New exhibit on Earlham’s relationship with Japanese-Americans during WWII | Earlham College Skip to Content
Dan Uyesugi, pictured right gesturing, visits a new exhibit at Lilly Library about Japanese Americans who studied at Earlham during World War II. Dan's father, Edward Uyesugi '45, escaped internment to study at Earlham as part of the Japanese American Student Relocation Council program.

New exhibit on Earlham’s relationship with Japanese Americans during WWII on display at Lilly Library

July 09, 2019

The connection between Earlham College and Japanese Americans affected by internment during World War II is the subject of a new digital exhibit at Lilly Library.

The project is supported by a major gift from the family of Newton K. (Uyesugi) Wesley ’45 who escaped confinement from the Minidoka Concentration Camp in Idaho as part of the Japanese American Student Relocation Council program.

"This project is a statement of Earlham's commitment to peace and justice as a Quaker learning community,” says Library Director Neal Baker. “We are grateful for the wonderful generosity from the Wesley family that supported the creation of this valuable resource for our community. I'm at the same time grateful to the people in the library whose hard work created this resource, including Amy Bryant, Jenny Freed, Tom Hamm and several amazing student workers."

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During the war, Earlham worked in partnership with the American Friends Service Committee to enroll 24 students — five of whom graduated. More than 110,000 Japanese Americans living in the western interior of the United States were forcibly relocated by the United States government following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and other tensions resulting from the global conflict. Many Americans of Japanese descent lost their jobs, businesses and property as result of government policy. Earlham was one of only a handful of colleges and universities in the U.S. who agreed to enroll Japanese American students during the war.

Wesley arrived at Earlham in 1942 having already completed college coursework and earning his license in optometry from the state of Oregon in 1939. In early 1943, he petitioned the Wayne Circuit Court of Indiana to change his name to Newton K. Wesley on the grounds that patients were unable to find him in the phonebook. He studied on campus for two years and then hoped to transfer to Loyola College in Illinois to finish his degree.

In his career, he became an early pioneer of the contact lens and was co-founder of the Plastic Contact Lens Company in 1946.

Despite growing anti-Japanese sentiment sweeping the nation during the war, former Earlham president William C. Dennis did not waver at the opportunity to enroll Japanese Americans on campus. However, Dennis was exacting in his requirements for enrollment, says Tom Hamm, Ph.D., a professor of history and an expert on the history of the College.

“Dennis was conservative by temperament, and an attorney by vocation, so he planned carefully for what he knew could be a ticklish situation,” Hamm says in his writings about Earlham’s history with Japan.

“Japanese American students would have to provide proof of absolute loyalty and financial capacity,’” he says. “They would receive no scholarships, nor would they have campus jobs, so that there would no question of them benefitting at the expense of other American students. Significantly, even in this statement, Dennis emphasized that Japanese Americans were Americans.”

The exhibit features decades of archival documents that have been digitized for this project. A corresponding website, which is the result of a collaboration between dozens of current students and faculty during the 2018-19 academic year, is available for viewing off campus.

This is the second gift to Earlham with a connection to the Wesley family. The family of Wesley’s brother, Edward Uyesugi, who also studied at Earlham, established a permanent collection of literature at Lilly Library in the 1980s that celebrates the contributions of Japanese Americans living in the United States.

Edward Uyesugi graduated from Earlham in 1945 and launched a 40-year career as an optometrist in Paoli, Indiana. His wife, the late Ruth Farlow Uyesugi ’45, published the book, Don’t Cry Chiisai, Don’t Cry in 1978. It is a first-hand account of their experiences as Earlham students and as a young married couple. Earlham will facilitate a reprint of the book this summer.

Roy Wesley, Newton Wesley's son, is preparing a memoir of the incarceration period as well as a biography of his father. Lee Wesley, another son, has prepared an exhibit outlining his father’s history.

“The descendants of Dr. Newton K. Wesley gratefully acknowledge the generous and courageous support of the Quaker community during World War II when discrimination prevented many Americans of Japanese descent from completing their education,” says Roy Wesley in a statement on behalf of the family.

“The American Friends Service Committee, the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council (NJASRC) and former Earlham President William C. Dennis made it possible for Newton and Edward Uyesugi to attend college and avoid incarceration, which imprisoned their families,” the statement continues. “This respite allowed them to maintain their American citizenship and freedom which was properly due to them and to continue their education allowing for significant contributions to the eye care of many future Americans.”

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Earlham College, a national liberal arts college located in Richmond, Indiana, is a "College That Changes Lives." We expect our students to be fully present: to think rigorously, value directness and genuineness, and actively seek insights from differing perspectives. The values we practice at Earlham are rooted in centuries of Quaker tradition, but they also constitute the ideal toolkit for contemporary success. We rank 7th nationally by Princeton Review for Best Classroom Experience and 22nd by U.S. News and World Report for commitment to undergraduate teaching.

Brian Zimmerman is director of media relations at Earlham College. He can be reached at 765-983-1256 and zimmebr@earlham.edu.

 

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