The Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania had a long tradition of diversity; in addition to opening the doors to a formal medical education to American women of many backgrounds, including a former slave like Dr. Eliza Grier, it also helped to educate women from around the world – and that’s back when it was such an usual move that international students made headlines, just for coming. In 1885, there were three such ‘exotic’ women attending WMC at the same time – Dr. Anandibai Joshee, class of 1886, who was the first Indian woman to earn an MD; Japan’s Dr. Kei Okami, class of 1889, and Dr. Sabat Islambooly (yes, it’s a typo on the caption – and a very old one), class of 1890, from Syria – so naturally, a photograph was taken to honor the occasion:


By 1904, the College could boast alumnae hailing from ‘…Canada…Jamaica, Brazil, England, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, Russia, Syria, India, China, Japan, Burmah, Australia, and the Congo Free State. Its living alumnae number about a thousand, and are found in nearly every part of the American republic and in many foreign countries, among them Egypt, India, China, Japan, Persia and Korea.’


Indeed, in the early twentieth century, the press loved nothing more than featuring women medical students from around the world in their native costumes – this example is from 1928 (although perhaps what is more interesting is that as late as 1928, a newspaper with a general readership could make a pop culture allusion to Gilbert & Sullivan and have it understood):


While a commitment to diversity waxed and waned throughout the years, it is interesting to note that it was strong in a very public way, at a time when it was not necessarily a popular stance. At the height of the Second World War, WMC admitted students from Japanese internment camps, although it is clear from a few not-so-subtle hints in the Faculty Minutes that not everyone was happy about their presence – one of them was nearly forced out on several occasions, and made to repeat work – all while being closely monitored.

But even within the wartime Japanese-American community at WMC (admittedly, a very small one), there was no single path that defined their experiences. Dr. Toshiko Toyota began her studies with the class of 1943, but the resulting chaos surrounding some Japanese-American students (and not a little suspicion from someone in the faculty – it seems from existing records that her time as a student was made as difficult at possible) delayed her schoolwork and pushed her into the class of 1944.

By contrast, Dr. Emma Hatayama, class of 1945, started at WMC in 1941; she had been advised as an undergrad to apply to east coast medical schools because of the increasing suspicion with which Japanese-Americans were viewed in the west, even prior to 1941 – but according to her oral history, she managed to avoid many of the tribulations other Japanese-American students suffered, largely by being in the right place at the right time – as she started her medical education on the east coast prior to the US entering the war, she was not subject to the restrictions placed on others.

Dr. Mary Sakaguchi Oda, class of 1946, was the sole Japanese-American student in her class; she was in medical school at UC Berkeley when war broke out; a California native, she was sent with her family to Manazar War Relocation Center in 1942, where Ansel Adams them (and where they suffered a number of family tragedies in 1944). After graduation, she returned to California to practice medicine.

Dr. Ruby Inouye, from Seattle, had been a pre-med student at the University of Washington in 1941; after the attack on Pearl Harbor, she found herself in the Minidoka War Relocation Center in Idaho with her family. In 1943, she was able to transfer to the University of Texas to complete her undergraduate education – while her family stayed behind in the camp. Organizations such as the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council worked to find places for Japanese-American college students at universities outside the ‘restricted area’ – and families who would house and ‘monitor’ them as required by the terms of their release from the camps. She arrived at WMC in 1944.

But Dr. Inouye was not the only Japanese-American student accepted in 1944 – Dr. Kazuko Ono (later Bill, whose family was in an internment camp in their home state of California, and whose education had been similarly interrupted) started at the College the same year. They are pictured together here in a College event from 1947:


In a class of fewer than 35 students, two who required considerable ‘extra’ administrative work certainly stood out – and it is interesting that there is no record of any Japanese-American student coming across discrimination from the faculty after Dr. Toyota’s experience.

It’s not clear whether she was simply the victim of bad timing or a particular individual with a grudge – but she and her fellow Japanese-American students went on to successful careers after graduation, although some continued to face discrimination in the years immediately following the war; but whether that was down to racism or sexism (or both) is another question entirely.

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