Helen Ely Brill


Name Helen Ely Brill
Born September 24 1914
Died April 14 2003
Birth Location Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Educator and activist. Helen Ely (1914–2003) turned down a tenured teaching position to go to Manzanar, where she taught for two years. Ely was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to a prominent local family and attended Scripps College in California, graduating in 1936, and continuing on to get a master's degree and teaching credential. She landed her first teaching job in Compton, a community south of Los Angeles, where she first became acquainted with Japanese Americans, who made up a substantial portion of the student body. Arriving in Manzanar in August 1942, she taught high school there for two years and also advised students and worked to send as many as possible to college. She left Manzanar in 1945 to work for the American Friends Service Committee in Los Angeles, working at the Evergreen Hostel in Boyle Heights, where she helped returning Japanese Americans with housing and employment. With new husband Bob Brill, she moved to the East Coast and taught high school, raised two daughters and remained active with the Society of Friends.

Authored by Brian Niiya, Densho

For More Information

Gordon, Jane. "When America Imprisoned the Innocent." Hartford Courant, Dec. 9, 1996, E1.

"Helen Ely Brill: Japanese American Internment World War II." Oral History Interview #406, 8/17/91. Philadelphia: American Friends Service Committee, 1991.

Obituary, Hartford Courant, Apr. 19, 2003, B6.

Siegel, Shizue. In Good Conscience: Supporting Japanese Americans During the Internment. San Mateo, CA: AACP, Inc., 2006.