Although it is a part of history we do not like to admit, the United States did—and still does—have internment camps to isolate individuals that the government deems “suspect.” Native Americans were sent to live on reservations so colonists could access more desireable land. In more recent events, detainment camps were established at Guantanamo Bay to interrogate and torture those suspected of terrorism. One instance that tends to go under the radar in history class and current news is the Japanese internment camps that appeared on the West Coast after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Dr. Ruby Hirose, a researcher in the Midwest for William S. Merrell Laboratories during World War II, luckily escaped this fate by simply not living on a coast. As such, Dr. Hirose did not leave Ohio and was able to conduct her research without the constraints of living in an internment camp. Unfortunately, her siblings and father were not as lucky as her because they were Japanese-American residents of Washington State.
A graduate from University of Cincinnati, Dr. Ruby Hirose was a Japanese-American biochemist and bacteriologist who conducted vaccine research in infantile paralysis. A sufferer herself, Hirose also conducted research in hay fever—which is basically another way of saying “pollen allergies”. She researched a way to improve pollen extracts to desensitize hay fever sufferers.
In addition to her valuable research on the polio vaccine and on hay fever, she also published a paper titled “A Pharaceutical Study of Hydrastis Canadensis” which can be found in full here. In this paper, she chronicles the history of a native North American plant called Hydrastis Canadensis, also known as Goldenseal, and the history of its use. She chronicles how Native Americans first used this plant for dyes and as a way to treat sores and how Lewis and Clark documented this plant during their journey to the west coast. She also tried to find the best conditions in which Hydrastis would grow.
This research is oddly symbolic of her experience during World War II. She was an American born-and-raised just like Hydrastis Canadensis. She found her “best condition for growth” in research in Ohio as this was a place that allowed her to utilize and embrace her gift as a researcher.
Hirose’s talent and work flourished and ultimately made her one of the 10 women who was recognized by the American Chemical Society for her accomplishments in chemistry in 1940. She gave back to America even though fear mongering during wartime did hold back many of her relatives.
She was buried in the Auburn Pioneer Cemetery in Washington state—the very state that sent her family away to an internment camp during the war. In the end, the research she conducted to improve the quality of life for others will live beyond the confines of wartime limitations. Her efforts will continue to inspire others to discover their passion for science.
Article written by: Alexandra McHale