1937 graduates (left to right) Mary Yamahiro, Mary Yokota, Daisy Rains and Arlene Clark as they appear in Leona Fast’s photo album from the Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital in Salem. Photo Source: Willamette Heritage Center Collections 2005.015.0001.
Graduation will look a little different for the class of 2020, but it is still a reason to celebrate! A sentiment taken to heart by the 8th and 12th grade students who found themselves at the Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital in June 1937. In the face of treatment for a very scary disease, removal from home and school, separation from friends and family, the greatest economic depression the country had seen and a very uncertain future, eleven students received their diplomas in a hospital auditorium that year. Despite the circumstances, they celebrated.
In the 1930s, a diagnosis of tuberculosis for many Oregonians meant a prolonged admission to the Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital, located just outside of Salem in what is now the campus of Corban University. The hospital had a capacity for about 325 patients, with an expected average stay of 17 ½ months. While the hospital could provide treatments ranging from fresh air and light therapy to aggressive surgery, there were no cures or vaccines for this disease. Death rates at the hospital were about 18% of admitted patients. Those that were eventually released, were often readmitted and dealt with lingering health concerns.
The world was also topsy-turvy. The U.S. was in the throes of the Great Depression, but an additional blow was felt that June, as unemployment levels spiked to 19%.
For many students, admission to the hospital meant leaving home behind. Marion County residents accounted for only about 10% of admissions. Patients came from all the western Oregon counties (Eastern Oregon had their own hospital at this point). Even far from home, they kept up their studies under the supervision of two teachers, one who was supplied as part of the Roosevelt administration’s Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.) program.
The hospital hosted a traditional Baccalaureate service for students on the Sunday evening before graduation, with a sermon preached by the Rev. George Swift of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Salem. Then on Friday evening, June 11th, the diplomas were handed out in a ceremony to 8th graders: Arlene Clark, James Crandell, Wilton Leach, Delmer Jensen, Mary Yokota and Mary Yamahiro and high school seniors: Jero Kodama, George Simmons, Daisy Rains, Florence Kneeland and Helen Griffith.
Beyond the newspaper accounts and government statistics for the facility, there is very little official documentation of what life would have been like for these young adults in the Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital or their graduation day. A photo album kept by a young patient named Leona Fast, now a part of the Willamette Heritage Center’s collections, provides a rare glimpse into the lives of these students and what graduation may have looked like. It appears Leona captured many of her friends in their graduation finery. Girls in white flowing dresses with flower crowns in their hair and holding rolled scrolls appear to be the graduates, although Leona’s handwritten captions don’t explicitly say that the photos were taken on graduation day.
Leona had graduated from Salem High School a year earlier, but the next few months did not go according to plan. The very day of her graduation, her family received a visit to let them know that there was a space for Leona’s little sister Martha at the Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital. Martha left for the hospital the next day. Leona continued to visit until she herself was admitted to the hospital less than a month later, giving up the opportunity for a stenography position she was hoping to take. The sisters’ parents and brother were allowed to visit, but the family didn’t have a car and either had to bike the 7 miles to the hospital and back or rely on neighbors and church friends to drive them. The sisters were on different wards, and Leona made as many visits as she could and sent notes when she couldn’t. In October that year, Martha passed away. She was just 13 years old. Leona went home to be with the family as they made funeral preparations. She returned to the hospital a few days later and would remain there for much of the next few years.
The difficulties didn’t magically disappear for the Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital class of 1937 on graduation day. The outbreak of World War II would upend their lives again. 8th grade graduate Mary Yokota returned to her Portland home only to forcibly removed a few years later and sent to Idaho with her mother and brother to be incarcerated at the Minidoka Camp for the duration of the war.
Despite the loss and difficulty, there are so many expressions of joy, camaraderie, friendship and hope in Leona’s photobook. I find it a good reminder that no matter what the circumstances, you can usually find something to celebrate.
Want to learn more about Leona’s life at the hospital? Checkout her diary, photobook and more and join the conversation:
This article was originally written for the Statesman Journal by Kylie Pine to be published June 6, 2020. It is reproduced here with all notes and citations for reference purposes.
 Statistics given for the 1937-38 Biennium to the Oregon State Legislature. Reported in the Biennial Report of the Oregon State Board of Control, report printed 1939, page 124 Full text available through the HathiTrust: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015073698691&view=1up&seq=128
 See Leona Fast album documenting light therapy treatments. WHC Collections 2005.015.0001.011. See also generalized information about treatment of Tuberculosis: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuberculosis.
 See numbers in Biennial Report: Reported in the Biennial Report of the Oregon State Board of Control, report printed 1939, page 124 Full text available through the HathiTrust: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015073698691&view=1up&seq=128. Take also case study examples of Leona Fast and Mary Yamahiro, who both died young.
 See article: Recession of 1937-8 on Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recession_of_1937%E2%80%9338
 Biennial Report, 1939 pg. 128: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015073698691&view=1up&seq=132
 Carrie Thomas is listed as the staff teacher at the Hospital in the 1936-37 Biennial Report. See page 135. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015073698691&view=1up&seq=139; “Graduation Day at T.B. Hospital.” Capital Journal 05 June 1937 pg 7.
 See graduation announcement for class of 1936, Fast Family Materials 2005.015.0001 box 1 folder 8. Also her diary WHC Collections: 2005.015.0001, Box 3 Folder 3.
 See letter to Leona from Merrit Davis. Fast Family Materials. 2005.015.0001, Box 1, Folder 8
 See Oregon Death Index, headstone in Lee Mission Cemetery, and obituary transcribed online on Lee Mission Cemetery website in addition to notations made in Leona Fast Diary (cited below). http://www.leemissioncemetery.com/Lee_F.html
 Diary of Leona Fast. WHC Collections: 2005.015.0001, Box 3 Folder 3. Summary written out of compilation of many entries in diary for year 1937.
 It is hard to be 100% positive about the identification of the Mary Yokota that was at the Oregon State Tuberculosis hospital and it well documented in Leona‘s photobook, as there were a number of Mary Yokotas on the West Coast at the time. We believe the Mary at the hospital was Mary Yukiko Yokota, who is enumerated in Portland in the 1930 and 1940 US Census living with mother Kumeyo and brother Roy Patrick Yokota. See incarceration records for Mary Yokotas on West Coast on Densho Project website: https://ddr.densho.org/names/?fulltext=Mary+Yokota&m_camp=. The Mary Yokota, fondly referred to by Leona and herself as Mary Yok (to differentiate from Mary Yamahiro – nickname Mary Yam), signed Leona’s autograph book (see collections 2005.015.0001 Box 3 folder 3) on August 5, 1937 with the name ”Mary Yok” and the address Rt. 4 Box 1285, Portland, Oregon. This compared with the addresses listed in the 1930 and 1940 census for Mary Yokota in Portland seem to be the closest match.
Transcription of Selected Articles
“Graduation Day at T.B. Hospital.” Capital Journal 05 Jun 1937 pg 7
Baccalaureate services for the graduating patients at the state tuberculosis hospital will be held Sunday at 8 p.m. in the hospital auditorium. Rev. George Swift of St. Paul’s Episcopal church will preach the sermon. Graduating exercises will be held at the same place on the evening of Friday, June 11. Eleven patients will receive diplomas, six having completed the eighth grade and five their last year of high school. The diplomas are issued through the public schools. Credits are given for extension work as well that offered under the supervision of grade school teacher and the WPA adult education program working harmony with the requirements of the city school system.
The patients who will receive high school diplomas are Jero Kodama, George Simmons, Daisy Rains, Florence Kneeland and Helen Griffith. Eighth grade diplomas will be presented to Arlene Clark, James Crandell, Wilton Leach, Delmer Jensen, Mary Yokota and Mary Yamahiro.
The public is invited to attend these exercises.
“Slate Graduation at T.B. Hospital.” Oregon Statesman 09 Jun 1937 pg 5.
Friday night, June 11, in the auditorium of the State Tuberculosis hospital, eleven patients who have completed certain prescribed courses will receive diplomas. Included among these are six who have finished the eighth grade and five who have completed their last year of high school. The public is invited.
The high school courses at the hospital have been offered through the cooperation of the WPA Adult Education program and the Salem school system. The high school diplomas issued to the graduating patients are given through the local high school and credits are provided also for extension work done under the supervision of the public schools.
Those who will receive eighth grade diplomas are Arlene Clark, James Crandell, Wilton Leach, Mary Yamahiro and Mary Yokota. High school diplomas will be presented to Helen Griffith, Florence Kneeland, Daisy Rains, George Simmons and Jero Kodoma
Baccalaureate services were held on Sunday June 6. The sermon was delivered by Reverend Swift of St. Paul’s Episcopal church.
Biographical Information on the Class of 1937
In a COVID world, with limited access to physical archives, it has been difficult to definitively track down biographical materials for the students listed in the newspaper articles as graduating and appearing in Leona’s photo album. Here are some of our notes from our attempts to track folks down. If you have any suggestions of improvements, please let us know!