The University of Wisconsin and Japanese American Students, 1941–44

By Joy E. Block

This post is the first in a series of blog posts celebrating the 2021 Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) Heritage Month at UW–Madison. For more information about APIDA events and programming, visit UW–Madison’s APIDA Heritage Month page. Stay tuned for part two of the series which will be published on April 14th.

The research in this blog post was completed as a part of the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Public History Project. The multi-year project aims to reckon with the university’s history of racism, exclusion, and discrimination. The project will culminate in an exhibit in the fall of 2022, an interactive online website, and curricular tools. By sharing research before the opening of the exhibit, we hope to begin conversations about the history of UW–Madison and discuss how we can all work towards building a more equitable campus community. The nature of historical research is that it will always be incomplete. It is impossible for us to know everything that happened in the past. Therefore, the research in this post is imperfect, as all history is. Our student researchers have completed the research below with all of the historical documents available to them at the time of publication. There will be alternative perspectives to those detailed below. We believe that the discussions that arise out of these differing perspectives are an integral part of the process of reckoning with our history. We welcome responses and discussion. Responses submitted by email will be posted in a response and discussion post within one week after the original publication date. Responses with vulgar or offensive language will not be posted.

Content Warning: The UW–Madison Public History Project blog aims to provide a space where our community can begin the difficult work of reckoning with our history. Some of the content and language in this blog post is disturbing. In this post, you will encounter descriptions of anti-Asian cartoons, caricatures, and newspaper articles published on UW–Madison’s campus during this period.

When Japanese bombers attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, they did more than provoke the United States to enter WWII. They also triggered an era of uncertainty and hardship for Japanese in the U.S., including college-aged Japanese Americans across the country. At the time, Japanese people were not allowed to immigrate to the United States or become United States citizens. Still, over 284,000 lived in the U.S. and its Hawaiian Territory, having migrated across the Pacific Ocean before 1924 and established families throughout Hawaiʻi and the West Coast states.[1] Their children who were born in the United States (a generation called “Nisei” in the Japanese language) became U.S. citizens, and Japanese Americans had hoped that over time they could integrate into American society regardless of the exclusions that their first generation continued to face. In 1941, the Nisei generation was just coming of age, with the oldest attending college for undergraduate and graduate work. They were supposed to be the future leaders of their racial group and the ones whose futures would validate their parents’ efforts and mitigate the exclusion they had endured.

Their hopes unraveled as Pearl Harbor exploded.

The Japanese attack seemed to galvanize Americans into a defensive form of unity. Previously a majority of Americans had advocated putting “America first” and leaving the Europeans to fight WWII amongst themselves. Now the vast majority vowed to make great sacrifices in protecting their country and its allies. From draft registration to food stamps, from tending victory gardens to following daylight savings time — Americans attempted to gear up for what they considered a “total war” situation.

In drawing together defensively after Pearl Harbor, however, Americans as a whole turned against Japanese and Japanese Americans living in the United States. All the ways that Japanese in the U.S. had been excluded previously now fueled distrust of their loyalty. Excluded from American citizenship, they had never publicly revoked loyalty to the emperor of Japan. Treated as “aliens” in the U.S., they had kept strong ties with family back home, even educating their American-citizen children in Japan. Furthermore, American culture and media depicted Japanese people (and other immigrants from Asia) as being so different in their behaviors and ways of thinking that they could never be truly American.

These conditions made it unsurprising that many Americans began to suspect everyone of Japanese descent as a possible agent of the Japanese emperor, while the same racialized enemy status did not apply to German and Italian Americans. A nation-wide, anti-Japanese atmosphere seemed to take hold, galvanizing federal officials. Hours after the bombing at Pearl Harbor, the FBI began arresting leaders in Japanese communities and searching homes of those living on the West Coast for items that would demonstrate disloyalty. By February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order that classified California, Washington, and Oregon as military zones and commanded the relocation of anyone of Japanese decent from those states. People of Japanese descent initially could leave the West Coast voluntarily, but on March 24 the U.S. Army switched to using forced evacuation. Anyone of Japanese descent in the Pacific states lost the freedom to travel without the approval of the War Relocation Authority.

Over the next few months, more than 120,000 adults and children left whatever property they could not carry and relocated, imprisoned first in large assembly centers and then in hastily-built internment camps mainly in remote areas across the American West.[2] American-born citizens made up two thirds of those interned. In the Territory of Hawaiʻi, where people with Japanese ancestry composed one third of the total population, less than two thousand of those suspected of disloyalty were interned, but martial law was instituted over the population at large. Non-Japanese Americans sometimes questioned the need and the morality of such measures, but few actively criticized the U.S. policy of internment. The social pressure to prove the loyalty of Japanese in the U.S. meant that few wanted to undermine the government’s power by criticizing its methods of defense.

The University of Wisconsin responded to WWII by retooling to meet wartime needs for education. The University agreed to establish a Navy Radio School and a Mechanics School for the Army, among other initiatives, bringing in military trainees from across the country.[3] As male college students and recent high school graduates joined the U.S. military, the university’s college population became primarily female, and the new military trainees were welcomed into the campus social scene, particularly to field wartime sports teams and continue the campus’s date and dance-night culture.  Academically the university also welcomed the opportunity to turn its capabilities towards national service. University administrators shortened semesters, eliminated spring breaks, and expanded summer course offerings so that students could finish their degrees and enter national service sooner. Even though political views and partisan divisions remained, the campus as a whole supported America’s wartime interests and success. UW President C. A. Dykstra sanctioned the university’s activities as an integral part of the nation’s war effort, saying “Let us work as we never have before so that when Uncle Sam speaks we will all be ready. We are all preparing for national service.”[4]

Keith Nakamura and Toru Iura, both undergraduate students at UW, are shown at the entrance to the College of Agriculture building.
Keith Nakamura and Toru Iura, both undergraduate students at UW, are shown at the entrance to the College of Agriculture building. Courtesy of the War Relocation Authority Photographs of Japanese-American Evacuation and Resettlement, WRA no. I-517, The Bancroft Library, U.C. Berkeley.

Most histories of this period have neglected an important university initiative. As one of the nation’s large Midwestern institutions, UW played a role in relocating Nisei college students from the West Coast and internment camps and disbursing them to other campuses across the country. Only a handful of Nisei students attended UW prior to WWII, preferring to attend West Coast institutions closer to their families, but by the end of WWII UW’s Japanese American population had greatly expanded. Japanese American UW stories reveal both the value and the limits of UW’s liberal racial values and policies at the time. For many who came, the University of Wisconsin and the city of Madison remain places of affection and belonging, a place where life could continue and flourish amidst the national atmosphere of anti-Japanese hysteria and antagonism. Still, Wisconsin struggled to do the good it wanted to do and Japanese Americans could not escape the pressure to continually prove their loyalty and rehabilitate popular perceptions about their racial community.

Loyalty After Pearl Harbor

In May 1942, the Daily Cardinal reported that only one American citizen “of Japanese origin” attended UW, as a fellow in the biochemistry department.[5] This statement signals the very small numbers of Japanese Americans at UW at the time but gives an inaccurate picture of the 1941–42 population. In fact, several American citizens with Japanese ancestry attended from the U.S. Territory of Hawaiʻi. Beginning in the late 1800s, Hawaiʻi had recruited Japanese and other Asian immigrants as workers for its sugar plantations. Their children had grown up as Americans in the territory’s highly diverse population. In the fall of ’41, at least two other Hawaiian Japanese Americans studied in UW’s Economics Department and the Law School. UW did not keep lists of students by racial group, so it was easy for administrators to overlook members of a very small campus population.

For this handful of Nisei, the bombing of Pearl Harbor was as much of a shock as it was for other UW students. Forty years later, Tom Ige still remembered what he had been doing the night of December 7, 1941 — eating “at a chop suey house in downtown Madison with an old high school and University of Hawaii friend,” Ben Takayesu.[6] Ige learned of the attack upon returning home, when Takayesu called him with the news. On campus, it was all people could talk about, as radio news bulletins blared from Memorial Union’s lounge and down residential hallways.

Surely, UW’s Japanese American students heard the rumors of an anti-Japanese demonstration the next day and felt relief when nothing transpired among the spectators on the corner of Gilman and State streets.[7] Still, they were filled with fear and uncertainty. Takayesu shared with the Daily Cardinal about his fears for his parents, whose Asian birth meant they were not allowed to become legal U.S. citizens; for his continued college funding, given the destruction on his home island of Oahu; and how the “alien” status of his parents might affect their family’s property claims.[8] Bank accounts of many first-generation Japanese immigrants like his parents had already been frozen in the summer of 1941.[9] Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, banks also began freezing the assets of other Japanese Americans on the orders of the FBI and stopped cashing checks for them.[10] These policies were often applied indiscriminately to anyone on a given list, meaning that Americans who were racially Japanese as well as white Americans born in Japan could be singled out for such treatment. Students were forced to grapple with how to pay tuition, board, or housing when their parents’ accounts were frozen and banks refused to offer them services.

With racial and family ties to Japan, Nisei students felt shame for Japan’s actions and the need to prove their American allegiance. Tom Ige remembered, “It was a most uncomfortable period for me…There was no harassment of the few Nisei students in Madison, Wisconsin but, nonetheless, we felt uneasy as reports of American casualties kept pouring in from all fronts.”[11] In the face of such international aggression and newly entrenched racial lines, being born an American no longer felt like much of a defense.

Despite UW President Dykstra’s encouragement for students to continue their education “until our country sees fit to call us,”[12] Japanese American students sought ways to verify their American loyalty. Ben Takayesu left his studies at the UW Law School to join the U.S. Army soon after learning about Pearl Harbor.[13] Although he had completed two years of Reserve Officer Training and anticipated getting drafted in March, he was not interested in merely waiting until his number was called. He told the Daily Cardinal, “if those Japanese want to attack our homeland and our families I am ready to get into things myself.”[14] Like many Niseis, Takayesu wanted to distance himself from America’s enemies. Tom Ige also tried to enlist, but neither the Navy nor the Air Force would accept his application. The best Ige could do was to report himself to the FBI office in Madison — hoping that this would forestall any concerns about him — and carry on with his MA work in Economics.[15]

Ige soon became a voice defending Japanese Americans on campus and in newspaper venues. He started by speaking on a panel hosted by the International Club, ostensibly about education in the homelands of “international” students. Ige used it as an opportunity to talk about how Hawaiʻi’s Japanese had rapidly assimilated American values, saying “The type of thinking of the Hawaiians and Americans on the mainland is very close. Although there are more than 150,000 Japanese Hawaiians in the territory, many of them are no longer ‘marginal men’ because of their rapid assimilation of the American democratic process.”[16] In a time when many Americans treated anyone with Japanese ancestry as a possible national enemy, Ige hoped to fortify public perception of Japanese Americans by highlighting their American worldviews and cultural participation.

In May, Ige wrote a letter to the Daily Cardinal in response to campus comments in favor of relocating Nisei college students to UW to finish their studies. Despite calling the comments “beautiful” and “gratifying,” he cautioned against too idealistically opening the campus to many evacuees. Merely relocating students would not solve the deeper problems they faced. Ige wanted the campus community to treat Nisei students as “primarily Americans with common loyalties, ideals, and stakes in this war…just as anxious as the rest of the American community in the successful prosecution of the war.”[17] He wanted to make sure that any students relocated to UW’s campus would be received as fellow Americans rather than as potential subversives.

These actions prepared him for what would be his most large-scale defense of Japanese Americans. In July 1942, The Nation had published an article by Albert Horlings, which argued that Japanese Americans in Hawaiʻi could not be trusted and thus should be evacuated and interned like those in the West Coast states. Immediately upon reading the article, Ige felt the injustice of its portrayals of Hawaiian Japanese. Additionally, “[C]ensorship was widely imposed in Hawaii and…it would be difficult for anyone in Hawaii to reply to this article.”[18] Following the UW principle of active engagement in civic life, Ige used the relative freedom he experienced in the Midwest to defend Japanese American loyalty before a national audience. Point by point, he contradicted Horlings’ examples and arguments, even offering alternate solutions for protecting the nation’s safety. If Japanese agents in Hawaiʻi were really a problem, Ige urged, “Double or triple the FBI force in Hawaii. This would be more practical and wise than a wholesale evacuation, which would involve innumerable hardships as well as seriously undermine our democratic concepts and the values of United States citizenship.”[19] Ige effectively offered his readers different ways to view and treat Japanese Americans, options that sought to take seriously both national security and the status of Niseis as full Americans.

In the short-term, these public defenses of Hawaiʻi’s Japanese population helped Tom Ige affirm his loyalty and belonging to America in the absence of military service. But in the wartime atmosphere of the coming years, such civilian service paled before the social pressure to serve in the military. Unable to mentally focus on PhD work, Ige moved to Detroit with one of his professors to work for the regional War Labor Board there.[20] Then after less than a year (including several months when he was suspended without pay as some agency “investigated” him), Ige volunteered for the Army — to join in the fight that recently claimed a dear friend and to finally prove his American allegiance in the only way that seemed to matter. Only after two and a half years of military training, serving in the Pacific, and earning a Purple Heart would Ige be able to return to the University of Wisconsin and complete his PhD.

UW’s Campus Response to Japanese American Students

The inclusive mentality that UW tried to cultivate on campus encouraged students to adopt a more compassionate view of Japanese American students. Only two days after Pearl Harbor, some 30 students organized the Wisconsin Liberal Council and, in what the Daily Cardinal termed “the first expression of organized campus sentiment on the war with Japan,” stated their opposition to citizens taking retaliatory measures against Japanese inside of the U.S.[21] A columnist for the Daily Cardinal followed up with cautions against “Any acts of willful destruction directed against the property of these citizens,” reminding readers that “We cannot hate our brethren.”[22] Throughout the Spring ’41 semester, the Cardinal published several statements of support  for Japanese Americans, including comments by students and a statement by the campus YMCA affirming that Japanese American students were welcome on UW’s campus. One Nisei UW alum replied to the Cardinal staff, “you can’t imagine how thankful we are in receiving concrete examples of tolerance and justice which the Cardinal has always upheld.”[23] For Nisei like himself, whose faith in America had been shaken by recent events, it was gratifying to behold examples of both “tolerance and beauty” in the campus newspaper.

Akio Konoshima stands smiling with his teammates and Coach John J. Walsh of the UW Boxing Team.
Akio Konoshima with Coach John J. Walsh and teammates of the UW Boxing team. Courtesy of What Pearl Harbor Wrought by Akio Konoshima (Plain View Press, 2010) by permission, page 72.

Professors and coaches also provided support for wartime Nisei college students. One of Thomas Ige’s Economics professors, Dr. Martin Glaeser, offered him a research assistantship for the spring 1942 semester. Although Glaeser worked on economic topics in which Ige had no previous experience, the position offered funding for Ige to finish his MA in the very semester that other Nisei and international students struggled to receive checks from overseas. Ige surmised that the kindness came from Glaeser’s recognition of his plight: “He was of German descent and told me of the many hardships his whole family suffered during the First World War in rural Wisconsin. I’m sure he wanted to spare me some of the same heartache.”[24] Akio Konoshima, a Japanese American who attended UW beginning in 1944, likewise recalled his boxing coach and teammates offering him support. When a referee at Penn State unfairly awarded a bout to Konoshima’s opponent, after promising that he “wasn’t gonna let any Jap boy win,”[25] Coach John J. Walsh publicly castigated and dismissed the skewed call while teammates offered condolences and emotional support. Although unable to overturn the ruling, Coach Walsh along with fellow teammates made sure Konoshima did not have to weather the injustice alone. Personal kindnesses such as these were deeply meaningful for UW’s Nisei student population.

Still, racism circumscribed Japanese American experiences at UW. For instance, the Daily Cardinal reprinted an article from a Chinese newspaper entitled “You Can’t Do Business with the Mikado.” It drew on anachronistic portrayals of Japan found in Gilbert & Sullivan’s opera The Mikado to attack Japan as unintelligible, paranoid, and possessing “grandiose delusion(s).”[26] Nevertheless, it was validated by the Daily Cardinal as a supposedly unbiased perspective: merely “one Oriental looking at another.” Japanese American students would have undoubtedly bristled at the assumption that the entirety of the Japanese people could be reduced to a few simple traits and that the Chinese people — or any group! — possessed the authority to cast such generalizations. Regrettably, the American public was used to thinking of all Asians as “oriental” and thus opposite to Americans or “Westerners.”

In another Daily Cardinal issue, the newspaper published a joke piece by “U Noh Hu” that proposed to teach UW students the “most difficult” language of Japanese.[27] The piece elicited ridicule of the Japanese people by doubling down on negative racial stereotypes. For instance, it used the prevalence of indefinite verbs in the language as commentary on the character of Japanese people, saying “The little yellow men find it hard to decide…whether they can make up their minds at all.” In suggesting topics that a Japanese-language learner must study, the author depicted modern Japanese as the sword-fighting Samurai caricatured in Hollywood. In fact, the whole article was written in faux Japanese-English, including pronunciation difficulties common for Japanese learners of English as well as writing popular English phrases in fake Japanese syllables. Despite efforts to promote inclusion and compassion, racist caricatures such as these pervaded campus culture and made racial diversity an elusive goal.

In the face of such microaggressions, Japanese Americans had to make the uncomfortable choice of defending their racial group or smiling and laughing along. Casual exclusions — such as assuming all racially Japanese students were “international” or ignoring Nisei exclusion and incarceration — also left students feeling misunderstood and cut-off from the campus community. As one student remembered of her days at UW, “There wasn’t much interest in [exile and incarceration. The students] probably didn’t know anything about camp and that I had come from a concentration camp.”[28] While the absence of harassment was a relief for Japanese Americans at UW, it did not mean the campus always felt welcoming. Still, Japanese American students did find supportive students, professors, coaches, and staff at UW. This was particularly notable given the rampant anti-Japanese sentiment in American society during the World War II era.

UW Administration and Japanese American Student Relocation

During spring 1942, the evacuation and internment of Japanese American college students drew the UW administration into an evolving national dilemma. Nisei students at colleges in California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska were being evacuated and incarcerated along with the rest of the area’s Japanese Americans. The situation developed quickly. At the beginning of March, people were allowed to leave the West Coast states voluntarily, but by March 24 only Army-directed evacuation was allowed. Those who did not flee in the first three weeks of March were sent to assembly centers and internment camps until the U.S. government allowed them to leave.

Imagine the anxiety of college students in the middle of their spring classes. Would they be able to finish their courses and get credit for the semester? Should they forget the tuition they had paid, drop out in mid-March, and move to another state? Could they transfer to another university in only a couple weeks to continue their education? Should they return to their parents so the family could stay together no matter what internment might bring? Suddenly, an exam grade or a final paper hardly mattered to their futures.

Nisei college students began sending anxious letters to possible transfer universities, and West Coast university administrators, educators, and church leaders did the same, hoping to help students complete their educations. The wave of letters of inquiry that landed on the desks of UW administrators during the spring of ’42 caught many by surprise. By June 11, President Dykstra’s secretary calculated that UW administrators had received 67 inquiries about Japanese American student transfers.[29] Initially, President Dykstra suggested that “it might be much wiser for these young American Japanese to go to Midwest universities which have not tied themselves into the training program of the Army and the Navy.”[30] He feared that the attitudes of incoming recruits would make the campus less welcoming to Japanese American students. However, as more letters accumulated, Dykstra began to look for advice from the federal government. He wrote to the Department of Justice’s commissioner, Marshall Dimock: “[M]ay I ask what in the world we are to do with all these applications for the admission of Japanese students from the West Coast?”[31] On a trip to D.C., he sat down with the director of the War Relocation Authority, Milton Eisenhower, to discuss how Nisei students could be spread out among Midwestern universities. Dykstra hoped they would design a policy for redistributing Japanese American college students so that they could complete their college degrees while at the same time not alarming any state’s citizens.[32] After all, anti-Japanese sentiment was widespread across the United States following the attacks on Pearl Harbor.

Photograph of a letter and permit from 1942, allowing a Japanese American student to travel to UW–Madison.
Travel permit to Madison, WI, for Miyoshi Ikawa. Courtesy of the Chancelors (Formerly Presidents) of the University Miscellaneous File, Series 4/0/1, Box 43, UW–Madison Archives. Full text »

Despite Dykstra’s efforts, no solution was in place before the Army began forcibly removing Japanese Americans to assembly centers. Still, Dykstra continued to lobby for a solution along with other university administrators and church leaders across the country. By May, the federal government had approved the formation of a National Japanese American Student Relocation Council (NSRC) and tasked it with designing and managing a program to relocate college students and distribute them among the nation’s post-high-school institutions.[33] NSRC volunteers began visiting assembly centers and internment camps to pass out student questionnaires. These would help them begin the process of matching students with schools, obtaining federal permission for each student’s leave, and raising money to fund tuition, room, and board for the first year out of camp.

The NSRC’s job was made more difficult by “proscribed lists” created by the Army and Navy, detailing institutions where Nisei transfer students would not receive federal clearance. The Navy’s list was especially harsh, removing almost every large school with technical training programs from consideration. Unfortunately, the University of Wisconsin was on this list. No one could say whether the Navy considered as “confidential” the activities at its UW-based radio training school or some undisclosed research project on UW’s campus.[34] Whatever the reason, no student from an internment camp was supposed to be admitted to UW. Confusion abounded regarding which Japanese American students were allowed, however. In correspondence with UW administrative staff in the summer of 1943, a staffer at the War Relocation Authority affirmed a lenient policy, saying that the WRA had “never considered” that the prohibitions of military departments would extend to students outside of internment camps.[35] Japanese American students who had not been evacuated seemed free to attend. But just four months later, an official in the Office of the Provost Marshal General stated, “The War Department makes no distinction between Japanese-Americans who were evacuated to Relocation Centers and those who were never in a Relocation Center.”[36] This official said that all potential students of Japanese origin needed to gain approval by the War Department before admission to the University of Wisconsin. Such inconsistent messaging from the federal government caused university administrators to second-guess almost every Japanese American college application and set up hurdles for Japanese Americans that other prospective students did not face.

To honor its wartime collaboration with U.S. military agencies, UW attempted to set a conservative admissions policy that aligned with federal regulations without practicing racism in its own admissions policies. This proved easier said than done. During the spring and summer of 1942 while they waited for a federal policy, UW administrators and admissions staff delayed accepting applicants who had been evacuated by the federal government, cautioning that the university would not admit them without federal approval. The eventual decision of federal agencies cemented the university’s admissions policy, limiting Japanese American enrollment only to those from Hawaiʻi or who had “voluntarily evacuated” the West Coast before April 1942. Where UW administrators had hoped a federal policy would open doors for acceptance, they now had to follow that policy’s restrictions.

Among the U.S. Japanese population and those who sought to help Nisei relocate, UW’s restrictive acceptance policies in 1942–44 earned the university a reputation that was at odds with its earlier support of Nisei students. Rumors lingered that UW refused to admit Japanese American students. An alumna from UW’s School of Education who taught in a Japanese internment camp learned that one of her students had been encouraged not to apply to UW.[37] She wrote the UW out of disbelief that, with its much-lauded attitudes on race, UW would exclude her student because of his Japanese ancestry. President Dykstra hastened to defend the university’s position, blaming the Navy’s tight-fisted clearance policy and asserting that UW gladly accepted Japanese Americans who had not been interned. Still, the rumors reflected a truth — UW was refusing admittance to Americans who had been interned because of their race. Another student who eventually attended and graduated from Wisconsin would recall UW’s closed doors to him while he was stuck in an internment camp. As he had heard it, “[A]t that time, they wouldn’t take Nissei”.[38] The university’s good intentions did not change the reality that its training programs and research associations hindered it from practicing the racial inclusion many of its members desired.

In the end, UW’s administrative decision to push the federal government for a national policy on admitting Japanese American internees to colleges kept UW in a good relationship with the federal government and its executive agencies. UW could then advocate for more relaxed treatment of Japanese American college students. Throughout 1943 and ’44, UW continued to lobby for its removal from the list of proscribed colleges, and eventually the War Department reconsidered UW’s status as well as those of other universities. However, UW’s policy also meant it was not able to help U.S. citizens who sought early relief from the injustice of Japanese American internment. Regardless of good intentions and community support for intervention, UW was limited by the most restrictive and racist policies of organizations with which they had associated themselves. For the many Japanese American students refused admittance to UW, the effect was the same as if UW itself held those values.


In the fall of 1944, when the U.S. War Department finally took Wisconsin off of its proscribed list of colleges, the Japanese American population at UW suddenly quadrupled. Finally the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council could place Japanese American students in UW’s technical programs. Of the 34 Japanese American students who attended UW in 1944–45, 66% of them were enrolled in specialized or technical programs, with half of those focusing on medicine.[39] Moreover, UW was now allowed to accept the applications of any Japanese American students who applied. Half of UW’s Japanese American population listed internment camps as their “hometown”: Topaz, Utah; Hood River, Oregon; Heart Mountain, Wyoming; Gila River, Arizona; McGehee, Arkansas; Hunt, Idaho; Amache, Colorado. Other Japanese American students also had lived in internment camps at one time but had already relocated or chose to claim the cities from which they had been evacuated. These, along with students hailing from Hawaiʻi and those who had escaped internment altogether, made up UW’s newly robust Nisei population. UW was finally able to open its doors to the Japanese Americans that many had hoped to help during the early internment years.

Japanese Americans generally have recorded fond memories of their times at UW during the WWII era: supportive professors and friends, enjoyable participation in campus life. Those who knew them also remember them as upbeat, friendly, and conscientious. In the context of widespread anti-Japanese hysteria and a national policy of Japanese American internment and incarceration, however, these rosy memories omit the intense pressure that Nisei felt at the time to overlook discrimination. While American students commonly demonstrated their patriotism through military service or support for the troops, Nisei often felt additional patriotic responsibility to serve as ambassadors of Japanese Americans to the larger American populace. Thus, the fuller story of UW’s engagement with Japanese Americans during WWII comes by also attending to the thoughts and experiences that students papered over and smiled through, as they shouldered the burden of proving their own loyalty and recuperating the public image of an entire racial group.

The University of Wisconsin can be proud of cultivating a campus environment that encouraged students in the early 1940s to desire fair treatment of Japanese Americans and to not participate in the harassment and physical violence Japanese Americans encountered elsewhere. Still, UW’s previous commitments to training programs and research activities limited its ability to enroll many of the Nisei college students who sought relief from internment. The high ideals of the university were reduced to administrative lobbying for a federal policy of relocation…and then having to live within that policy’s confinements.

*Unless otherwise noted, all unpublished letters, memos, and miscellaneous documents included here come from the UW Archives’ files on Japanese Student Evacuees (Chancellors [Formerly Presidents] of the University Miscellaneous File, Series 4/0/1, University Archives, University of Wisconsin–Madison.)


Individuals are not often taught to think of themselves as sources of historical knowledge, but they are. Individuals hold intimate knowledge of their campus, their neighborhoods, and their communities. That is why we want to hear from you. We believe that this project will be the most successful when it deeply engages all of those in our community. If you have a story to share, an event you think should be researched, or a person you think has been overlooked, please contact us.

[1] 126,947 in mainland US in 1940, according to “Characteristics of the Population” Sixteenth Census of the United States: 1940 (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1943) 19.

About 158,000 in Hawaii in 1940, according to Harry N. Scheiber et. al. “Hawaiʻi’s Kibei under Martial Law: A Hidden Chapter in the History of World War II Internments,” Western Legal History: The Journal of the Ninth Judicial Circuit Historical Society 22 (2009): 3.

[2] Mae M. Ngai, “The Word War II Internment of Japanese Americans and the Citizenship Renunciation Cases,” Impossible Subjects (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), 175.

[3] C. A. Dykstra, “To the Parents of Students at the University,” June 1942.

[4] C. A. Dykstra, “Dykstra…to Students,” Daily Cardinal, December 9, 1941.

[5] Prescott Lustig, “Campus Favors Letting Jap Students Enter UW,” Daily Cardinal, May 13, 1942.

[6] Tom Ige, Boy from Kahaluu (University of Hawaii Press: Honolulu, 1989), 59.

[7] According to the Daily Cardinal, no demonstration transpired, and the disappointed crowd gradually dissipated. “War Outbreak Startles UW,” Daily Cardinal, December 9, 1941.

[8] “Hawaiian Students Will Worry Over Income, Family, Homeland,” Daily Cardinal, December 13, 1941.

[9] Brian Niiya. “Voluntary evacuation,” Densho Encyclopedia (accessed January 4, 2021).

[10] Esther Hibbard, Letter to C. V. Hibbard, December 12, 1941. (State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Archives Division, Wis Mss QN, Box 3.)

[11] Ige, Boy from Kahaluu, 70.

[12] C. A. Dykstra, speech at All University Convocation, December 12, 1941.

[13] Ige, Boy from Kahaluu, 59.

[14] “Hawaiian Students Will Worry Over Income, Family, Homeland,” Daily Cardinal, December 13, 1941.

[15] Ige, Boy from Kahaluu, 59.

[16] Abdul K. Disu, “Education in Home Lands Discussed By International Club Sunday Meeting,” Daily Cardinal, January 13, 1941.

[17] Thomas H. Ige, “Japanese American Comments on Admitting Displaced West-Coast Students To University,” Daily Cardinal, May 21, 1942.

[18] Ige, Boy from Kahaluu, 60.

[19] Ige, Boy from Kahaluu, 69.

[20] Ige, Boy from Kahaluu, 70–71.

[21] “Liberals Oppose Jap Retaliatory Measures,” Daily Cardinal, December 10, 1941.

[22] “We can’t hate our brethren…Only Ignorant People Become Hysterical,” Daily Cardinal, December 11, 1941.

[23] Iwao Uyeda, “Second Generation Japanese Sees Tolerance and Beauty in Blood-Drenched World,” Daily Cardinal, January 9, 1942.

[24] Ige, Boy from Kahaluu, 59–60.

[25] Akio Konoshima, Interview, March 22, 2004. Veteran’s History Project.

[26] “One Oriental Looks at Another, You Can’t Do Business with the Mikado,” Daily Cardinal, December 10, 1941.

[27] U Noh Hu, “Jap Language Most Difficult…So Solly,” Daily Cardinal, February 4, 1942.

[28] Leslie A. Ito, “Loyalty and Learning: Nisei Women and the Student Relocation,” Honors thesis (Mount Holyoke College, 1996) 58–59.

[29] Memo, June 11, 1942.

[30] C. A. Dykstra, Letter to L. P. Sieg, March 17, 1942.

[31] C. A. Dykstra, Letter to Marshall E. Dimock, April 30, 1942.

[32] C. A. Dykstra, Letter to Milton Eisenhower, April 17, 1942.

[33] Allan W. Austin, From Concentration Camp To Campus: Japanese American Students and WWII (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004).

[34] E. M. Rowalt, Letter to C. A. Dykstra, August 18, 1942.

[35] John H. Provinse, Letter to C. A. Smith, June 25, 1943.

[36] Alton C. Miller, Letter to Mrs. H. G. Cannon, November 20, 1943.

[37] Jennie M. Turner, Letter to Clarence A. Dykstra, October 7, 1942.

[38] Konoshima, Interview, March 22, 2004.

[39] University of Wisconsin, “University Directory,” Madison: University of Wisconsin, 1945.