Grace Imamoto was born on January 14, 1920 to social worker James Zenichi Iwamoto and Yoshi Iwamasa Imamoto. She was only three credits short of receiving a degree from U.C. Berkeley when Japanese Americans were forcibly “evacuated” from West Coast institutions. Grace was proud of her academic record and refused the offer of one professor to receive a “D” to graduate. After evacuation, she and her family were evacuated to Arkansas for internment. She then was released from the camp to do domestic work in Minneapolis. Although she attempted to enroll in the University of Minnesota to complete her degree, she was denied admission.
Grace later moved to Oberlin to accompany and support her sister Alice Setsuko Imamoto, who was studying in the Conservatory of Music. At this time Grace worked as assistant cook, cleaning and preparing meals at “Grad House”.
In her poignant personal essay, written in sophisticated script, Grace speaks of how her personal history and the West Coast evacuation of Nisei sparked her interest in psychology and her desire to become a social worker.
Childhood was spent in a closely-knitted family unit. Reared under parents who devoted most of their time with child psychology, discipline, and […] development. My three sisters and I were given music lessons in piano, violin and cello. Music was developed not only for ourselves but also to play at various organizations. Through this work I became attached to the church by playing for church services. I joined the first organization – W.W.G. – World Wide Guild. A group interested in helping the youth of other countries of the world who needed some assistance. I became aware of the existing conditions through the messages actively brought back to us by the missionaries. I devoted all my free time, outside of my homework, piano practice, to collecting unwanted toys, postcards and other useable material for my club.
I had difficulties in my adolescence, causing much grief to myself. My parents couldn’t understand me nor I-them. I didn’t realize that we had such a phase in our lives. I began [to] wonder about many things such as adolescence, behavior, moods, inner thinking. In speaking with my freshmen counselor in high school, she told me some of the doubting (?) problems. I took courses in high school to prepare myself for college. I stayed the later two years of my high school working in a private home so that I might become acquainted with the ways others lived too. I was extremely fond of people, meeting friends at the club meetings, churches, and parties.
However college was a sudden new world opened to me. I attended a university of 15,000 pupils and I didn’t realize how insignificant I became. One had to do exceptionally well in his works to be recognized by any of his professors. I had some trying times not knowing a sa(?) and lacking that person to person relationship with my instructors. I wanted to study for social welfare major but being extremely interested in behavior, ideas, reactions and activities, I decided to research into psychology. I wanted to study the personality of people – the basis of our society and the social world. In trying to make up my mind what specific field of psychology, I began taking many of them to compare them.
My actual desire to become a social worker penetrated my heart after the evacuation of Japanese aliens and citizens from the Western Coast. The lack of social worker was suspiciously noticed. I felt so helpless not knowing too much about social welfare. (I helped in the school teaching) Many proud mothers would not come to the social science office for assistance despite the desperate need of assistance. Children were poorly clothed, families were dissatisfied and broken-up having been uprooted from their normal ways of life. Ministers were only available social workers but they too lacked adequate training. I would like to study this summer and finish my A.B. degree and continue into some Social Studies School in order to meet the call which will be great after this war has ceased.
Although she received the necessary credits to receive a degree from Oberlin, Grace refused them, believing she had rightfully earned a degree from Berkeley. Oberlin asked Berkeley for permission to award Grace a Berkeley degree at an Oberlin commencement, but Berkeley refused, and Grace did not receive her Berkeley degree until travel restrictions to the West Coast were lifted in 1945.
After Oberlin, Grace married Grant S. Noda on April 4, 1945 and had two children, Kathy A. Noda and Tanya M. Noda.
Though she did not graduate from Oberlin, she wrote in an Alumni Reunion Class Questionnaire:
I regret I only attended one lecture course to fulfill credits towards BA from UC Berkeley. War prevented me from graduating from Cali. in 1942 & 1945. […] I’m delighted to see Oberlin’s growth – the Conservatory is magnificent & certainly one to be most proud. There are some of Oberlin’s graduates here in Davis.