Philadelphia Hostel

Hostel set up in Philadelphia for Japanese Americans leaving the concentration camps. Operated by a coalition of community organizations and overseen by a board of managers, the ten-bedroom facility had a capacity of around 25. Opening on April 1, 1944, the Philadelphia Hostel was likely the longest running of the hostels outside the West Coast and eventually transitioned into student housing.

The Philadelphia Hostel was located at 3228 Chestnut Street and sponsored by a collation that included the Philadelphia Federation of Churches, the local branch of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and the Citizens Cooperating Committee. It was run by a board that included two members from each of these groups, along with two Nisei who had settled in the Philadelphia area (Yonako Watanabe and William K. Fujita) and other advisors from the local community. The board chairman was Henry Lee Willet, the president of the Willet Stained Glass Company and chairman of the Citizens Cooperating Committee. The building had formerly served as housing for students attending Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to the ten bedrooms, the home also featured a living room with a piano and a library that included books and magazines along with newspapers from the local community and from the concentration camps. As with other hostels, guests paid a daily rate for room and board that started at $1 a day and that went up for the employed and for those staying longer than ten days. Guests were also expected to help with housekeeping tasks. Early arrivals also helped with painting and repairs of the property. [1]

Its initial director was Victor E. Goertzel, a former counselor at Topaz , who lived at the hostel for a few months with his wife and young son. However the Goertzels' stay was brief, and the family that came to be most associated with the hostel were the Inouyes. Saburo and Michiyo Inouye, a Issei couple from Sacramento, California via Tule Lake and Jerome , arrived soon after the hostel's opening to serve as "houseparents." The owners of a furniture store before the war, they were forced to sell their business when they were caught up the mass incarceration of all West Coast Japanese Americans. They initially went to Cincinnati, where they worked at the Cincinnati Friends Hostel . However, the Inouyes' three Nisei children had all left their concentration camp early to attend Swarthmore College with the assistance of the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council . Since the college was just eleven miles from Philadelphia, the elder Inouyes moved to the Philadelphia Hostel when the opportunity arose. A trained dietician, Michiyo handled the shopping and cooking (of both "American and Oriental" meals, according to hostel publicity), while Saburo took care of building maintenance and gardening and also met new arrivals at the railroad station. They eventually took over management of the hostel. [2]

Hostel promotional literature issued in the fall of 1944 provided a glimpse of the hostel guest list. Of the roughly 200 who had passed through the hostel by mid September, about three-quarters had come directly from the concentration camps. Most were adult Nisei, with less than 15% Issei and a like percentage children. Over 40% of these early arrivals hailed from Poston . The group that did not come directly from the camps included soldiers on furlough, Japanese Americans migrating from other cities, and scouts investigating conditions in various locations to report back to concentration camps. In addition to those who came to attend college or for jobs in the area, there was also a substantial contingent who arrived to attend the American Chick Sexing School in Lansdale, PA. [3]

There was some protest by neighbors of the hostel in its early days, with a petition asking that it be closed materializing. The hostel also gained some national notoriety soon after opening when it became the refuge for five Japanese Americans who had been run out of Great Meadows, New Jersey, by the local community. But the protests did not seem to reach the level of protests of hostels in Brooklyn and Pittsburgh. [4]

The Philadelphia Hostel was both one of the longest running and most populous of the Japanese American hostels. Some 1,148 stayed at the hostel in the year ending on October 1, 1945. The hostel later moved to 4238 Spruce Street and transitioned to becoming a facility housing foreign college students. A 1949 article notes the hostel's 5th anniversary, with Willet still serving as the board chair and the Inouyes as the managers. It finally closed in 1974, upon the retirement of Michiyo Inouye, who continued to run the hostel after the death of her husband in 1968. [5]

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

For More Information

"Philadelphia Hostel: Resettlement Gateway to Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey." Pamphlet, ca. Oct. 1944. Densho Digital Repository. .


  1. "Philadelphia Hostel: Resettlement Gateway to Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey," pamphlet, ca. Oct. 1944, Densho Digital Repository, accessed on Feb. 2, 2015 at .
  2. "Philadelphia Hostel," 3; "Japanese Small Collections," A Guide to Manuscript and Microfilm Collections of the Research Library of the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies, ; Carol Brevart-Demm, "Of Injustice and Opportunity," Swarthmore College Bulletin , July 2012, , both accessed on Feb. 2, 2015. For a profile of the Goertzels, see Shizue Siegel, In Good Conscience: Supporting Japanese Americans During the Internment (San Mateo, Calif.: AACP, Inc., 2006), 146–48.
  3. "Philadelphia Hostel," 2.
  4. Philadelphia Hostel , 6; Philadelphia Inquirer , Apr. 21, 1944. The five men—Ted Miyamura, Edward Taniguchi, George Yamamoto, T. Matsumoto, and Frank Kitagawa—had left camp to work on a farm owned by Edward Kowalick. But after strong community pressure on Kowalick and the torching of his barn, he gave in, and War Relocation Authority officials escorted the men out of town. Neighbors subsequently threw a birthday party for Kowalick. See the file "New Jersey Farm labor exclusion," The Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement: A Digital Archive, The Bancroft Library, University of California Berkeley, call number BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder W 2.64, accessed on Jan. 12, 2015 at .
  5. Pacific Citizen , Oct. 20, 1945, 3 and Apr. 23, 1949, 8, both accessed on Feb. 2, 2015 at and ; "Japanese Small Collections."

Last updated Jan. 4, 2022, 3:42 p.m..