Friends Hostel, Des Moines

Hostel established for Japanese American resettlers in Des Moines, Iowa, by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). As part of the AFSC's efforts to aid Japanese Americans who had been forced into concentration camps during World War II, they established hostels that provided temporary housing to Japanese Americans leaving the camps. Opened in September 1943, the Des Moines hostel was one of three opened by the AFSC in 1943. It closed in October 1945 after two years, having served around 750 resettlers.

Though the AFSC first discussed hostels for Japanese Americans in early 1943, it had prior experience with hostels having operated two in the U.S. for European refugees beginning in the late 1930s. One of them was the Scattergood Hostel, located in West Branch, Iowa. When the flow of refugees from Europe slowed, the AFSC sought to transform Scattergood to house Japanese Americans, but was rebuffed by local resistance. After successfully launching smaller hostels in Chicago in February 1943 and Cincinnati in April, the AFSC returned to Iowa, launching a hostel in Des Moines that opened on September 1, 1943, at 2150 Grand Avenue. John Copithorne managed the hostel initially, followed by Ross and Libby Wilbur, a married couple with a young daughter, who were paid $100 a month to manage the hostel. [1]

A converted boarding house, the Des Moines hostel had ten rooms and could house up to 25. It was located in a residential neighborhood and had a large lawn. Guest without jobs paid $1 per day for room and board, while those who were employed paid $1.50 per day. An average of eighteen people per day stayed at the hostel in the first ten months, their stays lasting anywhere from a few days to a few months. The hostel hosted Sunday afternoon teas that were open to the surrounding community and served as open houses. As part of their duties, the Wilburs also helped resettlers find more permanent housing in the area. The hostel was funded by the AFSC and received additional support from the Des Moines Relocation Committee, a coalition of local churches and community members. After a little over two years, demand waned as more Japanese Americans began heading back to the West Coast, and the hostel closed on October 31, 1945, its mission having largely been accomplished. Bedding from the hostel was shipped to the Evergreen Hostel in Los Angeles, where demand remained high. [2]

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

For More Information

Austin, Allan W. Quaker Brotherhood: Interracial Activism and the American Friends Service Committee, 1917-1950 . Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2012.

"Des Moines Hostel Closes as Relocation Job Ends." Pacific Citizen , December 22, 1945, p. 22.

"Iowa Has Accorded Welcome to Displaced Coast Nisei." Pacific Citizen , November 17, 1945, p. 5. Reprint of article from the Des Moines Register , November 8, 1945.

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


  1. Allan W. Austin, Quaker Brotherhood: Interracial Activism and the American Friends Service Committee, 1917-1950 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2012), 114–16, 126, 133–34 ; Shizue Siegel, In Good Conscience: Supporting Japanese Americans During the Internment (San Mateo, CA: AACP, Inc., 2006), 198–201. Articles in the Tulean Dispatch (June 12, 1943, 1) and Rohwer Outpost (Sept. 15, 1943, 6) mention an AFSC hostel located at 1614 31st Street managed by Copithorne operating by June. This appears to be a precursor to the Grand Avenue facility, though there is little other information available on it.
  2. Gila Bulletin , Sept. 28, 1945, 1; Siegel, In Good Conscience , 198–201; WRA press release, November 5, 1943, in "Resettlement Program" file, page 27, The Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement: A Digital Archive, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, call number BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder E8.00, accessed on Jan. 9, 2015 at ; Austin, Quaker Brotherhood , 142; Pacific Citizen , Dec. 22, 1945, 22.

Last updated Jan. 15, 2024, 8:39 p.m..