Women’s Clubs Mrs. Sugino (2/12/1943)

 

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Women’s Clubs in Japanese Incarceration Camps

“Women’s Clubs” is an interview of Mrs. Sugino who attended a women’s club meeting for a friend, Miss Honds, a regular attendee. It comes from an outsider’s perspective in a sense, due to the fact that she did not attend these meetings on a regular basis and had only started attending as a favor to her friend. Every block from the incarceration camp would organize a group of women with varying opinions and choose representatives that would attend a larger Women’s Club meeting. These select group of women were to be the voice of each block, allowing for a wide representation of ideas. These groups would meet up and discuss about the necessity of women’s organization for communication between the groups, and furthermore for discussion of common problems and possible remedies. This document demonstrates a budding insider’s view of what went on during some of these Women’s Club meetings and shows us that women were leaders of their community through controlling the distribution of necessary resources such as food and drink, easing the feeling of dissent, and promoting unity with the formation of hobbies.

Women had power in crucial matters and therefore were able to develop into influential leaders in the incarceration camps. The document gives various examples of problems they have faced in the camps, such as milk shortages, and what was done to address this dilemma as well as to get a better understanding of their situation with their organizational skills and discussions, allowing for better community leadership. Family unity in the camps deteriorated with “the unceasing battle with the elements, the poor food, the shortages of toilet tissue and milk, coupled with wartime profiteering and mismanagement, etc.”[1] So overall, there were many struggles within the camps about the shortage of resources. During the milk shortage in Poston, each block of representatives voted to determine the distribution of the diminished milk supply[2], which suggested that women had the power to handle detrimental matters, like the distribution of milk in the incarceration camps. Having control over food resources, such as milk, allowed for the women’s group to establish themselves as strong leadership force within the camp as people would be at the mercy of the leaders to receive the necessities they desired; thus giving these group of women a great deal of power over the camp. Overall, having a say in food allows women to exercise their power and influence the inhabitants of the incarceration camps in an important way. Food and drink are necessary for survival, and milk is crucial for the well being of their children, the future of the Japanese American population. Therefore, having the power to influence their growth and well-being puts a lot of responsibility on women leading these women’s clubs and meetings.

Even with this newfound power and influence women had in the camps, Women’s clubs were seen as beneficial and aided in easing the feeling of strike by helping calm down dissent among the women. The Poston Strike of 1942 was “one of the largest acts of resistance to WRA control, ending in a negotiated settlement that gave the strikers much of what they had demanded.”[3] There were many tensions within the community that had resulted from “disapproval over pay, the amount of work expected, and classification of jobs” along with the “newfound competition between the Nisei Community Council and the newly created Issei Advisory Board.”[4] Living conditions worsened in the camp and paranoia developed among the residents as administrators sought information about suspected troublemakers. On November 1, 1942, this accumulation of paranoia resulted in an internee, a suspected “informer,” being severely beaten.[5] Due to past strikes and feelings of unease, Poston internees felt unease with the possibility of future strikes. Mrs. Sugino stated, “We feel that the women’s club has played a very definite beneficial function in its existence, in bringing a better understanding of our problems to the administration and easing the feeling of strike.”[6] So even with the occasional conflicts, the women’s club was seen as a positive influence for the women of each block overall, and was a way for them to learn more about leadership through experience and also about the problems that affected them inside the incarceration camps. It brought about a sense of community and the discussions allowed for the women to discuss and manage problems themselves, which aided the women in working on the same side. The women’s clubs calmed down dissent and therefore, allowed for the community to work in more peaceful conditions and ease the “feeling of strike” showing that their leadership was influential.

Women developed new skills through clubs that allowed them to partake in leadership roles in the incarceration camps and be able to prepare themselves for future lives out of Poston. One of the biggest women’s organizations was the Federation of Women’s Clubs, an educational club, which tried to get representation from all women’s clubs, regardless of religious and other differences to obtain diversity of ideologies and opinions.[7] There were other groups such as church groups, women’s groups in the language clubs, trade clubs, alumnae groups, and other provincial clubs that women would join for recreational purposes as well.[8] The wide variety of clubs allowed women to gain experiences that may not be available to others during the time period. There were many women in the camps, majority of them were Issei, who never had time to pick up a hobby and learn new skills because of their work, who found that communally prepared meals and their conditions provided them with spare time.[9] These were times where these inexperienced women could participate in activities and develop leadership skills.[10] Many of the women took advantage of the opportunity to attend courses involving “handcrafts and traditional Japanese arts such as flower arrangement, sewing, painting, calligraphy, wood carving” for self-expression.[11] This fostered a sense of community within the group allowing for women to relax, share something in common with the other internees, and feel more unified. In the primary document, Mrs. Sugino also states that these experiences allow for women to “experience community leadership and obtain pointers on it.”[12] So overall, at least from Mrs. Sugino’s perspective, women’s clubs seemed to have a positive influence on the women in camps, giving them the opportunity to enjoy themselves, learn, and develop new skills they previously would not have been able to develop. Even though these experiences are mainly traditional ones, reinforcing the idea of an ideal housewife, learning how to sew and make crafts, these experiences also taught the Japanese American women to become more independent and take advantage of the opportunities given to them by the Women’s Clubs.

Overall, women’s clubs were an organized way to communicate and share ideas between groups in the incarceration camps during World War II. These meetings allowed for the discussion of common problems and was able to transform from something minor, such as developing hobbies, into something that had a widespread influence on the community, such as fostering a sense of leadership and community which was demonstrated with the controlling the distribution of necessary resources, easing the feeling of dissent, and the formation of hobbies. Due to the fact that this document comes from the perspective of a woman who had just recently started in the camps, it was able to give a perspective of what it was like for a beginner to join. It had a positive effect overall by giving women the opportunities to come together, discuss, and learn many new skills during this time of war.

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

Fujita-Rony, Thomas Y. “Poston (Colorado River)” Densho Encyclopedia. http://encyclopedia.densho.org/Poston_(Colorado_River)/ (accessed November 30, 2014).

Matsumoto, Valerie. “Japanese American Women During World War II” (Frontiers: A Journal of  Women Studies, 1984), 6-13.

Sugino. “Women’s Clubs” (Japanese American Relocation Records Archive, 1943), 1-12.

 

 



[1] Matsumoto, Valerie. “Japanese American Women During World War II” (Frontiers: A Journal of  Women Studies, 1984), 8.

[2] Sugino. “Women’s Clubs” (Japanese American Relocation Records Archive, 1943), 3.

[3] Fujita-Rony, Thomas Y. “Poston (Colorado River)” Densho Encyclopedia. http://encyclopedia.densho.org/Poston_(Colorado_River)/ (accessed November 30, 2014).

[4] Fujita-Rony, Thomas Y. “Poston (Colorado River)”

[5] Fujita-Rony, Thomas Y. “Poston (Colorado River)”

[6] Sugino. “Women’s Clubs”, 5.

[7]  Sugino. “Women’s Clubs”, 8.

[8]  Sugino. “Women’s Clubs”, 8.

[9] Matsumoto, Valerie. “Japanese American Women During World War II”, 9.

[10] Sugino. “Women’s Clubs”, 12.

[11] Matsumoto, Valerie. “Japanese American Women During World War II”, 9.

[12] Sugino. “Women’s Clubs”, 12.

 

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