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Blanche Tompkins

July 19, 2002

Tape 1, Side 1

Hanson: Hi Blanche.


Hanson: Thanks for agreeing to this. Why don't we start out talking about your family? About your parents and your grandparents.

TOMPKINS: I was born in Hagerman, New Mexico in 1923. My father came to Hagerman in the fall of 1911, my mother came on the train on January 1, 1912 the day New Mexico became a state. He was to farm my uncle's farm. He soon bought other property, a farm and a ranch. I was the youngest of five children, my brother, Edwin, was the oldest and the four girls, Evelyn, Beatrice, Lila, and I followed him. We lived 2 ½ miles from the town, which was located in Chaves County, and the ranch was located across the Pecos River from the town. I never knew my grandfathers as they died before I was born. My grandmothers died when I was just a child. Do you want their names?

Hanson: Yes, why don't we do that.

TOMPKINS: My father was Edwin Eddie Lane and his parents were Edwin Tremble Lane and Sue Ellen Wood. Edwin Tremble Lane was born in October, 1845 near Mount Sterling, Kentucky. He died in 1903 on his farm near Harrisonville, Missouri. He was run over by a train. My grandmother's name was Susan Ellen Wood; she was born March 23, 1845, in Lexington, Kentucky. Soon after my father left Missouri his mother went to live with her oldest daughter in Forney, Texas. She died there in 1927, but her body was sent back to Harrisonville for burial.

Hanson: You have your grandfather here was a judge and a farmer?


Hanson: Was he a district judge or a local judge?

TOMPKINS: Well, he was not a district, it was in the county of Cass.

Hanson: So he was a county judge.

TOMPKINS: There was one interesting thing about his tenure, they were putting through railroads at the time. The citizens were requested to put up bonds to finance the Neosha Railroad. The Neosha railroad never really completed their lines, so the citizens did not think they needed to continue paying their levy on these bonds. There were three judges in Cass County, Missouri, and they didn't think it was right either that they had to pay the levy when the railroad was discontinued. They objected also, but the District Judge in Kansas City said you had to do that. You either had to pay the levy or you went to jail. So they incarcerated the three judges in the Kansas City Jail! They were incarcerated for nine months in the Kansas City Jail! Eventually the levy was lowered somewhat, but they still had to pay the levy to get out. They were treated quite leniently and frequently had weekends pass to go home.

Hanson: That's interesting.

TOMPKINS: My mother was Alberta Johnson. She was born in Belton in 1888, she moved to Hagerman in 1912. When she was no longer able to take care of herself, my sisters took her to Albuquerque where she died in 1977. They brought her back to Hagerman where she and my father are both buried. Her father was John Francis Johnson. He was born in Kansas City in 1848. His father and grandfather were the first settlers of Kansas City. They were at the border of Jackson County and moved into the County as soon as the treaty was signed with the Indians. John moved into Cass County after his father's estate was settled. He was married to Anna Easley in Harrisonville, November 1876. They had six children that lived to adulthood. He died in Belton in 1895, and my grandmother was left with those six children to raise. John had inherited the farm, and that is where they lived. I think my mother probably had the greatest influence on me, as well as my sisters. About the only holidays we celebrated were Christmas and birthdays. Of course, this was during the depression years, and there just wasn't any money. We raised our own vegetables, and had our own meat, and my mother did a lot of canning, using the pressure cooker to can meat. My father had big ideas for my brother and had sent him off to college in hopes he would become a doctor but during the last semester my father did not have the money for the last tuition so he had to come home. My father wanted to choose our occupations. He wanted the girls to become schoolteachers, as that was what my mother was doing when he met her. They did give it a try, but all ended up doing something else. When I came along, I had polio in 1927 shortly before the depression hit, he didn't think I could teach. He always wanted a secretary. That was what I was supposed to be, his secretary. I had different ideas.

Hanson: So did you disagree over what you were planning to do or did you just go off and do what you wanted to do anyway?

TOMPKINS: Well, I was endowed with a very strong sense of motivation. I will say this, that my father must have had dyslexia because he quit school at the sixth grade and all his brothers and sisters went onto advanced schooling. Mother was a schoolteacher and that is where he really got the idea that his daughters had to be schoolteachers. I really wanted to be a bacteriologist, even in high school, and I was going to be one, too. I don't think my father ever knew what a bacteriologist was and so he would not pay for my education. I said, that's all right, I'll manage somehow. And I did manage. I applied to the New Mexico Department of Rehabilitation, and they financed my first two years and my last two years the California State Department of Rehabilitation financed it. I started out at the Santa Barbara State College. Daddy had always talked about how beautiful Santa Barbara was as he had been in the Navy for four years on the West Coast. We had friends that lived in Hollywood and they sent my parents a newspaper clipping about the Berry School, a school for physical rehabilitation. My folks decide to send me out here to it during my junior year in high school. I was about fifteen at the time, but after the first week of homesickness, I really enjoyed California and my friends out here and wanted to come back. At that time my sister Bea was working at Douglas Aircraft in Santa Monica. I spent many weekends with her. The following year I transferred to UCLA. I'm glad that I didn't go directly to UCLA from high school as that would have been too difficult. I came from a small high school. My senior year I had to make up the classes I missed during my junior year in order to graduate with my class. I had to take classes with juniors and kept thinking that they are going to think I am stupid, that I was set back, so I worked awfully hard to make good grades. I did graduate with my class and was salutatorian. In college I majored in Bacteriology. My first job was in New Mexico State Health Department. My salary was a hundred and fifteen dollars a month.

Hanson: Why bacteriology? Why were you interested in bacteriology?

TOMPKINS: Well, I think having polio had something to do with it as well as Mother's idea that if you got sick, it was because you were constipated. Perhaps that is the stage medicine was in because the country doctor thought that too. Mother's favorite medicine was a round of Calomel, which last six days, one tablet each night. Consequently, you were doing nothing but sitting on the pot. I think that had an influence. There was something that made you sick besides being constipated. My sisters went through this as well. My sister Bea said she always tucked hers under the pillow, but I couldn't get away with that. Actually, when I had polio, the doctor came every day and gave me an enema and he directed my parents to put castor oil in orange juice. I wouldn't touch orange juice until I was in college.

Hanson: I don't blame you.

TOMPKINS: I think all that had an influence on me, that there was something else that made people sick. I enjoyed science in high school and I decided I was going to help people get well without going through all of that torture I did.

Hanson: It's really interesting to me that here you are a girl growing up in the thirties and early forties but yet you were very, very scientifically minded when most girls were being told to stay home and learn how to cook and, and wash the dishes and do the laundry. It just, that fascinates me.

TOMPKINS: Well, I was very interested in cooking as well, because my older sister, Evelyn was. She eventually became a dietician, although she did teach a few years and was teaching in that field when she died. When we were growing up, Mother subscribed to Ladies Home Journal and Evelyn was cutting out recipes and trying them. I took it all in and I think that was my second love. I would have been involved in homemaking. I had home economics in high school, two years of it.

Hanson: Yes, everyone did. I think all girls did. I'm just fascinated by that.

TOMPKINS: My second sister, Bea, probably had the most influence on me as I remember she was always telling me what I should do. All my sisters went back to Park College in Parkville, Missouri, which is very close to Kansas City. When she finished college, Daddy had lined up a job teaching in the Hagerman schools just waiting for her. I was a senior that year and so we were together a lot. When she came out to work at Douglas Aircraft, after the war started in the fall of 1942, I spent weekends with her as I was at Santa Barbara. When I started UCLA, I lived in a Co-op located in the YWCA building. We cooked our own meals, and 32 boys took their meals there also. We had Home Economics majors plan the meals, do the shopping and the rest of the people cooked and cleaned up. I had a laboratory class every afternoon so I could not be the dinner cook, but I got up early and was breakfast or lunch cook.

Hanson: So your first job was at New Mexico State Department of Health.

TOMPKINS: The salaries were so low and I knew what they were in California. They were so much better, so that is why I changed. I actually had a job waiting for me at the San Bernardino County Hospital when I came. If you applied to the American College of Pathologists for openings, they would send you openings throughout the United States, but you had to forfeit ½ of your first month's salary. My first month's salary was more than double what I had been making. I applied for two places, one in New Orleans and one in San Bernardino. Daddy kept saying you're going to have to write to them and tell them that you had polio. Finally, I did and the one in New Orleans, they said I wouldn't be able to handle the work, but the director at the lab at the County Hospital said that was all right, they would hire me. I told them at the time I was walking with one cane and one full-length leg brace. I wrote a story about my first year at the County Hospital that was published in the Odyssey, which is the publication of the San Bernardino Historical Society. I enjoyed the county hospital very much. We did have to take night calls, which I didn't like, but after the first year we were able to get the medical students at Loma Linda to do it. We lived on the grounds. Our cottage had a sleeping porch where I slept. When winter hit I invested in an electric blanket and it wasn't so bad. I worked there until I was married.

I was married January 4, 1953 to Albert Tompkins of San Bernardino. I had met him in a night class in Photography, which was offered by the Adult Education. Together we had two sons, Hal and Bill. I did stay home until the children started school, then I went back to work part-time, just during school hours. I worked at the county hospital until 1967. You have to be licensed in this field. When I first came, I had not done clinical work, which involved hematology, chemistry, blood banking, and urinalysis. I had only done public health subjects. I asked my boss if I could just take the Public Health exam the first fall. I passed it and in the spring I took the exam for the Clinical Medical Technologist, which involved everything that we did at the County Hospital. Eventually I took the exam for licensed Microbiologist. Most of the time at the County Hospital I did blood banking. There is a lot of pressure doing this as the phone rings constantly requesting blood and demanding reports. It is difficult getting your work done when you are answering the phone all the time. When there was a vacancy at St. Bernadine's for a microbiologist, I started working there in 1967. I worked there ten years and enjoyed the sisters very much. There is not as much pressure in Microbiology as it takes time for bacteria to grow,

My husband died in 1987 of lung cancer. My sons were a blessing at the time. About five years afterward Bill came to live with me. He has been married, in fact twice, but he said his mom was easier to live with than his wife was. Bill is a help and I do enjoy having him around. His wife was evicted so Bill gave up his bedroom for his two daughters. Bill is extremely hospitable with my house. It is a two-bedroom house but there is a big service porch. He bought a roll away bed and moved out there. It's harder for him than for me to be so crowded as there is no place for his clothes.

My oldest son, Hal, is a real scholar. After high school, he went on to Chase Western Reserve University and graduated with high honors in Physics. He received a tuition waiver from Stanford University for graduate work. He has a double major with a Ph.D. in Astrophysics. After he graduated, he interviewed at several places but decided to stay on at Stanford. He works at Stanford's Linear Accelerator, which is funded by the United States Department of Energy, and people from all over the United States go there to, not only the United States. Students from all over the world go there to conduct research experiments. He often rents rooms to these students. When I was there last summer, one man came from Italy and another was coming from Germany the next day.

Hanson: That's very impressive. He takes after his mom. Science.

TOMPKINS: Actually Bill had dyslexia. It was a terrible struggle to teach him to read, but he does read for pleasure now. Unfortunately, he was a high school dropout. I would come out of these student conferences for Hal, walking on air and in tears with Bill. It seems as though he just wouldn't try. My husband didn't seem to think it was such an issue. He was a high school dropout also and possibly has dyslexia too. It really wasn't recognized in those days. I'm sure that my father had it and possibly my husband.

Hanson: Tape 1, Side 2

TOMPKINS: I have read where it is inherited. Bill's oldest daughter has it also. It took her five years to get through high school but she finally made it and has that diploma.

Hanson: Oh, that's good.

TOMPKINS: When I came out here, I joined the American Society of Clinical Medical Technologists. It's a state society. It was organized that year, but I joined late in the year so I am really quite a charter member, but close to it. I was a girl scout growing up and wanted the boys in scouting. I was a den mother for six years and my husband was Cubmaster and active in the committee. I have always been very active in church. I was christened in the Hagerman Presbyterian Church and have transferred my membership out here. I have never been interested in politics so I have stayed clear of it.

Hanson: And you've been here at the California Room for a long time.

TOMPKINS: Yes, I have been. When the library first opened, they asked for volunteers from the Historical Society and also from the Genealogical Society. I was a member of both, but I was more interested in working in the Historical Library, but they were so slow in getting started, that I decided I might as well work here. After we moved in, one of our members thought we should not be allowed to check out the Genealogical Books. The books were very heavy, so I thought I might as well stay in the library and look at them here.

Hanson: And I see you're interested in music? And you are in the choir at church?

TOMPKINS: No, I was never in the church choir except the Hagerman church. The choir loft is in the balcony in the back of the church, and it seems like such a nuisance to climb those stairs. However, I did go up the stairs when I worked at St. Bernardines. I did that to lose weight.

Hanson: You hardly look like you need to lose weight.

TOMPKINS: I did then and I lost 5 pounds going up 9 flights a day. I have been on two church tours. The Choir was going to England and Scotland on a tour. There were not enough members to get the group rate for the choir director and his wife so they invited the church members. I told everyone I was in the rooting section. The choir sang in London, Manchester, and St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland. They also went to the Island of lona where Christianity first began. These trips I took with the church were very, very interesting because they dealt with Christianity, how it started, etc. The other trip was to Greece, Egypt and Israel. We flew to Greece, took a bus trip to Corinth, saw the Corinth canal and had communion in the ruin of Corinth. We flew to Cairo for a day, took a night train to the Pyramids, then back to Cairo and took a bus trip to Israel. Our minister led this trip. I really enjoyed seeing those towns that I had only read about.

Hanson: That's a wonderful tour.

TOMPKINS: I took two trips with the Genealogical Family group. I have Fultons in my ancestry, and I belong to that Family Organization. We went to Ireland and Scotland and that was most interesting. On this trip I took my son Hal and my wheelchair. We spent Father's Day at the Dunboe Presbyterian Church near Londonderry, where one of our members had a letter of transfer from that church. We had written earlier and asked the minister if we could meet with the people named Fulton and maybe have a potluck dinner so we could visit with them. He wrote back that the church was a place to worship and not eat, but he would ask the Fultons to invite us to their homes. Hal and I were invited to a professor's home and she prepared lunch for us. That was a real treat to visit in their in their home. Then we went to Scotland and looked up a Fulton castle. It was in ruins, but we let our imagination run wild. The next trip with the Fultons was to Nova Scotia.

Hanson: What do you remember about San Bernardino? What kind of changes have you seen in San Bernardino since you've been here?

TOMPKINS: It seemed as though the town really ended at Highland Avenue. There was the Sisters Convent, the Mt. View Cemetery, and Perris Hill Park and swimming pool. We frequently walked over from the hospital to go swimming. The first few years everyone took the bus. Not very many people had cars. The Director of the Laboratory had one and she took us to the meetings of the California Association of Medical laboratory Technologists meetings, which were held in the evenings. Sometimes the Director of the Lab at Community Hospital would take us to those meetings. I knew the director of the different labs in town, of the hospitals, but I didn't get around very much, so I didn't know how big San Bernardino really was as we went on the bus back and forth from the County Hospital. I shopped at Harris Company, across the street was Security National Bank and on the NE corner was Annabelle's Drug Company. Woolworth's was one block away and Penny's Department store was two blocks.

Hanson: So all the businesses and things were located downtown and if you had to get anything that's where you went?

TOMPKINS: Yes. If we wanted groceries, we shopped at Berks, 6th and E. Streets. Berks had everything. We usually ate at the hospital. They gave us meal tickets, 30 meals for $10.00. Sometimes it was delicious. I remember their Spanish Omelets, and homemade ice cream. They served ice cream every Sunday.

Hanson: And everything else was under developed, and buses obviously didn't go there because there was no reason to. Is there anything else you want to talk about while we're here or to finish up? Any other thoughts you want to bring in?

TOMPKINS: I only had three jobs. When I was a freshman in college, I do remember doing typing, and oh, I did a lot of babysitting, particularly at UCLA. On the weekends people would call for babysitters and since nearly everybody went home, I was always available. My home was too far away. I spent a lot of time on weekend's babysitting.

Hanson: Now, would that be for professors and their children, or people on campus, or just for people in the neighborhood?

TOMPKINS: It would be for people in the neighborhood. I lived at the YWCA, and the people knew they would be getting University students.

Hanson: Oh, okay.

TOMPKINS: My husband was in World War II. He was single at the time and was drafted into the infantry. When he went overseas, he landed on Utah Beach in Normandy. It was September 1945, not June when most of them were killed. From there he went into Belgium and France and Germany as far as Berlin. He met the Russians coming from the other side in Berlin. It is just a miracle, I think, that he survived all that.

Hanson: Yes, absolutely. TOMPKINS: When Germany surrendered, he thought he was going to be sent to the Pacific area, but he was not. Japan surrendered soon after that because of the atomic bomb. He was discharged soon after. We were married in 1953.

He was a descendent of the pioneers of San Bernardino. His grandfather, Thomas Tompkins, came to California in 1846. He came with the Samuel Brannan Company of Mormons. It took them 6 months after they left New York, for they had to go around the Horn. It was a sailboat and if there was not any wind, they just sat still. Near the Horn, they kept running into storms, which blew them off course. They arrived at San Francisco two weeks after the American flag went up ending their war with Mexico. It was called Yerba Buena then. He came to San Bernardino in 1852, while all the rest of the Mormons came in 1851 from Salt Lake. I think that is the reason I got interested in genealogy. I started thinking that I really didn't know anything about his family, other than his brother and sisters, and his mother. Everybody said, oh it is easy with the Mormons! Well they do have wonderful records, but you have to do the work yourself.

Hanson: Right, yes.

TOMPKINS: So, it's just as hard with the Mormons as it is with the Gentiles or whatever we are, the Protestants. My mother was interested in genealogy and her brother published a book on the Easley Family and their Relatives. It is unfortunate that he didn't get interested in family history while he still lived in Missouri. His sister was still there at the time and she would go to the Kansas City Library. I remember letters telling about that, and she did find out a lot. However, she did not cover Harrisonville and Cass County like she should have. I have had to do that. The book is not very accurate about a good many families that came out of Harrisonville, and the family, particularly my sister Bea, has wanted me to document and index it. I finally decided to get a computer and learn how to operate it. My son Hal was gone at the time, so I took Adult Education classes to learn. I am working on the book and hope it have it done by Christmas.

Hanson: That's great. Is there anything else you want to add or anything else you want to talk about in particular? How did you meet your husband?

TOMPKINS: I took a photography class at Adult Education in the evenings. Albert was also taking it. He had everything that I was looking for in a husband. He was a carpenter, an electrician, a mechanic and a gardener. None of those things I could do. I thought we would make a great pair. We were married in Hagerman, New Mexico, my hometown.

My mother would have made the Environmentalists happy. She was so saving of every cent. Her mother was left with seven children to provide for when her husband died. My mother was eight years old They really learned to work in those days. She influenced me a great deal. There just wasn't anything that she wouldn't undertake. She painted our two-story house, often papered the bedrooms, and canned all the vegetables and the surplus meat when we butchered. She used a pressure cooker for that. She also upholstered the living room chairs. Neighbors would say, "If Mrs. Lane can do it, I can also." When my husband retired, he plowed up the back yard and started a garden. We had vegetables galore, so I canned the surplus and what I couldn't give away. I think I have made everything, mincemeat, jams and jellies. I didn't know much about upholstery, so I took a class and learned how to do it. My mother thought I did such a good job that she wanted me to upholster a chair of my brothers. We did go back to Colorado, and I redid his platform rocker. The men helped me with the hammering and tacking, so it didn't take long. I really had a wonderful husband; he always helped me with things. There just wasn't a thing that he couldn't do. He kept the car in such good shape. One of my co-workers commented that his wife thinks the car should start as soon as you turn the ignition. I thanked my lucky stars that I wasn't married to him.

Hanson: When you were working in the labs, in bacteriology , what exactly did you do ? Did you just take samples and then try to figure out how these things were growing, or how to stop them from growing? Is that part of what you did?

TOMPKINS: We examined specimens from the body. Maybe, if I had realized I would have to handle so many stool specimens at the very beginning, I might have had second thoughts about becoming a Bacteriologist. The stool specimens we would look for parasites and culture them (streak them out on media) for pathogens. Microbiology takes in three fields of study, Parasitology, Bacteriology and Mycology, the study of fungi. The sputum specimens were cultured, if a pathogen was present we would do sensitivity tests to find out which drug would be effective, and which drugs they were resistant to. So we gave aids to diagnosis to the doctor. The doctor might think you have tuberculosis, but he couldn't prove it without our report. Many times, you would have to do biochemical tests on the organism to identify it. This is especially true for stool specimens. It takes 24 hours to grow the organism. Those from the stool might be Salmonella, which includes the bug that causes typhoid fever, or Shigella, a member of the dysentery group. Even E. coli has pathogenic strains. In Public Health work, we examined water from allover the state and determined the bacteriological count, if it reached a certain point it would be too contaminated to drink, or unsafe for swimming. We got home canned foods also, to check for botulism. The fluid would be injected into mice. The mice would be protected with the different anti-toxin, and the ones that lived would tell us which anti-toxin should be given to the patient. This test only took an hour or so. We would know within a couple of hours which anti-toxin to use. It is very important in home canning that you watch the pH. The pH can be a matter of life and death. Botulism will not grow in an acid environment. I would never can alkaline vegetables without a pressure cooker. We also checked for venereal disease. Serology involved testing for syphilis and. infectious mononucleosis, etc. Some states require testing for syphilis for premarital. It is also done on every hospital patient. I didn't do serology in Public health work, but I did a lot of checking for gonorrhea. The white cells would engulf the diplococci and they were easily recognized. Usually we would get slides from the doctors for this, but if he sent in a swab, we cultured it. The county hospital was a teaching hospital and you had students to teach. Almost all those medical students in Loma Linda would take up medical technology first. That way they could take night calls and help finance their medical schoolwork. That was a big relief to us, as I hated to have to get up at night and take emergency calls. Most of the cases came in Friday or Saturday nights when people would start drinking, get in an argument and shoot each other. They would be brought in and you would have to prepare blood transfusions for them.

Hanson: That's interesting. That's really interesting work.

TOMPKINS: It was. It was always a challenge and I enjoyed the challenge.

Hanson: It's something new everyday. It's not the same thing everyday you do. It is always changing. That's fantastic.

TOMPKINS: At St. Bernardines when I did Microbiology, I did not go out on the floors like the others did to get their specimens. The specimens were all brought to me, throat cultures, blood cultures, urine cultures, sputum and stools.