Oberlin President Ernest Wilkins and some side-stories

About Oberlin President Ernest Hatch Wilkins – from the Oberlin Hi-O-Hi yearbook of 1941:

Realizing that Oberlin should teach its students to accept the social responsibility of good citizenship, President Wilkins this year sponsored a series of lectures on Democracy, Communism, and Fascism. He has also encouraged the growth of such organizations such as the Peace and Public Affairs Forum. Thus we respect our president as a scholar who does not think the problems of a material world beneath his consideration, but rather feels that the keen analytical approach of the scholar is necessary if the problems of the world are to be permanently solved. More than as a scholar, however, we respect our president as a man who will listen to our troubles, help us with our problems, and enjoy the familiar greeting, “Prexy”.

(After combing through the Oberlin Hi-O-Hi yearbook of 1941, I found only three Japanese American students at Oberlin: sophomores  Mitsuko Matsno and Ichiko Mukai, and freshman Harry Yamaguchi. Mitsuko and Ichiko were freshmen in 1940.)

President Wilkins in book of 1942:

The respect and faith which the entire student body feels towards President Wilkins was never more clearly manifested than on that Tuesday after Pearl Harbor, when, with an unparalleled frankness and a moving sincerity he spoke on Oberlin’s role in the war.

Throughout the year he has striven to keep student attention directed on important national and international affairs. Liberal in thought and interested in student activities, he has always been found by students a willing counselor and friend.

In 1942, Willard Glenn Sueoka was an enrolled freshman who joined Harry (soph), Mitsuko, and Ichiko (juniors). They were the only four Japanese-Americans enrolled at the start of the war.

In 1943 Harry Yamaguchi was one of the first Japanese-Americans who attended during the war to graduate from Oberlin. He later earned a Masters and a PhD, and became an assistant professor of psychology at Indiana University.

During the same year, Itsue Hisanaga (who married Harry) and William (Bill) Tokio Makino left Oberlin without graduating.

Yet more names:

  • Ruth Sachie Kono (Mrs. Edward G. Machara) nongrad of class of ’46, attended 1943-4
  • Nishiyama, John Minori 1942-3 nongrad of ’46

Some other interesting names of Japanese students I found in yearbooks were:

  • Hirazawa, Katsumi, ’43 from School of Theology (I have a feeling that this person may not be a Nisei, but from Japan; the only Japanese-American man I’ve seen in this school so far is Victor Tadaharu Fujiu of ’47)
  • Toshio Sadaie from Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan
  • Masaru Nakamura from Okawa, Kagawa, Japan. (So not actually related to my research.

At Oberlin in 1940, Masaru and Toshio were involved in the Cosmopolitan Club:

“Corda Fratres,” a club in which students of all nations are joined together for the purpose of stimulating a greater interest in international and inter-racial understanding and goodwill, and of spreading this interest throughout campus and nation. Twenty-one nationalities and twenty-two countries are represented.”

Many of the other Japanese-Americans who attended Oberlin were involved with this club as well.

Masaru Nakamura’s story is a tragic one. After leaving the Oberlin School of Theology in 1940, he returned to Japan to serve in the Imperial Navy, but was killed.


Masaru Nakamura, son of Taisuke and Tsuyue Nakamura, was born in Kagawa-ken, Japan, June 12, 190. He was graduated from the Theological Department of Doshisha University in Japan in 1932. In 1937 he entered Oberlin Graduate School of Theology and was graduated with the degree of Master of Arts. He returned to Japan in the summer of 1940 and was located in Tokyo. A letter from Michio Kozaki of the Oberlin class of 1917, written November 27, 1945, contained the information that Masaru Nakamura had died December 26, 1943, when the boat on which he was a passenger was hit by a U.S. submarine in the South China Sea. According to Mr. Kozaki’s information he was asked by the Japanese Navy department, in company with four other Japanese Christian pastors, to go on a mission to the south seas. He was survived by his wife and two children.

Later, one of our graduates, Alan Smith, was in Japan and met a Japanese friend of Mr. Nakamura who told him that he was an English language officer in the Japanese navy at the time he lost his life.


2 thoughts on “Oberlin President Ernest Wilkins and some side-stories

  1. Hi Cassie! I’m a junior in Oberlin majoring in East Asian Studies. I’m doing a WWII project with Oberlin Heritage Center this winter, and we happened to find out that one Japanese American student, John Minori Nishiyama, was called into service in the US army in 1943. I got confused but also really interested about this story, and I wonder if you could give me some suggestions about what kind of sources I may use for further research?
    Thank you so much for the blogs! They’re helping me to think about my current project in a new way.

    • Hi!! I’m sorry this response is SOO late. I hadn’t realized that he didn’t graduate because he was called into service, that makes a lot of sense since the draft was going into place at the time. Thank you! Most of my information was found by pulling out the student files in the Archives in Mudd and through extensive Google searches! Since you’re in Oberlin now you can probably find a lot more than I could do while out here. Your project sounds exciting! Please keep me updated 🙂

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