|Clara Estelle Breed
Clara Estelle Breed (1906–94) was the children's librarian in the San Diego Public Library system who had supported the Japanese American community during World War II. While most of mainstream America encouraged the incarceration of Japanese Americans during the war, Clara Breed became a lifeline to the outside world for many Japanese American children who were imprisoned in the Poston concentration camp. To the children that she befriended, she was known as "Miss Breed" until the day that she died.
During her tenure as the children's librarian from 1929 to 1945, Breed relished her work with the children and grew particularly fond of the Japanese American kids. Breed noted that the Japanese American children were not only polite, but also good citizens who respected authority and always returned their books on time and in good condition. While working as the children's librarian over the years, Breed came to believe that Japanese Americans were model Americans who came to the United States for the same reason as any other Americans: To seek a better life for themselves and their families.
When Breed learned that Japanese Americans were going to be forced to leave their homes during World War II due to Executive Order 9066 , she did all that she could to ensure that her young Japanese American friends understood that they would be missed. Over the course of a few days, the children returned their library books to Breed and informed her of their destinations. Like other Japanese Americans, their families had to quickly sell their belongings and take with them only the things that they could carry with them to camp.
On the day of their departure, Breed met many of the children at the train station and gave them self-addressed postcards with the instruction to write to her while they were in camp. Over the years, the children wrote hundreds of letters to Breed that documented their lives in camp. Taken together, the letters not only documented the mundane nature of camp life, but also showed the fears and hopes of the young Nisei as they pondered their future. Many wondered how they would be received by the outside world once the war was over they were released from camp. The letters also documented how Miss Breed continually sent care packages to the children that included many requested items such as books, yarn, sewing materials, and anything else they needed. Most of all, the letters to Breed conveyed the deep appreciation that the children felt for being a friend to them when they needed it most.
Clara Breed remained lifelong friends with children and saved all of the letters that they wrote to her. After her stint as the children's librarian, she was promoted to city librarian in the San Diego Public Library System in 1945. As the city librarian, Clara Breed oversaw the completion of the main library in 1954 and several branch libraries before retiring in 1970. Before she died in 1994, Breed donated her collection of over 250 letters to one of the letter writers, Elizabeth Yamada. Recognizing the significance of the letters, Yamada donated them to the Japanese American National Museum where they were displayed in the exhibit Dear Miss Breed: Letters from Camp , an exhibition that ran from January 14 to April 13, 1997; the letters have also been digitized and are available online. In 2006, a young adult book featuring her story titled Dear Miss Breed by Joanne Oppenheim was published by Scholastic Books.
For More Information
Breed, Clara E. Turning the Pages: San Diego Public Library History, 1882-1982 . San Diego: Friends of the San Diego Public Library, 1983.
Clara Breed Collection. Japanese American National Museum.
Japanese American National Museum. "Dear Miss Breed: Letters from Camp".
Estes, Donald H., and Matthew T. Estes. "Further and Further Away: The Relocation of San Diego's Nikkei Community, 1942." Journal of San Diego History 39.1–2 (1993): 1–31.
Estes, Matthew T., and Donald H. Estes. "Hot Enough to Melt Iron: The San Diego Nikkei Experience, 1942-1946." Journal of San Diego History 42.3 (1996): 126-73.
Oppenheim, Joanne. Dear Miss Breed: True Stories of the Japanese American Incarceration during World War II and a Librarian Who Made a Difference . New York: Scholastic Books, 2006.
San Diego History Center. "Clara Estelle Breed (1906–1994)".
Last updated Dec. 12, 2023, 6:57 p.m..