Penns annual Hey Day exercises on June 9, 1944, President Thomas
Sovereign Gates C28 Hon56, who was about to retire, was honored
for his years of service to the University. But that wasnt what
prompted The New York Times and newspapers from around the country
to cover the event, at least not directly. They were there because Naomi
Nakano CW44, as president of the Womens Student Government
Association, was to present Gates with an engraved tray during the festivities.
Though Nakano, now retired and living
in St. Louis, Mo., says that she didnt attach much significance
at the time to sharing the stage with Gates, to some in the audience,
who applauded furiously, the event was charged with meaning. Just the
day before, following widespread negative publicity and protests from
alumni across the country, the University had reversed a policy of excluding
Japanese Americans from admission that Nakanoan undergraduate honor
student whose application to Penns graduate program had been rejectedhad
been the "guinea pig" in challenging.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, a
wave of anti-Japanese hysteria swept the United States. The most obvious
and extreme result was the forced "evacuation" of thousands of Japanese-Americans
living on the West Coast to remote internment camps, but its effects were
felt far and wideincluding on Penns campus, where the same
conflicts over military security, race and citizenship that fueled the
internment were played out in subtler form.
Penns dilemma over its Japanese-American
students actually began before Pearl Harbor. Documents in the University
archives reveal that, in the summer of 1941, the University had furnished
Naval intelligence with information on students of Japanese ancestry,
both native Japanese and U.S.-born (known as Nisei in the Japanese
community). During the fall semester, with the Universitys knowledge
and, presumably, consent, intelligence officers "checked" in some fashion
on at least four of these students.
By December 1941, there were only a
handful of Japanese-American students at Penn (as well as a single student
from Japan, Noboru Kamirya, who was listed tactfully as "withdrawn as
of December 6, 1941"). On December 9, 1941, the day after Congress declared
war, the University was contacted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation,
to whom it offered the same information on its Nisei students that it
had previously sent to Naval intelligence. In his letter to the FBI, William
H. DuBarry, University vice president, referred to the Nisei students
At some point in the following weeks,
Penns administration and trustees privately decided to refuse to
admit any more Japanese-American students to Penn for the duration of
the war (a policy also evidently adopted by other elite universities such
as Harvard and Yale). Nisei students already enrolled would be allowed
to finish their degrees, but not to continue their education in other
parts of the University, such as graduate and professional schools; these
would constitute new admissions. Thus, in 1942-1943, the executive committee
of the trustees refused to grant Robert (Yoichi) Sato W43, a graduating
Wharton senior, permission to enroll in graduate school, and Wharton graduate
student Koshi Miyasaki W41 WG42 was barred from further studies
after receiving his MBA.
How or when the decision to exclude
was made isnt clear; the subject is not mentioned in the minutes
of the trustees meetings. University administrators later variously
claimed to be acting on orders from the War Department and/or informal
instructions from the Navy Department. In truth, the military issued several
confusing and contradictory directives.
The first was in May 1942, after the
National Japanese American Student Relocation Council (NJASRC), an agency
founded to help Nisei students transfer to colleges outside the West Coast,
inquired as to Penns willingness to accept students from the camps.
Since Philadelphia was in a restricted defense zone due to its port facilities,
the administration asked the opinion of the Armys Eastern Defense
Command. On May 11, Commanding General Hugh Aloysius Drum issued a "recommendation"
to Penn that no new Japanese-Americans from outside the zone be "encouraged"
to enter. The University then responded to the NJASRC, declining to accept
any such students.
By August 1942, Drums "recommendation"
was no longer in effect, and Nisei students from the camps enrolled at
local colleges such as Temple. The NJASRC again inquired whether Penn
would admit Nisei, but withdrew its request shortly afterward, stating
that the Navy had raised an unspecified objection to Penns admission
of students from the camps. The University made no inquiries regarding
the Navys objection.
In October 1943, the Army provost marshals
office issued a directive requiring universities engaged in important
defense work to obtain clearance before admitting Japanese-American students.
The NJASRC, which still hoped to enroll Nisei students at Penn, informed
the University that Penn was exempt from the provost marshals directive,
and added that the University did not appear on any Army or Navy list
of institutions closed to Japanese-Americans. However, DuBarry voluntarily
informed Naval intelligence that Penn had ceased all Nisei admissions
after Pearl Harbor in accordance with orders from the War Department,
and would continue to do so.
In sum, the Army and Navy directives
represent, at best, only one element in the Universitys blanket
policy, and may have served more as a pretext than a reason. For example,
the War Relocation Authority, the civilian agency in charge of the internment
camps, informed Penn that neither it nor the military had any control
over Nisei students from outside the evacuated zone, but Penn continued
to refuse admission to Nisei students from Hawaii and the East Coast.
Certainly, there was no military reason for the University to deny Miyasaki
and Sato, who were already Penn students, permission to continue their
studies. Moreover, in 1943 the administration was able to gain military
approval to retain Warwick Sakami Gr44, a Nisei Ph.D. student working
on a secret government research project at the Universitys Laboratory
of Physiological Chemistry.
The ban was also not universally enforced.
Mitsu Yamamoto CW43, a biracial Nisei whose Japanese father was
employed by Penns linguistics department during the war, was permitted
to enroll in the graduate school after receiving her BA. Yamamoto says
today that she was never informed of any exclusion policy: "I signed up
for graduate work with complete freedom and took classes in the English
department." Perhaps because of her mixed ancestry and what she calls
her "white-bread appearance," Yamamoto was not troubled by the administration,
despite her unmistakably Japanese name.
These facts suggest that the Universitys
exclusion policy was inspired by a number of factors other than national
security: misinformation and confusion over government policy, eagerness
to support the military, bureaucratic rigidity and reluctance to take
initiative, ignorance of Japanese-Americans, and a general desire to avoid
trouble. In addition, the policy reflected an indifference to the equal
rights of American citizens that was informed by prejudice and racial
animosity, as is indicated by the numerous references to the Nisei as
"Japanese" and "foreign students" in administration correspondence during
1942 and 1943.
In Spring 1944, the administrations
exclusion of Japanese-Americans rebounded strongly against it after Naomi
Nakano, a senior in the College for Women, was denied admission to Penns
graduate school. Naomi was a Philadelphia-area native who had grown up
in the only Japanese-American family in the suburb of Ridley Park. Her
father, Nick (Yosuke) Nakano GAr16, was a distinguished Penn alumnus
who had immigrated to the United States from Japan at age 19 and worked
his way through college. After receiving a masters degree in architecture
from the University in 1916, Nick Nakano joined the firm of Wark and Co.
During the 1920s and 1930s, he helped construct a significant chunk of
Philadelphias skyline, including the Bell Telephone building, the
Sun Oil building, and the Presbyterian Hospital (and, according to one
source, the Christian Association building on Penns campus). Nakano
was so well-respected by building-industry giant Edward Budd that, during
World War II, Budd insisted he be granted a security clearance for defense
work, even though he was an enemy alien, and Nakano supervised the Budd
Companys construction of a quartermaster depot.
Naomi, the elder of two daughters, entered
the University in 1940. An excellent student, she became a member of Phi
Beta Kappa in her junior year and was also involved in a wide variety
of student activitiesworking as a Red Cross volunteer, playing on
the womens field-hockey team and serving as associate editor ofThe
Bennett News, the College for Womens newspaper, among others.
She was especially active in the Student Christian Association Movement,
touring campuses on the East Coast to promote the admission of Nisei students
from the camps. In her senior year, she became vice chair of the movements
Middle Atlantic Regional Council. She was also president of her junior
class, and, as a senior, became president of the Womens Student
She speaks fondly of her student days
at Penn. "There were some good restaurants around campus. My favorite
was called the Lido. I made friends through the Christian Association,
which was a center for socially minded students, and through other student
activities," she says.
She never felt any hostility as a Japanese-American
from other students or faculty. "There was no prejudice, although there
was one woman librarian at Penn who panicked after Pearl Harbor and wanted
to deny me access to the libraryuntil cooler heads prevailed," she
recalls. "Actually, I felt more the discrimination against women students.
For instance, in those days the men had the student union at Houston Hall
to themselves! Women were restricted to the basement, which was where
the campus bookstore was."
In early 1944, Nakano filed an application
to the graduate school. The philosophy department voted to recommend her
for a scholarship, which was then approved by the Graduate Council. Soon
after, however, the dean of the graduate school, Dr. Edwin Williams, told
Nakano that University policy required the school to deny her application.
Nakano remembers that she initially accepted the rejection without protest,
believing that the University was under explicit military orders. "I thought
that it was a bureaucratic administrative decision," she says. She proceeded
to apply to other graduate schools.