Occupational Therapy, c. 1952
Although Occupational Therapy (OT) did not come into its own as a field until the early 1900s, the original Bellevue Hospital (the 1736 “Publick Workhouse and House of Correction” with its 6-bed infirmary) already embodied many aspects of OT by offering instruction in knitting, spinning, weaving, ironwork and metallurgy. It also ran a farm, and required labor from some of its inhabitants.
Michi Yasumura pictured at the left of the full photo (back cover of issue), with the Occupational Therapy badge—was hired by Bellevue in 1947 as part of the Children’s Recreation Department. She was assigned to the cardiac wards, where her job was to keep the kids “quietly occupied.” Before penicillin was definitely proved to prevent the cardiac complications of streptococcal pharyngitis, children often spent weeks and months hospitalized. Boredom was a serious problem, and the Children’s Recreation Department and the Substitute Mother’s Program were some of the resources created to deal with it.
Children were kept on a special cardiac ward until they were 13 years-old. At that time, they were felt to be adults, and were moved onto the adult ward. Yasumura recalled one 13 year-old boy who burst out crying upon arrival at the adult ward; he was sure he was dying because of all the old people he saw there.
A volunteer named Mrs. Marshall, pictured at the right of the photo, created two chess clubs on the children’s ward—one for boys and one for girls. Once a week, Mrs. Marshall would bring the equipment to the wards and help the children play chess. She’d leave the children with a problem to solve during the week. The cover photo was taken in the early 1950s.
Michi Yasumura worked at several hospitals, including New York Hospital and the Hospital for the Ruptured and Crippled (later renamed Hospital for Special Surgery), but spent the bulk of her career at Bellevue. She became the director of the Children’s Recreation Program after the death of the program’s founder—the illustrious Miss Norma Alisandrini—and served for 25 years, retiring in 1977. There are two cherry trees on East 25th Street that Yasamura planted in the 1950s, honoring her parents, both of whom were interred in concentration camps along with other Japanese-Americans during World War II.