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Japanese American Midwives

Culture, Community, and Health Politics, 1880-1950

Susan L. Smith

Publication Year: 2005

In the late nineteenth century, midwifery was transformed into a new woman's profession as part of Japan's modernizing quest for empire. With the rise of Japanese immigration to the United States, Japanese midwives (sanba) served as cultural brokers as well as birth attendants for Issei women. They actively participated in the creation of Japanese American community and culture as preservers of Japanese birthing customs and agents of cultural change._x000B_ The history of Japanese American midwifery reveals the dynamic relationship between this welfare state and the history of women and health. Midwives' individual stories, coupled with Susan L. Smith's astute analysis, demonstrate the impossibility of clearly separating domestic policy from foreign policy, public health from racial politics, medical care from women's care giving, and the history of women and health from national and international politics. By setting the history of Japanese American midwives in this larger context, Smith reveals little-known ethnic, racial, and regional aspects of women's history and the history of medicine._x000B_

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Series: The Asian American Experience


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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

This book is dedicated to Donald Macnab and Susan Hamilton, who made it possible, in their own special ways, for me to complete it. They not only offered wonderful suggestions for how to improve this work, they also provided solid moral support. ...

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Introduction: Japanese American Women, Racial Politics, and the Meanings of Midwifery

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pp. 1-12

Japanese American midwives were women who established their expertise as childbirth attendants in Japan but spent most of their working lives in the United States. Midwives, almost all of whom were women, and doctors, most of whom were men, were the predominant formal health-care providers among Japanese immigrants. ...

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1. Creation of the Sanba in Meiji Japan

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pp. 13-30

At the beginning of the twentieth century, many women in Japan gave birth without assistance, although a few women had access to the aid of traditional midwives. Gradually Japanese cultural practices changed and more women turned to the services of the modern midwife, or sanba, especially for difficult births. ...

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2. Race Relations, Midwife Regulations, and the Sanba in the American West

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pp. 31-59

Hundreds of Japanese midwives, or sanba, immigrated to the United States in the early twentieth century at a time when the nation grappled with concerns about both the “Japanese problem” and the “midwife problem.” As immigrants from Japan, the sanba were proud subjects of the emperor, leader of a rising imperial power. ...

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3. Seattle Sanba and the Creation of Issei Community

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pp. 60-103

At 10:00 a.m. on a rainy January day in 1927, Toku Shimomura drove the family Ford to the house of Mrs. Okiyama, who safely gave birth to a baby boy five hours later.1 It was a typical, uneventful birth for Toku, a sanba who delivered about twenty babies that year in her hometown of Seattle, Washington. ...

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4. Midwife Supervision in Hawai’i

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pp. 104-141

In 1937 the Territorial Board of Health in Hawai’i selected public health nurse Alice Young to become its first supervisor of midwives. Alice, a Chinese American born in Honolulu, was in charge of the licensed midwives, most of whom were Japanese immigrants. ...

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5. Militarization, Midwifery, and World War II

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pp. 142-184

On 7 December 1941, midwife Misao Tanji was not at home. Misao had left the night before to deliver a baby at a plantation near Pearl Harbor, not far from Honolulu. “In the morning when I prepared to leave,” she recalled, “I heard machine guns. I thought the military was practicing.” ...

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pp. 185-188

Throughout the early twentieth century, Japanese American midwives responded to the health-care needs of their communities. They played a vital role as health-care providers for Issei women, a few Nisei women, and sometimes women of other ethnic backgrounds. ...


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pp. 189-252

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 253-270


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pp. 271-280

E-ISBN-13: 9780252092435
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252030055

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2005

Series Title: The Asian American Experience
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OCLC Number: 814507302
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Japanese American Midwives

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Midwifery -- United States -- History.
  • Midwifery -- Japan -- History.
  • Midwives -- United States -- History.
  • Midwives -- Japan -- History.
  • Japanese American women -- History.
  • Japanese -- United States -- History.
  • Japan -- Emigration and immigration -- History.
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