|September 21 1895
|April 20 2001
He is nationally known as a Quaker activist and naturalist. But for most politically active or astute Japanese Americans, Floyd Schmoe's name is synonymous with vigorous opposition to the World War II incarceration of Nikkei and aid to those from the Seattle area who were sent to Minidoka concentration camp in Hunt, Idaho. Schmoe, who was born in rural Kansas in 1895 and died in Kenmore, near Seattle, in 2001, lived a long, full life as not only a Quaker antiwar activist, but also a national park naturalist, author of ten books, and international refugee relief worker.
Early Life and Activism
The son of a Quaker farming family in Kansas, Floyd discovered the possibility of studying nature beyond farming and attended University of Washington and New York State College at Syracuse to study forestry. But before he could secure his training in forestry, World War I intervened, and Schmoe applied as a conscientious objector, spending 14 months assisting wounded soldiers for the Red Cross in Europe, aiding war refugees with temporary housing, and securing food and medical supplies to send to war-torn Poland.
After returning to the U.S. he married a fellow Quaker in Kansas, Ruth Pickering, who also was an accomplished pianist, and the two eventually moved to Seattle. In the early years of family life, he set up his family in residence at Mount Rainier National Park, as year round caretakers for six years, dealing with 30 foot snow drifts and wood cutting duties. He served as a mountain guide, climbing to the summit at least 20 times, and as a park educator. Love and respect for nature and the beauty of Mount Rainier were the result.
Later, he moved his family—which now included four children—to a small island in the San Juan Islands of Puget Sound, to pursue research in marine biology, which resulted in his University of Washington master's thesis. They lived on a boat he had rescued and rebuilt.
Assisting Japanese Americans
Soon enough the outbreak of World War II called Schmoe's attention to the need for activism, especially focusing on Executive Order 9066 , the federal order that resulted in the forced removal of Japanese Americans from the West Coast for imagined national security threats. He soon quit his teaching position at the University of Washington in the Biology Department to set up the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) office in the University District, which became the central organizing point for aid to Japanese and Japanese Americans heading to the camps.
When the Tolan Committee held Congressional hearings in Seattle in February 1942, one week after Executive Order 9066 was promulgated, most political and business leaders spoke in favor of immediate and forced removal. In fact, few religious leaders or others spoke against it. A notable exception was Tacoma Mayor Harry P. Cain. But Schmoe forcefully spoke up for "innocent victims and bystanders of war" by stating, "justice cannot be done by branding all men, who by the accident of their birth, come from countries now at war with America, as enemy aliens."
He vigorously assisted local Nikkei students in finding other colleges and universities in the Midwest and on the East Coast to transfer to. In fact, the AFSC office housed some Nisei students before they were able to find new college homes off of the West Coast. He organized Seattle church leaders to assist Japanese families in packing and storing their possessions. As the temporary assembly center in Puyallup was constructed, Schmoe visited another proposed temporary incarceration site in Toppenish, Washington , meant to house Japanese from the Yakima area. He wrote angrily about the dirty, unsanitary, deplorable conditions of both temporary sites.
Schmoe and his wife Ruth actively visited his Seattle friends and colleagues imprisoned in the concentration camps at Minidoka, Idaho; Heart Mountain , Wyoming; and Tule Lake , California. The couple also visited Japanese patients of Firland Sanatorium and other medical institutions where they lived because they could not travel to the camps.
After the concentration camps closed, Schmoe helped to resettle Japanese Americans back into temporary shelter or their homes in Seattle, often facing the disgust of racist neighbors or former coworkers. Some Seattle churches helped in the resettlement, but he felt the situation of those returning to their homes in the Puget Sound area was an overwhelming challenge, even more than the forced exclusion had been has been, and there was much need for those who could help.
A focal point of the war years was Schmoe's tireless support for Gordon Hirabayashi , a University of Washington undergraduate student who resisted the federal evacuation order and was jailed in several sites, including the King County jail, where he had many visitors, in between waiting for court orders. For a time he lived in Spokane. Schmoe became Hirabayashi's father-in-law when his daughter Esther married the brave young student. Though Hirabayashi was convicted—and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld that conviction in 1943—with Schmoe's and other civic leaders' support, Hirabayashi's conviction eventually was victoriously vacated in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1987. This legal step vindicated those supporters of Japanese Americans who thought there had been no military justification for the wartime incarceration of 120,000 innocent persons. For his unwavering support, the FBI observed Schmoe's movements and classified him as a "rabid pacifist." But eventually, the Bureau concluded that visiting and photographing the camps had not been illegal.
With Japanese Americans out of the camps and settled back home or in other parts of the nation, Schmoe grew concerned with the lingering specter of thousands of Japanese citizens living with injuries caused by the two horrific atomic bombs the U.S. dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While teaching at the University of Hawaii in 1946 and 1947, Schmoe raised private funds to send milk goats, then other food and medical supplies, to the two devastated cities. Soon after that, he appealed for donations and delivered building supplies, recruited other volunteers in the U.S. and Japan, and helped to build new houses for as many as 30 families in the two cities over the years until 1953.
Later, due to the Korean War, the United Nations called upon Schmoe to direct Houses for Korea, an effort to provide medical clinics, dig wells, and build houses and roads to aid residents of war torn South Korea, particularly in the Yongin Valley, part of Geonggi Province located near the DMZ in the northwest corner of South Korea. Schmoe also worked for the resettlement of Sinai refugees when Britain and France bombed the Port Said area in 1956.
After 17 years of this full time progressive work, the long-time activist retired in 1957, to write books and spend time with his many offspring. Schmoe was awarded the highest U.S. civilian honor by the Emperor of Japan. Using funds from a major peace prize awarded in Hiroshima, in 1987, at the age of 92, he helped to build a Peace Park across from the American Friends Service Committee building near the University of Washington. After a long and rewarding life, he passed away at the age of 105 in a Kenmore nursing home.
For More Information
Bangarth, Stephanie. "Religious Organizations and the 'Relocation' of Persons of Japanese Ancestry in North America: Evaluating Advocacy." The American Review of Canadian Studies (Autumn 2004): 511–40.
Bock,Paula. "Floyd Schmoe – 101 Years of Peace and Action," Seattle Times , September 14, 1997.
Hirabayashi, Gordon K., et. al. A Principled Stand: The Story of Hirabayashi v. United States . Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2013.
Oldham, Kit. "Schmoe, Floyd W. (1895–2011)." HistoryLink.org: The Free Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History . http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&File_Id=3876 .
Shaffer, Robert. "Opposition to Internment: Defending Japanese American Rights During World War II." The Historian 61.3 (Spring 1999): 597–619.
Schmoe, Floyd. "America's Protective Custody." Fellowship (Journal of the Fellowship of Reconciliation), July 1942.
———. "Christmas at Heart Mountain." Pacific Citizen , Feb. 4, 1943, 5.
———. "Group Resettlement May Be Answer to Relocation Riddle." Pacific Citizen , Dec. 23, 1944, 9.
———"Seattle's Peace Churches and Relocation." In Japanese Americans: From Relocation to Redress . Edited by Roger Daniels, Sandra C. Taylor, and Harry H. L. Kitano. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1986. Revised edition. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1991. 117-22.
Woo, Elaine. " Floyd Schmoe; Activist for Peace for Nearly a Century ." Los Angeles Times , Apr. 29, 2001.
Last updated Jan. 16, 2024, 3:45 a.m..