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Maternal Health Care at a Japanese American Relocation Camp, 1942–1945: A Historical Study


  • Susan McKay RN, PhD

    1. Susan McKay is professor of nursing and women' studies at the University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming, and a psychologist in private practice.
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Susan McKay PhD University of Wyoming, Women's Studies Program, PO 4297, Laramie, WY 82071-4297.



From late summer of 1942 until the fall of 1945, approximately 120,000 ethnic Japanese were confined behind barbed wire within 10 relocation camps in the United States. Although histories have been written about the relocation camps, little data are available about women's lives. This study explored women's lives and experiences with pregnancy, childbirth, and child care in a Japanese-American relocation camp.


Twenty women who were ages 18 to 31 years at the time of internment at Heart Mountain, Wyoming Japanese American Relocation Camp, and one caucasian nurse who worked in the obstetric unit of the camp's hospital were interviewed. Archival, demographic, and historical data, including some prenatal records, provided information about maternity and public health care for pregnant women and new mothers.


Obstetric hospital practices were typical of the 1940s in the United States. Community public health services for new mothers included formula kitchens and well-baby clinics. Infant mortality statistics from 1942 to 1945 at Heart Mountain were comparatively better for the same time period than for the state of Wyoming or the United States. These outcomes may have reflected the camp's extensive social and family support, adequate housing and food, and universal access to maternity services.


The Heart Mountain internment provides a story about how women's lives are impacted by war. Since World War II, civilians, especially women and children, have increasingly been targeted during wars with profound impact upon the health of mothers and babies. (BIRTH 24:3, September 1997)