Poston I Fujin Kai
By: Jeff Johnson
“Poston I Fujin Kai” discusses the formation of clubs and how working women used their new-found leisure time at the internment camps. The main purpose of the clubs was to keep women occupied, but they also served to teach skills that would be useful when the women returned to life outside of the camps. The document also talks about the clubs’ ongoing effects after their initial formation.
“Poston I Fujin Kai” is a description of the formation of women’s clubs and the process of streamlining them into practical and productive experiences. The clubs formed mainly because the Japanese women interned at Poston did not have very much to do to occupy their time. Outside of the camps, the women had to work at their jobs, take care of their families, and also do all of the housework. Inside the camps, there were no jobs, the living space was reduced to one room, and cooking was taken care of for them. With this in mind, the clubs served a variety of purposes. They distracted women from their current unpleasant situation, strengthened their sense of community, and also taught them skills that would be useful after their incarceration was over. The process of forming the clubs was started by Nell Findley, a social worker, and assisted by Alice Cheney, a missionary who had recently returned from teaching English in Japan. The classes taught subjects like English, sewing, and first aid. (Poston I, p. 5)
One of the major issues in the document is how the assumptions of Findley and Cheney influenced the club. For example, they lumped all of the incarcerated women together in one group. Looking back, this was pretty clearly a mistake. The Japanese women as a whole shared nothing completely besides their Japanese ancestry. They came from different social classes, had varying degrees of proficiency in English and Japanese, ranged in age from their 20s to their 60s, hailed from different parts of California, and had numerous other differences. It is also noteworthy that very few of them had experience with clubs, like American women of the time, before going to Fujin Kai. The clubs offered various classes; such as English, first aid, and sewing. These classes helped enforce the traditional gender roles that were common in both the United States and Japanese culture at the time. (Poston I, p. 5) Although things could have gone better, Findley and Cheney definitely cared about their positions. Findley is said to have worked with, “…special emphasis upon suffering humanity. She felt great sympathy with the Japanese caught up in the evacuation and forced to live under what she could only regard as slum conditions which would inevitably break down the structure of their family life. In her contacts with the evacuees, she quickly became emotional and sympathetic, allowing them to see how much she deplored all that evacuation meant.” (Poston I, p. 9)
There were meetings of the Quad Chairmen periodically and Cheney headed these meetings. Many of the Japanese women did not like this arrangement because they did not trust Cheney and they thought she was informing on them to the administration. The shared mistrust of Cheney and the other administrators served to bring the women closer together and motivate them to try to change the situation. When the clubs did try to make substantial change on issues like food quality, they were threatened with harsher treatment and scrutiny. The Japanese men in the camp even laughed at the women when they tried to make big changes because it was not part of their traditional role. (Poston I, p. 7)