Jimmy White: Jewish Experience at Medical School in the 1930s
Date:Tuesday, November 21, 2000
ID:Digital audio recording #: 20.00-34
Interviewer: Jean Gerber & Cyril E. Leonoff
JW: So it was after my second year of university here that I decided to go into medicine which made my mother and father very happy.
CL: Did this school have a pre-med at that time?
JW: No, no. No, couldn’t take any…I stayed here ‘til the end of my second year then I tried to get some pre-med and they had nothing here. They…In those days you had to have the equivalent of high school Latin to get into medical school. And I hadn’t taken Latin, I had taken French in high school. Only two schools in Canada that had a preliminary course in Latin which was the equivalent of high school Latin; one was University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon and the other was Halifax, Dalhousie. So Saskatoon, I’d come from there so I went back to Saskatoon and took my pre-med there. And then I got into the University of Toronto Medical School.
JG: Now these were days towards the end of the Depression beginning of World War II when Jews did not enter medical school so easily.
JW: No, very difficult.
JG: How did you overcome this quota system?
JW: I just got very good marks. Didn’t get such high marks at the University of British Columbia. I was too busy fooling around, having a good time. But once I decided to go into medical school, my final year in my pre-med year I really got very good marks.
JG: Were there other Jewish—I guess at that time it would have been mostly boys, some girls maybe—trying to get in?
JW: Out of 120 in our class there were five girls. That’s all.
JG: So they would have had to be very good.
JW: They were very good and they were nice girls.
JG: Any other Jews went into medical school with you?
JW: Yes, yes, there were a few, not many. The University of Toronto strangely enough, although the city was an anti-Semitic city, and there many of the doctors were personally anti-Semitic and showed it, the policy of the school wasn’t that bad. I had difficulty finding a place to stay because many houses had ‘restricted’ signs on them. And restricted didn’t mean blacks because there were no blacks, restricted meant there were no Jews allowed. So I had difficulty finding a place to live.
JG: Where did you finally settle?
JW: Well, when I went to Toronto I stayed at the YMCA which is right near the University of Toronto in Toronto. And I stayed there, it was a dollar a day I remember. And I wandered around looking for a place. The university had lists of places that you could go to board and room. I wandered around to a lot of these places and a lot of them had restricted signs on them. And I was getting very discouraged.
I was in swimming one day, you know, at the Y, you go swimming with no clothes on, the YMCA in those days. So I see another guy swimming, he looked Jewish to me.
JW: So I got talking to him and I was telling him my problems and he turned out to be a medical student also and living in Toronto. And he says, “Well,” he said, “look, I’ve got a place for you to live.” He says, “There’s a Jewish medical fraternity.” He says, “Come and live at our place.” So I lived there for five years, cost $35 a month.
JG: What was the name of the fraternity?
JW: Phi Delta Epsilon and that is an international, Jewish—only Jewish students…