By Prof. Martin Meadows
INTRODUCTION. This is the second of a two-part exploration of a heretofore generally (and perhaps understandably) neglected subject. Its focus is on the shortages of sanitary supplies for the WWII prisoners of the Nipponese Empire in Manila’s Santo Tomas Internment Camp (STIC) — more precisely, on how the camp’s roughly 4,000 inmates coped with the problems caused by those shortages. Both Parts I and II concentrate attention on bathroom tissue (a “polite” term for toilet paper); and in addition Part II, centered on the women’s side of the story and more extensive in scope, takes into account the sanitary-napkins aspect of the subject. As to its results, here is a concise judgment in the form of a broad overview: Sufficient information surfaced during the course of this survey to enable it to develop several major (and I think credible) conclusions — but of course it is subject to modification if justified by the discovery of additional information.
[Note: Part II on the whole is self-contained, though it does include various references to passages in Part I.] [Link to Part I]
[Note: I have followed herein the now acceptable usage of “Santo Tomas” rather than “Santo Tomás.”]
At the outset, it is worth emphasizing that the process of writing Part II was far more difficult and complex (and thus took far longer) than I had anticipated, and certainly was far more so than had been the case with Part I. Part II is longer and more involved for three reasons. One was the absence of existing “guidelines,” so to speak; this topic not only has not received any (known) extended coverage, but (as noted in Part I) it is not even mentioned in the works by the camp’s principal ex-internee historians and record-keepers — namely, A. V. H. Hartendorp (author of a massive two-volume history of STIC), James E. McCall, and Frederic H. Stevens. Second, unlike the situation I faced in writing Part I, this time I was able to rely on sources other than myself; but, with more material to work with (though no “guidelines”), it had to be developed into a coherent and consistent whole (a goal which proved to be difficult to attain). Third, as the process evolved, Part II turned into more of a research paper than an essentially informal survey of individual recollections that I had expected it would be. (This helps explain its academic tone, for which apologies are hereby extended.)
Next, as background, it would be useful to briefly review Part I, in terms of the major factors which influenced its nature. In essence, the content of Part I was governed by two closely-related procedural constraints. One was that, since I was not aware of any previous extended coverage of the subject, the account thus was purely personal in nature, based almost entirely on my own recollections (which themselves were affected by the passage of more than seven decades). The other procedural constraint was that Part I, as a result, necessarily reflected only the men’s point of view — or rather, one male teen-ager’s version of that. These procedural limitations in turn entailed an undesirable though unavoidable substantive defect — namely, neglect of the women’s perspective. Therefore, seeking to rectify that deficiency, I asked members of Maurice Francis’ extensive email distribution list to submit any relevant material they could provide. Fortunately, several of them (cited below) were able — and took the trouble — to contribute useful information.
Part II seeks to answer three major questions that Part I covered in much less detail: (1) how — that is, by which method: a procedural question — did internees receive their rations of bathroom tissue, or BT for short; (2) how much BT did internees receive, on a daily basis — a substantive question, which, for Part II, includes by extension the closely-related one of whether it was possible to exceed the formal daily ration; and (3) what substitutes for BT — a purely factual matter — did internees resort to, if and when necessary. Based on my personal account in Part I, I assumed (rightly or wrongly) that, for men in general, the answer to (1) was that BT was distributed by room monitors (as was the case in my room); and that the answer to (2) was that, whatever the daily ration amount (which declined over the years, as shown later), the fact that room monitors dispensed it meant there was no way for men to exceed that amount (barring favoritism or bribery, of course). As for (3), no assumption was necessary — the answer was a purely factual one, which cited specific substitutes for BT (such as newspapers, pages torn from books, and showering immediately after defecation). And now, before examining the information on which Part II is based, its sources should be recognized — as should the fact that most of those sources (in all three of the following categories) were women.
SOURCES. I received a number of valuable submissions, and I would like to gratefully acknowledge, and express my appreciation to, everyone who responded. They fall into two groups, personal memory and public domain (i.e., written works), and collectively they helped fill an enormous knowledge-void. In the personal-memory group, respondents included, in alphabetical order, George Baker; Sharon Kezer Barnes (relaying comments from her mother, STIC teen-ager Shirley Hackett (Kezer)); Curtis Brooks; Heather Holter Ellis (on behalf of her late parents, Don and Isabelle Holter); Connie Ford (and her late mother, Consuelo B. Ford); Andrea Geary Gardner Goodwin; Sandy Holmes (recalling her late great-aunt, Luella K. Walters); Mary Beth Klee (not only on her own, but also channeling both her late mother, STIC teen-ager Lee Iserson, and another teen-age internee, the late Virginia McKinney (Glass)); and Peggy Tileston (on behalf of her mother, STIC teen-ager Margaret Hoffmann (Tileston)).
[Note: Bob Hansen Beltrán added some interesting comments, though in a different context not directly relevant here.]
In the written-works group, two persons submitted material. Sally Meadows furnished extracts from five books: Frances Cogan, Captured: The Japanese Internment of American Civilians in the Philippines, 1941-1945; Celia Lucas, Prisoners of Santo Tomas; Margaret Sams, Forbidden Family: Wartime Memoir of the Philippines, 1941-1945; James Scott, Rampage: MacArthur, Yamashita, and the Battle of Manila; and Mary Schwaner, Courage in a White Coat (a “biographical novel”). And Cliff Mills provided passages from three books: the aforementioned Celia Lucas volume; Bruce E. Johansen, So Far From Home: Manila’s Santo Tomas Internment Camp, 1942-1945; and Teedie Cowie Woodstock, Behind the Sawali: Santo Tomas in Cartoons 1942-1945); he also made available an unpublished manuscript by Robert B. Jones, entitled Eternal Picnic (dated March 1945).
In addition, I consulted the following sources, all of which are cited herein: Bernice Archer, The Internment of Western Civilians Under the Japanese 1941-1945; Mary C. Farrell, Pure Grit: How American World War II Nurses Survived Battle and Prison Camp in the Pacific (obtained with Rod Hall’s help); Tressa R. Cates, Infamous Santo Tomas (originally entitled The Drainpipe Diary); A. V. H. Hartendorp, The Japanese Occupation of the Philippines (two volumes), and The Santo Tomas Story; Carol M. Petillo, ed., The Ordeal of Elizabeth Vaughan: A Wartime Diary of the Philippines; Elizabeth M. Norman, We Band of Angels: The Untold Story of American Nurses Trapped on Bataan by the Japanese; James E. McCall, Santo Tomas Internment Camp: STIC in Verse and Reverse, STIC-toons and STIC-tistics; Rupert Wilkinson, Surviving a Japanese Internment Camp: Life and Liberation at Santo Tomas, Manila, in WWII; Frederic H. Stevens, Santo Tomas Internment Camp; Natalie Crouter (Lynn Z. Bloom, ed.), Forbidden Diary: A Record of Wartime Internment, 1941-1945; Bob Pool, “Time To Pay Up,” Los Angeles Times (14 May 2000); and an undated issue of the STIC newsletter Internews (probably from mid-June 1942). And now we can proceed to the substance of Part II.
[Note: Hereafter all sources will be cited by last name only.]
BATHROOM TISSUE. It should be noted, for the record, that I embarked on Part II with the expectation that the general framework described above (in the final paragraph of the introductory section), including the accompanying assumptions, likely would also apply on the women’s side. That expectation caused most of my early difficulties in attempting to deal with the material that became available. That was particularly true for what I foresaw would be the crucial problem — how to explain (and justify) what I (wrongly) assumed to be identical and inflexible BT rations for both women and men, despite the glaringly obvious fact that women use BT more often, and thus need more BT, than men do. With this context in mind, we will now discuss the women’s perspective on the tissue issue. That will be followed by coverage of another similarly-ignored yet equally critical issue — that of the unavailability of sanitary napkins in the camp; and finally by concluding remarks. To repeat, the ensuing account seeks to answer the above-mentioned three main questions more briefly examined in Part I.
(1) On the procedural issue of how BT was distributed to STIC women, virtually all sources — except for one “outlier” and one “super-outlier” — agree that BT was handed out not by room monitors (as with the men) but rather by bathroom monitors (those sources include Klee, Lucas, Cogan, Archer, Johansen, Woodcock, Farrell, Tileston, etc.). As a clinching point, in effect, Barnes states that this was true for the women’s bathrooms on all three floors in the Main Building (which is the only location covered herein). Those bathroom monitors, because of the nature of their duties, often were facetiously referred to variously as “paper lady” (Woodstock, Cogan); “Miss Issue Tissue” (Klee, Cates); “Miss Tissue Issue” (Farrell); and “Issuers of Tissue” in general and “Ida, Issuer of Tissue” for the first-floor BT-dispenser (Lucas). Johansen, who married ex-internee Patricia Kieffer, has a listing of “Mr., Miss, Mrs. ‘Issue Tissue’ ”; however, his inclusion of “Mr.” is questionable and will be discussed further in (2) below.]
[Note: Wilkinson claims that the source of the term “tissue issue” was a “Japanese instruction.” Whatever its source, I had already decided to use it in the title of Part I of this now two-part survey well before I first encountered it (and its variants), after I began Part II.]
Their informal titles may have varied slightly, but the bathroom monitors all had similar tasks. Those ranged from the simple (as Klee quotes the diary of her mother, Lee Iserson: “sitting in the bathroom, rationing out three sheets of [BT] to each customer”) to the much more onerous one of keeping the commodes clean (in Woodstock’s words, “In her spare time, she disinfects the commodes. . . [and] when dysentery abounds, she does this after each use”). Cogan, quoting from several sources, describes this burdensome job in painful detail. In this regard, Scott cites Hartendorp to stress that all bathrooms were thoroughly cleaned twice a day, as part of the camp’s attempts to minimize the dangers of disease. On a less serious note, Lucas says that first-floor tissue-issuer Ida used to spend hours calculating how much BT would be required for a week’s supply for 285 women.
Despite the just-described overwhelming consensus on how BT was dispensed, it could be argued that the matter does not end there, because the foregoing does not take into account the aforesaid “outlier” and “super-outlier” positions. But in rebuttal, it could also be argued that “outliers” almost by definition can be ignored for purposes of analyzing any issue, including this one. Certainly the easy — and tempting — course here would indeed be to simply ignore them, since they are not in accord with the compelling consensus that the bathroom-monitor method prevailed for women. Thus it should be explained why the “outliers” should even be mentioned herein, let alone discussed in detail. For one thing, to disregard the “outliers” would undermine any claim that this survey is as thorough and comprehensive as possible. Too, such disregard would inexcusably squander the efforts of those who submitted material. Finally, the term “outliers” implies that they pose a problem — and, in this case, a problem significant enough to require attention.
The problem at issue is that the two “outliers” raise both procedural and substantive questions. The reason is that the method of distribution (“how”) — via residence room or bathroom — could have affected the total amount (“how much”) of BT that each person received daily. The “how much” issue of course will be explored in (2) below. As for the “how” question, its consideration necessarily becomes complicated by the decision to take the “outliers” into account (for reasons already noted). Specifically, that decision raises three additional questions: (a) did the two distribution methods exist in reality and not simply as possibilities; (b) if so, did they exist at the same time (concurrently) or at different times (consecutively); and (c) what is the significance of the concurrent-consecutive issue? These three questions will be applied to the “outlier” and the “super-outlier” in turn.
First, the term “outlier” herein refers to information supplied by Ford, whose mother, Consuelo B. Ford, was a room monitor (for third-floor room 55A); as such, she handled the task of dispensing BT (on a weekly basis) to the room’s residents (at least until they were moved to the second floor). Ford’s account should not be disregarded; on the contrary, it is quite convincing, for she herself on occasion helped her mother count the BT that each room resident was to receive. (Moreover, Ford provides striking detail about the BT: it was “Scott brand, 1000 sheets per roll, probably 1 ply.”) Thus the answer to (a) is that both methods actually did exist (though probably, I assume, only until the room’s residents were moved). On (b), there is no evidence either way on the concurrent-vs.-consecutive issue, but logic (relying, e.g., on the consensus view) dictates that concurrency was the case. Finally, on (c), if we assume that the two methods did exist concurrently, that would matter because the belief that there was a strict daily-ration limit would prove to be erroneous. (As will be shown in (2), if both methods existed concurrently, individuals could exceed the daily ration limit by using both methods; whereas that would not have been possible had the two methods existed consecutively.)
[Note: As also will be shown in (2), exceeding the ration limit was possible just for women, because men used only the room-monitor method; this conclusion is based on both the available evidence and personal experience.]
The term “super-outlier” refers to a January 1943 entry in Margaret Hoffmann Tileston’s diary, which her daughter Peggy Tileston recently re-discovered. I use that term because it greatly complicated (and its recent arrival delayed) completion of Part II. It did so by describing an entirely different BT-distribution process — one that is not mentioned by any other source. (By comparison, the Ford “outlier” describes the “conventional” room-monitor method of BT distribution used by the men.) Tileston’s diary entry agrees with the consensus on the prevalence of the bathroom-monitor method; but then it says that method was either supplemented or replaced (the entry is ambiguous on this point) by “the honor system,” whereby “each room hangs up its own roll [of BT] in the room by the door.” This quite startling statement can be characterized as “super-disruptive” for both the “how” and the “how much” issues: as noted, it depicts a unique third method for BT distribution, and on top of that it thoroughly shreds the notion that BT was strictly rationed (and not just for women, since conceivably women could violate the honor system by taking enough BT to pass on to men of their choice). Clearly the Tileston diary entry poses far more of a problem than does Ford’s account, hence the term “super-outlier.” Thus the temptation is great to disregard it — yet there is absolutely no reason to doubt the validity of this (or any other) diary entry. Consequently, being unable to reconcile Tileston’s assertion with all the other information at hand, I am forced to conclude, albeit without any supporting evidence, that the “honor system” (a) was a singular and most probably short-lived anomaly, (b) must have existed concurrently with the bathroom-monitor method, and (c) was significant because, as noted, it makes mincemeat of the notion that BT was strictly rationed to all.
Fortunately for present purposes, any difficulties posed by the two “outliers” are irrelevant in the broader scheme of things, because virtually all the available evidence does support two major findings, on which the remainder of Part II rests. First, as already emphasized, it is valid to conclude that the bathroom-distribution method predominated almost exclusively for women. Second, it also can be concluded that, on the whole, women and men employed two different methods of BT distribution. These are distinguishable on two principal counts, for women and men respectively: by location — bathrooms vs. residence rooms; and by frequency — as needed (i.e., per bathroom visit — again, see (2) below), vs. on a strictly weekly (not daily) basis. The fact that these differences existed raises two major (and obvious) questions. One is whether the bathroom-method of distribution in reality did enable women to receive more BT daily than did men; and the other is why these differences — both procedural (i.e., in methods of distribution) and substantive (in their consequences) — existed in the first place. In short, how can these differences be explained? These questions are examined next.
(2) At last we come to the substantive question of how much BT was distributed — more precisely, what was the formal (centrally mandated) daily allotment of BT per person (for both women and men)? This is a purely factual question which is relatively easy to answer. Among the sources used for Part II, there is general agreement that the formal daily ration over the course of three years began with five sheets, dropped to three sheets, then to one sheet, and finally to zero at the end. As examples, Lucas mentions the 5-3-1 regression; Woodstock states “Tops for 1942 is five [sheets], late 1944, one”; Klee’s (as yet unpublished) manuscript mentions the decline from five to three sheets; and Archer quotes Karen Darras’ autobiography as saying she (as bathroom monitor, evidently) dispensed “five sheets, then three sheets, then two and eventually none.” And, although I encountered a wide variety of other comments, they all fit within the 5-3-1 framework: Farrell writes of “four or five sheets”; Barnes’ mother says women received “4 squares”; Pool notes “three sheets”; Ellis states that her parents told her “2-3 sheets depending on stated need”; Johansen mentions “three or four sheets”; Cates says three sheets; and Holmes recalls that her great-aunt “mentioned two sheets” daily. (These varied numbers would seem to confirm Woodstock’s wry assertion that “the number [of sheets] varies according to who is telling the story.”) Finally, as to whether distribution of BT to all internees ceased entirely toward the end, I found several assertions to that effect (including Norman; Archer, citing Cogan; and Farrell, who states that “the commandant’s office announced there was no toilet paper left in the Philippines.”) Furthermore, it is logical to recognize that rationing could have ended, because the Japanese (who had never provided sanitary supplies) stopped permitting internee squads to leave the camp to make purchases, stopped allowing aid to enter the camp, and after 1943 did not distribute any Red Cross comfort kits, which had included BT (and which the Japanese confiscated for themselves).
But the question of “how much” cannot be answered so easily, because it should also be considered in relation to the question raised in (1) above: Did the method of distribution make it possible to exceed the formally fixed daily ration? Excluding favoritism and bribery, that was not possible for men — room monitors presumably knew all of their room residents, and/or could keep track of them via their room rosters. On the other hand, it would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible, for bathroom monitors to rely on either room rosters or recognition to keep track of potentially hundreds of women BT recipients. As a result, whereas men could not go from room to room seeking BT, women faced no comparable restrictions. It seems clear that women not only could receive the prevailing ration each and every time they entered a bathroom (the only limit apparently was one’s conscience/morality); they also could go from floor to floor for BT. To illustrate, Barnes, in a particularly compelling passage, quotes her mother (teen-ager Shirley Hackett in STIC) as saying exactly that — she, like others, would receive her BT ration, enter a stall, pretend to have used it by flushing, then repeat the procedure on other floors. Scott’s book also alludes to the use of this tactic, as Ellis has pointed out. Obviously it is impossible to ascertain how widespread this practice was, but clearly it was a fact of STIC life.
What is the more general significance of the foregoing account? Simply this: It can be argued — and indeed I am so arguing — that the “informal” (some might say unethical) tactic just described was necessitated by the fact that there was no formal recognition of the reality that women need more BT than do men. In other words, the bathroom-monitor method of distribution can be regarded as at least tacit, or informal, recognition of the facts of sanitary life. If there was any such formal recognition, I have not discovered it. To the contrary: McCall’s book has a section entitled “General Code of Regulations: Santo Tomas Internment Camp,” with a segment within it headed “Title IV: Sanitation and Hygiene,” which contains no mention of BT, let alone of apportioning it as between women and men. Similarly, the Stevens book has a chapter on “Sanitation and Health” with not a mention of BT. The same is true of Hartendorp’s work. As a result, this survey of the STIC tissue issue must conclude that, consciously or otherwise, deliberately or otherwise, wittingly or otherwise, the predominant method used to distribute BT to women implicitly recognized the disparate needs of women and men. Moreover, that Conclusion — which is henceforth capitalized — not only is not contradicted by, rather it is reinforced by, both the “outlier” and the “super-outlier” accounts.
However, there remains another “outlier” to deal with, this time on the men’s side. Previously I questioned Johansen’s use of the term “Mr. Issue Tissue”; that was because of doubt that that there were any men’s bathroom monitors. Recently, though, I found a cartoon, in what is an undated (but likely a mid-June 1942) issue of Internews, which depicts a man handing out BT to another man in a men’s bathroom. Furthermore, Wilkinson writes of a bathroom monitor who dispensed four sheets to women and three sheets to men. On the one hand, if true, that would strengthen the aforementioned Conclusion, since it could be interpreted as at least informal recognition of the facts of sanitary life. On the other hand, the scenario Wilkinson describes also (like Johansen’s) is questionable, for it implies that both women and men were using the same bathroom, which was simply not the case, in either the Main Building or the Education Building (except when the water supply was cut off following Japanese shelling of the camp after liberation; Tileston’s diary also mentions this). In short, I find the evidence of these three sources difficult to accept, judging from personal experience with bathrooms in both the Main and the Education Buildings. Thus I believe these sources comprise a justifiably-ignored “collective outlier,” and one which in any case has no bearing on the Conclusion.
[Note: I do not know whether the outdoor facilities constructed for the shanties had joint usage, though that seems likely. Nor do I know whether the Annex and the camp hospital had joint usage; but even if that was the case in the hospital, Wilkinson’s scenario still would not apply there, because I saw no bathroom monitors while confined to the hospital with a broken left elbow.]
One last point remains to be considered with respect to this issue. All the available evidence, to repeat, indicates that the initial daily ration was five sheets, for both women and men. But a possible discrepancy on this point stems from the reference in Part I to teen-age internee Curtis Brooks’ recall of a six sheet daily ration. Fortunately, he has since dispelled the apparent conflict with the aforesaid 5-3-1 consensus. Stressing his “very vague” recall of the matter, he states that his earlier mention of “six sheets” probably reflected the fact that he and his (now deceased) identical twin brother, Bernard (better known as Barney), received a total daily ration of six sheets — in other words, three sheets each (likely dispensed on a weekly basis, I assume). Admittedly, this was not a major discrepancy and it could have been disregarded, but I thought it was a matter that should be clarified. Having done that, we can now move on, with the satisfaction of having demonstrated (in my view, anyway) that the facts of sanitary life — namely, that since women need more BT than do men, for them bathroom distribution was both more necessary and more practical than room distribution — were recognized in STIC, informally in practice if not formally in camp regulations.
(3) Now to the factual question of what substitutes for BT internees used, if and when that became necessary. As might be expected, almost all sources cite newspapers, that most obvious and most ubiquitous of alternatives. The newspaper of choice for this purpose obviously was the only one allowed into the camp — the Japanese propaganda sheet called the Manila Tribune (which sources often cite explicitly by name — e.g., Farrell; Baker). Apparently there was enough of it accessible that some men supposedly used it instead of BT in order to augment the supply available for women (an occurrence Klee mentions). Interestingly, Wilkinson points out that the “Tribune was doubly suitable” as a substitute for BT because of its absorbency. Aside from the possible appeal of that factor, it is tempting to speculate, as I commented in Part I, that “when using the newspaper as BT, internees perhaps were thinking that it was serving its proper function.”
Though the Tribune was the most common as well as the most convenient substitute for BT, its status as such was not permanent. When the Japanese barred its entry into STIC after the tides of war finally began to turn against them, internees had to rely increasingly on other kinds of paper as well as on other materials. For instance, Jones supports my observation in Part I that pages were torn from library books to use as BT; Ford asserts that her father used pages from Sears and Ward catalogues; Lucas states that, when the “Issuer of Tissue” ran out of BT, she “had to resort to cutting up the inner cardboard [cylinders] into little squares” to hand out; Pool claims that “pages of a Chinese yearbook were used” instead of BT; and Farrell says that the interned military nurses used “medical supply wrappers” as well as “any scrap of paper” they could find. In short, internee options validated the proverb that beggars can’t be choosers.
Of course, paper of any kind was not always available, and certainly was not always handy; thus we need to consider some of the non-paper substitutes. The use of one such substitute seems rather obvious in hindsight; however, because I had no connections with shanty life in STIC, either personally or through friends, it had not occurred to me that plant leaves were a plentiful alternative to BT. Goodwin, for example, recalls that leaves were commonly utilized in her family’s shanty area (and no doubt elsewhere among the shanties). Ford specifically cites the use of hibiscus leaves; and, caught away from her shanty on one occasion, she made the painful mistake of using leaves from “the sand paper plant.” Another example is cited by Wilkinson, who says that “bottles of water” also served as substitutes for BT. In turn, his reference to water could be construed as more or less indirect confirmation of the off-putting practice, cited in Part I, of showering immediately after defecation. And finally, there is one other off-putting substitute to describe; doing so will enable this survey to boast of having managed to provide one repellent example for each of its two parts.
In this case it is necessary first to point out that curtains replaced stall doors in the women’s bathrooms. This fact, cited by Norman among others, was mentioned in Part I (where, incidentally, I also stated that most men’s stalls lacked both doors and curtains). Wilkinson claims that the doors were removed “supposedly to deter lingering” in the stalls; however, Barnes’ mother, Shirley Hackett Kezer, supplies a far more amusing (and unexpected) explanation — the doors were replaced because young pranksters would enter the stalls, lock the doors, and then crawl out under them (presumably when the bathroom monitor was too busy to notice them). But the relevant point to emphasize here is that, as Barnes/Kezer declare, some women used the curtains “when paper proved to be insufficient.” Similarly, Holmes recalls that her late great-aunt, Luella K. Walters, stated that “the curtains [were used] as a last resort.” As additional evidence, Lucas describes a bathroom monitor who almost quit her job “in desperation. . . after repeated attempts to. . stop women [from] substituting the meagre curtaining for toilet paper had failed.”
Before leaving this rather unsavory topic, and the tissue issue in general, two points merit attention. First, the topic of substitutes for BT is far less significant than are the subjects considered in (1) and (2). It is included herein (a) for the sake of coverage which is as comprehensive as possible under the circumstances; (b) in the belief that it might be of interest to non-internees seeking to understand the nature of Nipponese internment camp conditions; and (c) because it may possibly serve to underscore the old adage (hereby modified) that desperation is the mother of invention. Second, no survey of the tissue issue in general would be complete without highlighting another old adage — money talks. It should be no surprise that, as with other items in short supply (such as canned food), there was a limited supply of privately-owned BT available on the black market in the camp, for purchase by those internees wealthy enough to pay the price, or to sign exorbitant IOUs for postwar payment in “real money.” (Some specifics: Norman says that one roll of BT cost $2.50 in May 1943, while Cates puts the cost at six pesos, or three dollars, at the same time; barely a year later, in July 1944, Petillo/Vaughan state that it took 100 pesos to buy one roll of Scott tissue at the camp bazaar.) In the words of a 1946 recording by the Andrews Sisters, “Them That Has — Gets.”
SANITARY NAPKINS. An outside observer could have found it difficult to decide whether STIC women more urgently required BT or sanitary napkins (hereafter SN). The women themselves, though, might have thought that SN posed a more serious problem than did BT, inasmuch as there was no central supply of SN for monitors (either residence room or bathroom) to dispense. As Sams puts it, “For those who menstruated it seemed an insurmountable problem.” Of course, to repeat, money talks — the affluent were far less likely to endure privation on this (or any other) score. And, as is not infrequently the case, some wealthy individuals were insufferably ostentatious. As Lucas declares (and Cogan recounts), “To show the world that she [had money], Winnie the Bitch left her four new boxes of Kotex on display on her cabana table. . . [T]he whole tasteless exhibition was pure boast — she must have been well past the [age when she] needs. . . such articles.” And in a category of their own were the interned military nurses who, according to Norman, received SN gratis from an un-interned, wealthy Swiss woman benefactor — until the Japanese stopped allowing outsiders to send aid into the camp.
How did the vast majority of STIC women cope with the problem of the lack of SN? Lucas says that the camp’s “Sewing Department rallied to the business of making [SN] out of rags”; she leaves it at that, but Sams continues the story (which Scott retells). To begin with, each woman received “a certain number of small flannel cloths” (made by the aforementioned Sewing Department), and placed her name and room number on each one. After being used, the cloths went into a “bucket of disinfectant” in the bathroom, and were taken for cleaning. Fortunately for the STIC record, Klee furnishes a description of the distasteful cleaning process, thanks to the fact that in 2010 she had interviewed since-deceased teen-age internee Virginia McKinney Glass. According to Glass, adults in the camp had one easy and one hard job; her easy one was library duty, but at one point she was “in charge of making sure that all the menstrual rags were washed.” (The job may have been assigned to her, Glass surmised, because she was “brown.”) That “horrible” task involved “boiling and all that stuff” — and all the while having to endure the accompanying stench. Then, once the SN were cleaned, Sams says, they were returned to their owners, via room monitors. Ford confirms this, stating that her room-monitor mother handled the SN returns for her room.
On a related matter, Ford says that in the camp she had heard about “a society lady [who had] volunteered to wash [SN] for the whole camp.” It would have been tempting to dismiss this as just another wild STIC rumor, if not for the arrival of passages from Schwaner’s “biographical novel,” in which she says that her heroine, an internee named Dr. Dorothy Chambers, knew a woman internee who owned a washing machine and who “made it her personal mission” to clean SN for STIC women. This account, too, could have been disregarded, in view of its lack of detail, its biographical-novel origins, and the preposterous notion that an internee possessed a washing machine. But then came material from Cogan’s book, in which she quotes an internee’s claim that “a former society butterfly . . . volunteered to wash” SN, using “a hand-crank washing machine [she had obtained] from outside and [she] did this unpleasant job throughout internment.” So perhaps credence should be accorded to a narrative that initially sounded implausible.
Schwaner mentions another noteworthy fact — namely, that starvation eventually caused most women in the camp to cease menstruating. Many other sources refer to that notable consequence of extreme malnutrition (a nicely-contrived euphemism for starvation), including Sams, Goodwin, Wilkinson, and Glass/Klee. Cates claims “menstrual disturbances” occurred as early as January 1942, though such events usually are thought to result from more prolonged privation. The most noteworthy account I have found is Norman’s relatively extended discussion, in which she cites an “early 1943” survey by “a camp physician,” who found that some 12% of women (125 of 1,042) had stopped menstruating by that time. Norman asserts that many women began to menstruate again after adjusting to camp life, but that in 1944 cessation of periods became considerably more prevalent; indeed, Cogan declares that 80% of STIC women stopped menstruating during 1944. Archer states that women “greeted this [occurrence] with relief” (since they lacked SN, privacy, and acceptable sanitary conditions); but Norman emphasizes a much more serious reaction from the military nurses. To them, menstruation was not just an annoyance; “With their bodies wasting away and their lives literally hanging in a dangerous biochemical balance, they did not want to lose one ounce of blood or body fluid and they desperately hoped their flow would dry up.” Understandably, therefore, the nurses celebrated when menstruation ceased, and they bemoaned its continuation. But the problem was not a permanent one, and apparently menstrual normality returned to most STIC women after liberation.
CONCLUSION. It is notable that, because most women’s menstrual periods ceased during the course of their confinement, their needs for SN decreased and in many cases ended. Also noteworthy is yet another unremarked by-product of starvation, one which affected both women and men alike — their need for BT also may have lessened somewhat, at least insofar as “number two” was concerned. Goodwin, for instance, points out that lack of food led to “little production of bodily waste” — which, to the extent that was the case, meant a reduced need for BT. Jones explicitly alludes to this situation; he notes that, toward the end of internment (when he was in the Los Baños camp), internees’ bowel movements occurred not daily but every two to three days, and even then often were hampered by constipation. Interestingly, Jones also states that malnutrition/starvation had the opposite effect on urination — its frequency increased, he asserts, due to lack both of food (which within the body absorbs moisture) and of energy (which by enabling exertion/exercise helps induce perspiration.)
[Note: Crouter, who was interned in Baguio’s Camp Holmes, alludes to the seriousness of the constipation problem with a cryptic reference to having to resort to a desperate-sounding invocation of “the Dysentery Prayer.”]
The foregoing comments provide a convenient and appropriate springboard for some final reflections to conclude this two-part examination of “The STIC Tissue Issue.” As noted at the outset, this inquiry has produced several major and plausible conclusions, which obviously are subject to modification if justified by the discovery of additional information. Not subject to change, however, are the observations in the preceding paragraph. It is both fitting, and yet exceedingly ironic, to close this survey with what at its inception likely would have appeared to be a most perverse observation — namely, that internee requirements for both BT and SN actually lessened over the course of their three-years-plus confinement (even if perhaps only slightly so in the case of BT). Nevertheless, although that outcome was a direct result of, shall we say, nutritional stringency (to coin another euphemism), it is doubtful that the internees of STIC were sufficiently grateful for these exceptional benefits of the highly effective weight-reduction diet magnanimously bestowed upon them by the benevolent Nipponese Empire. — Martin Meadows