1943 Speech on Public Health (Part II)

Fifth Page of Jean's Speech

On October 12th, 1943, Sally Lucas Jean attended the War Time Public Health Conference in New York City and delivered a remarkable recount of the public health education of the Japanese American internment camp in Poston, Arizona (Jean 1).  The speech, titled “Health Education in A Japanese Relocation Centre,” details Jean’s experiences in public health care during her tenure at the internment facility (Jean 1).

The Poston internment camp opened May 8 of 1942 as the largest relocation facility in the United States, and located on the Colorado River Indian Reservation (Burton, Farrell, and et al). Ironically, the tribal leaders of the reservation “did not want to participate in inflicting the same type of injustice… they had suffered” (Burton, Farrell, et al).  Poston, like its companion internment camps, was constructed hastily and some aspects of life were neglected; Poston’s only schools were arranged and managed by residents because the government had not arranged for them to be built (Burton, Farrell, et al).  Sally Lucas Jean’s work originates primarily in Poston public health, which had not demonstrated the highest standards, as evidenced by resident George Yoshida’s account of filling his own mattress with straw to sleep and the frequent spreading of sicknesses while at Poston (Yoshida).

The second half of the document, beginning in the fourth paragraph of page five, introduces compilations of “child health problems,” as well as general health issues, which were prevalent in Poston (Jean 5).  Along with the communicable diseases that Jean mentions in her speech, she is also explicit in her appreciation for “public health visitors” of the camp (Jean 6).  These “visitors” were Japanese Americans who had been incarcerated and then volunteered as nurse’s aides and public health workers (Jean 6).  When the health officials of Poston did a survey on the infection rate of tuberculosis in their camp, Jean recalls that the public health visitors’ “work is really contributing in important ways to improve the health of all the people” (Jean 7).   She also noted that the volunteers “played a part” in almost all aspects of said survey, not to mention any other public health endeavor posed by their camp environment (Jean 7).  It could be seen as ironic that these volunteers, who Jean herself describes as essential to part of Poston public health, only held the title of “visitor”;  their activity merits a title that reflects such dedication.

Those public health visitors who chose to volunteer were paid a small amount for their actions, but Jean stresses in her presentation that, “regardless of the nature of the work, all service at the Relocation Centers is volunteer service” (Jean 6).  However, the work that incarcerees did in internment camps, including Poston, could almost be seen as forced labor.  Many Japanese Americans lost much of their estates and financial stability upon entering camp, which functioned as strong incentive to “volunteer.”  Also, the compensation assistants in camps received was characterized as “insulting,” far less than the amount paid to WRA workers with similar positions (PJD 167).  No Japanese American would accept such little money, especially when federal government workers were paid far more, unless they were in a position of need.  Weighing the disparity between pay level, as well as the financial need of some Japanese Americans in internment camps, the labor done in centers like Poston was essentially forced labor.

Activities in the camp led by Jean assisted in the “improvement of facilities to permit…hygienic programs,” especially as it pertained to the prevention of disease (Jean 8).   The WRA was known for the “Spartan” lifestyle it imposed upon those in camp, and health care adequacy was one aspect of subpar camp life (PJD 162).  A major issue was the lack of “medical personnel, particularly nurses,” (PJD 164) something that Jean combatted with recruitment of public health visitors and the creation of a nurse’s aide program in Poston (Jean 2).  The aide program, consisting of nearly 200 students at the time of Jean’s speech, was credited by Poston nurse Elizabeth Vickers, who oversaw the trainees, in “contributing an enormous amount of service” (Jean 3).  Vickers goes on to mention the positivity and hard work each of the aides brought to the Poston hospital, where the aides became indispensable parts of their public health system (Jean 3-4).

Overall, Jean’s work with youth in Poston schools and public health visitors at the internment camp had created a community with a lower mortality and morbidity rate “than for the population of the United States as a whole” (Jean 9).  Poston might have become a frightening place to live without the guiding hand and diligent work of Sally Lucas Jean.

David Gorelick


Works Cited:

“Health Education in a Japanese Relocation Centre” Speech on Oct. 12, 1943, Folder 75, Sally Lucas Jean papers #4290, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Burton, J., M. Farrell, et al. United States. National Park Service. Confinement and Ethnicity: An Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites. 2000. Web. <http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/anthropology74/ce10j.htm>.

Yoshida, George, interview by Ito, Alice and Pai, John, 28 Feb 2002, George Yoshida Interview Collection, Densho


1943 Speech on Public Health (Part I)

Sally Lucas Jean's speech "Health Education in a Japanese Relocation Centre"

On October 12, 1943, Sally Lucas Jean gave a speech entitled “Health Education in a Japanese Relocation Centre”. The speech was delivered at the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York City for the War Time Public Health Conference in front of the Public Health Education Section of the American Public Health Association (APHA), and discussed the “Discovery of New Resources for Health Education in War Time”. Jean worked as a nurse in Poston, Arizona, in the largest internment camp for Japanese Americans. She played an integral role in the organization of evacuee doctors and the training of nurse aides. Additionally, she designed and implemented a Health Education program in the camp. This program, which she discussed in her speech, helped to influence the APHA’s qualification standard of health educators which was decided upon after the Conference (American Public Health Association).

At the time of Jean’s speech, America was in the midst of WWII and the incarceration. Japanese Americans were forced to leave to homes and businesses to move into hastily built Assembly Centers and eventually, more permanent Relocation Centers. The Poston internment camp was located in the dry desert of Arizona. Jean addressed the many discomforts and difficulties of the desert location for the internees – the cramped living spaces, the weather extremes, the dust storms – but then goes on to describe the camp’s efficient and effective hospital and Public Health Department, which has organized the training of nurse aides, health education, and prevention of disease.

Thus, in spite of poor conditions, the camp had an excellent Public Health Program. This is contradictory information for Jean to share in her speech, especially considering her audience and purpose. Jean’s speech is meant to inform medical professionals on Public Health Education. She could have given a simple introduction on the internment and Poston and gone immediately to discussion of the Health Education program there, but instead spends several paragraphs describing the horrible conditions at Poston, which is unnecessary information for the occasion. Although Jean appears to be reporting objectively in third person about Poston, her use of harsh language when describing the camp and other subtle mentions of information irrelevant to Public Health show her opinion of the terrible conditions at the camp and evoke sympathy from the audience towards the Japanese American situation.

Jean describes the cramped living spaces at Poston that require more than one family to occupy a single 29 by 25 foot space as an obvious “disruption of family life” (“Health Education” 2). Jean could have said that this provides grounds for lack of hygiene, health, and quick and easy spread of disease, but she chooses to acknowledge its harsh impact on family life instead. She continues to on to describe the schools, “…where on cold mornings both teacher and children shiver” (“Health Education” 2). Any mention of children, the pure and innocent, suffering and “shivering” in the cold at the camp draws the audience’s attention to the cruelty of the camp situation as well. She describes the desert sun that makes efficient work “impossible” and how dust storms penetrate the poorly built barracks and cover everything in silt (“Health Education” 2). Needless to say, these are miserable living conditions, but Jean concludes by saying that, “The internees have accepted all these discomforts with the stoicism of their race” (“Health Education” 2). The fact that the Japanese Americans accepted these horrible conditions without complaint demonstrates that they are mild-mannered and willing to endure the hardships of camp – not rebellious and vengeful like many Americans at the time thought.

A typical interior scene in one of the barrack apartments at Manzanar - an internment camp. Note the cloth partition which lends a small amount of privacy

In fact, anytime Jean speaks of the internees, she speaks of them with high regard and praise. When she details the training program of the nurse aides at Poston she describes them as, “…fine students and excellent workers…during the difficult days of adjustment and organizations building…they showed not the first indication of defeat or lack of spirit in any situation” (“Health Education” 3). The fact that Jean speaks so highly of Japanese Americans, who at the time of her speech were targets of severe suspicion by most American people, is a stark contrast with the massive anti-Japanese sentiments and assumptions made by Americans towards anyone of Japanese descent. Not only does Jean make Japanese Americans look good by calling them hardworking and spirited, she also mentions that they are doing all of this hard work as volunteers. They are performing nurse duties without being paid appropriately – yet another moment where Jean shows the audience how they willingly accept the unfairness of their situation.

At the conclusion of Jean’s speech, she deviates away from the purpose and once again appears to be defending Japanese Americans. She uses another powerful, contradicting statement to describe Japanese Americans in the camp: “…these people are virtually prisoners and many of them have only lately learned the ways of life in a democracy” (“Health Education” 9). Essentially, Jean is calling the Japanese Americans “prisoners” in a “democracy.” America’s democracy was founded on the principles of life and liberty, two things that prisoners do not have. Her use of these two opposing words at the end of her speech subtly concludes that the internment is a contradiction of the American way.

This conclusion is further supported by Jean’s final statement: “It seems fair to assume that these 18,000 people – more than two-thirds of whom are citizens of the United

"Evacuation Instructions"

States – will be able to leave this Relocation Center with improved health and vitality, capable of taking their proper place as good citizens in the fabric of American life” (“Health Education” 9). While this statement talks of the improved health of Japanese Americans due to the Health Education Program, there seems to be deeper meaning in the word choice of the sentence. Jean reiterates the number of “people,” not Japanese Americans nor the derogatory term “Japs,” but relatable, every day “people,” at an astounding 18,000. Notably, she adds that two-thirds of them are U.S. “citizens,” identifying that the aforementioned “prisoners” are Americans whose rights are protected under the Constitution. This is interesting as the government during the internment used the term “non-aliens” to describe Japanese Americans who were legal citizens. Government notices informing Japanese Americans about the evacuation stated that, “…all persons of Japanese ancestry, both alien and non-alien, will be evacuated from the above area…” (“Evacuation” instructions). The notice only describes Japanese Americans as “Japanese,” “alien,” and “non-alien.” This wording ties Japanese Americans exclusively to Japan and not to America, and does not even mention the fact that many internees are American citizens. It sounds much worse to evacuate American “citizens,” who are associated with rights and freedoms, than it does to evacuate ambiguous “non-aliens” of Japanese ancestry. Thus, Jean’s use of the word “citizens” takes a subtle stab at the government’s terms and legitimizes internees as Americans, contrary to the general public opinion of Japanese Americans at the time.

Jean continues to boost the view of Japanese Americans by saying that when they leave the camp they will take their “proper place,” insinuating that the right place is in America, not Poston nor Japan. For the sake of the Health Conference, she could have ended her speech after “health and vitality,” but instead she decides to extend her conclusion to the idea that Japanese Americans will return to society as “good citizens.” At this point in time, America was still caught up in the hysteria of the war with Japan and the belief that Japanese Americans were spies and not “good citizens.” Jean, however, contradicts the masses and instills a new and positive view of Japanese Americans in her audience.

Overall, Jean Lucas Jean’s speech at the War Time Public Health Conference provides the detailing of an effective Health Program implemented under the poor conditions at Poston. Yet, in her subtle digressions from the main health issues of the camps, she sheds a positive light on Japanese Americans in a time when media and propaganda led America to think the worst of them. In her juxtaposition of the horrible, inhumane conditions at Poston with the goodness and spirit of Japanese Americans, she sheds light on the injustice of the internment.

 -Meredith Richard


Works Cited

American Public Health Association. “APHA History and Timeline.” APHA.org. American Public Health Association, 2012. Web. 29 Feb. 2012.

“Evacuation” instructions (denshopd-p25-00049), Densho, the Yamada Family Collection.

“Health Education in A Japanese Relocation Centre” Folder 75: 3-11, in the Sally Lucas Jean papers #4290, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Lange, Dorothea. “A Typical Interior Scene in One of the Barrack Apartments at This Center.” Calisphere. University of California. Web. 10 Apr. 2012.