Wo/Men at Work in the Los Angeles Sanitarium, ca. 1905

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Wo/Men at Work is another series of posts on Museum Director Musings–this one looks at images of  working men and women in greater Los Angeles to 1930, whether on the job or dressed for it.

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This large group portrait of some forty persons shows workers at the Los Angeles Sanitarium, which operated on principles developed by Seventh Day Adventist founders Ellen and James White and cereal magnate John Harvey Kellogg for a few years at the beginning of the 20th century.  All photos from the Homestead Museum collection.

This inaugural installment is a series of fantastic photographs from about 1905 of employees at the Los Angeles Sanitarium, which operated for a short time at 315-17 W. 3rd Street between Broadway and Hill during the first decade of the 20th century.

The Los Angeles region was filled in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with sanitariums, treating people with tuberculosis and other physical and mental ailments. Many of these were in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains in towns like Monrovia and Sierra Madre, while the Barlow Sanitarium, still in operation at Elysian Park, and others were in the heart of the growing city. A later facility, also called Los Angeles Sanitarium, morphed into the City of Hope out in Duarte.  Finally, in 1940, Harry and Lois Brown bought the 92-acre Workman Homestead and opened El Encanto Sanitarium, which moved to its current facility in the late 1960s and still operates adjacent to the Homestead.

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A smaller group, perhaps of a particular department, of employees of the Los Angeles Sanitarium.  Note in the photos the high percentage of female workers, representative of the opportunities available in the Progressive-era health industry.

When the Los Angeles Sanitarium, whose workers are represented in the half-dozen accompanying It was the beginnings of the so-called “Progressive Era” when the excesses of the Gilded Age and the first stages of industrialization were being questioned and, in some cases, reformed.

Among the reformers were religious figures and business figures who established alliances.  Ellen G. White, a founder with her husband James in the Seventh Day Adventist movement in America, and John Harvey Kellogg, creator of the Kellogg cereal empire, worked together to create sanitariums as part of their credo of healthy moral, religious and physical living.

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Another small group shot of Los Angeles Sanitarium workers.  The facility was at 315-17 West 3rd Street, between Hill and Broadway, and near the famed Angels Flight funicular railway.

It started in 1866 in Battle Creek, Michigan, when the Whites opened the Western Health Reform Institute, refashioned as the Battle Creek Sanitarium there.  A decade later, Dr. Kellogg became the facility’s director and the regimen of hydrotherapy, exercise and vegetarianism was the cornerstone of the sanitarium’s operations.  Known as “Health City,” Battle Creek’s heyday was in the the first decade of the 1900s, when other cereal companies established there included Post and Ralston (later Ralston-Purina).

The movement fostered by the Whites and Kellogg came west and the Saint Helena Sanitarium opened in the Napa Valley with a branch in San Francisco.  F.B. Moran ran the latter and then moved to Los Angeles to open the Los Angeles Sanitarium, which was directly affiliated with and ran on the principles of the White/Kellogg system.

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These are janitorial and kitchen staff from the Los Angeles Sanitarium and it is assumed that some of these workers were also employed at the vegetarian restaurant affiliated with the institution.  An inscription on the dust pan held by the man at the far right reads “LEAVE ME HERE”!

Moran also supervised the opening of a vegetarian restaurant that worked in tandem with the sanitarium and was a part-owner in a pure food company, though, as noted above, these enterprises were somewhat short lived.  The larger society in Los Angeles was not quite ready to embrace such exotic concepts as an all-vegetarian diet, though this is much more common a century and more later.

As to the photos, they are interesting in that some are formal portraits of employees of the institution, while others show a playful side that is not often seen in professionally-taken images of workers from that period.

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While many of these photos show a formalism typical of the era, this one with the two ladies at the center affectionately resting against one another, shows something different.

A particularly humorous one shows some women in  large wooden box about o be nailed shut by some of their male colleagues!  The religious and health-conscious nature of the sanitarium and restaurant enterprise may have fostered a different kind of “institutional culture” (to borrow a modern term) than would have been typical of the era.

Photos like these offer a lot of interpretive possibilities, ranging from Progressivism to the popularity of sanitariums to the pure food movement to the gender mixing in some industries and more.

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The lighter side of work, including some playfulness regarding gender roles, at the Los Angeles Sanitarium is shown here.

The history of the Workman and Temple families can be tied to some of these concepts, especially the importance of sanitariums. Francis W. Temple, who occupied and owned the Homestead from 1876 to 1888, was a tuberculosis sufferer, who sought treatment in Arizona and, presumably, locally for his malady, of which he died just days before his 40th birthday.

Though the Homestead is based at the site of Rancho La Puente and the homes of the Workman and Temple families, our focus on the broader history of greater Los Angeles from 1830 to 1930 gives us an opportunity to make many connections relating to regional history and our growing artifact collection helps us to tell the stories that come from these connections.

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