over $100,000, Tashiro and four other Japanese doctors leased land in Boyle Heights. Set to start building in 1926, Tashiro filed for incorporation but was denied by California officials—California law at this time prohibiting Japanese-Americans from owning land. Tashiro’s challenge of the law eventually made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which struck down the discriminatory law in a landmark decision. The rulings cleared the way for construction of Tashiro’s new Japanese Hospital, and in 1929 the 42-bed facility opened to much community fanfare.

A rare and revealing diary of a pioneering Japanese-American nurse interned during World War II.

REFERENCES: Corley, Megumi. Health in Japanese Internment Camps (2018) at; Los Angeles Dept. of City Planning, Historic-Cultural Monument Application for the Japanese Hospital (2016), p. 13 at; Rasmussen, Cecilia. Hospital a Pillar to Japanese Americans (1998) at; Smith, Susan. Japanese American Midwives: Culture, Community, and Health Politics, 1880-1950 (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2005), p. 89; Manzanar Relocation Supplement Vol. 1 No. 10. (Manzanar, CA: 1945); Pacific Coast Journal of Nursing, p. 238; The Pacific Citizen Vol. 111 No. 14. (Los Angeles, 2 Nov. 1990), p. 2.

CONDITION: Good, no losses to the text; photo good, creasing to upper-left and bottom-left corners.

Item #6106


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