Memo concerning the nurse aides assistance in the hospital

1st Page

Elizabeth Vickers, R.N. and Senior Chief Nurse, wrote this letter on August 14, 1943 to Sally Lucas Jean concerning the Nurse Aide Program in the Poston Health Service while stationed at the Poston General Hospital in Poston, Arizona.  In her letter, Vickers updates Jean on the program’s progress with training Japanese American women in the nursing field at the Poston General Hospital and the surrounding areas.  She continues to describe what hospital services the nurse aides had experienced in the training, including the following areas: medical, surgical, obstetrics, pediatrics, tuberculosis, communicable diseases, operating room, diet kitchen, and clinic.  The most salient of all topics mentioned in this letter is the appraisal given by Elizabeth Vickers of the Japanese American nurse aides.

The majority of the letter expands upon the significant presence of the nurse aides and how their presence positively affects the hospital staff, the patients, and Elizabeth Vickers herself.  She gives the nurse aides full credit for most achievements made by the hospital services, such as “the preparation and serving of around one hundred thousand meals” and “the examinations and treatments given in 52,674 patient visits”.  Poston was made for a capacity of ten thousand, but held over thirteen thousand.  At twenty-one meals a week, for about ninety-five patients, one hundred thousand meals would have totalled for one year’s worth — meaning that the nurse aides provided a steady amount of assistance because that is one year that the WRA could not afford to handle without their help.  Following these accomplishments made by the nurse aids, Vickers continuously compliments their character and work ethic she observed in their training and during the tough times they most regularly faced in the hospital – “always with the smile that indicated real interest in the job at hand and the spirit of determination to do”.  At the end of her letter, Vickers explains that she is “not ashamed to say that many of us in the trained personnel group borrowed courage from the excellent spirit shown by the nurse aides and from that, undoubtedly, carried on more efficiently ourselves”.  Her words portray the nurse aides in a good light because she does not refer to them as Japanese Americans, eliminating the bias between Japanese and Caucasian races.  Another way she portrays the nurse aides positively is by complimenting them on their spirit and how that spirit benefitted the other medical workers.  She appreciates their service because without them, many patients would not have been cared for.

Kiyoko Tatsukawa, a Poston nurse aid, smiles while administering medications to patients in her charming nurse uniform. Due to a lack of medical care, nurse aides were needed in the camps to keep the hospitals running.

The presence of the nurse aides was crucial for the survival of many patients in the camps because there was a “lack of medical care contributed to extensive disease and death” (PJD 20).  Administrative motives behind providing Japanese Americans with jobs in the hospital were that help was needed in these institutions and that these jobs would be helpful training for Japanese American men and women.  By giving them opportunities to serve in the hospital and to apply themselves directly to issues that mattered personally to them, the WRA kept the Japanese Americans engaged and ensured that their time spent in the camp was useful.   To allow the Japanese Americans to have jobs while in the camps also served a more public service because it made the Japanese Americans look patriotic and a part of American society.  However, the WRA’s main motivation behind their asking for nurse aide volunteers from inside the internment camps was to supply the camps with medical care without having to ask Caucasian Americans, who were not as willing to do the job.  This was most beneficial to WRA because they knew Japanese Americans were eager for work and the Caucasian Americans wanted no connection to those interned.  This way, the WRA would save money because they knew the Japanese Americans would work for any kind of money.  It was crucial to have the Japanese Americans to work in the hospitals because if they had declined the WRA’s offer, many patients would have died and that would have reflected badly on the government.

In an oral history of Setsu Tsuboi Tanemura, she describes her experience in the Minidoka internment camp where she served as a nurse aide when she was thirteen.  During 1943, teenagers were given the chance to further their education in school or work in the hospital for money.  Few thirteen year olds worked in the hospital, but they were allowed to work because only a small amount of Japanese Americans in every camp had a background in qualified medical training.  Therefore, nurse aides helped with anything in the hospital or nearby clinics to reduce the spread of disease and other sicknesses.  Setsu mostly worked in the obstetrics ward, but occasionally helped in the surgical and tuberculosis ward, even though her father did not approve.  Allowing such young nurse aides to enter highly infected areas of the clinics was dangerous and irresponsible of the WRA; Setsu was infected by TB, though not to the point that she fully had the disease.  However, with the help of Setsu and many other Japanese American nurse aides, many more patients received personal care.

Overall, the WRA appreciated the assistance of the nurse aids; however, they had selfish motives.  The nurse aides did not get paid enough for the work they were doing and their work was more helpful to the appearance of the WRA than the training they were experiencing for the future.

-Olivia Van Horn

Works Cited

“Memo: Sally Lucas Jean, Concerning: Nurse Aide Program in the Poston Health Service, From: Elizabeth Vickers, R.N., Senior Chief Nurse”, in the Sally Lucas Jean papers #4290, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Link: <>

Setsu Tsuboi Tanemura Interview Segment 18.  Interviewed by Tom Ikeda, November 12, 2009, 
Densho Visual History Collection, Densho.

Photograph of Kiyoko Tatsukawa by Stewart,Francis, in the War Relocation Authority Photographs of Japanese-American Evacuation and Resettlement Series 1: Colorado River Relocation Center (Poston, AZ) Volume 3 Section A, WRA no. B-491. Link: <>

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. <>.

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