Robert H. Billigmeier

Historian and sociologist who was a fieldworker for the Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Study (JERS) project assigned to Tule Lake .

Robert Henry Billigmeier (1917–96) was born and mostly raised in North Dakota, where his large extended family, descended from Russian immigrants of German descent, had settled. The family later moved to Santa Rosa, California, in the 1930s. Billigmeier graduated from with an A.B. from Stanford in 1938 and an M.A. in history from the University of California at Berkeley in 1939. By the time the U.S. entered World War II, Billigmeier had married Hanny Salvisberg, a native of Switzerland, and was a Ph.D. student in history at Berkeley. [1]

JERS Project Director Dorothy Swaine Thomas hired Billigmeier as a full-time research assistant on the project and assigned him to do fieldwork at Tule Lake, along with three Nisei, James Sakoda , S. Frank Miyamoto , and Tamotsu Shibutani . The Billigmeiers arrived at Tule Lake in September 1942, and Hanny immediately began work as an elementary school teacher. In the months to come, Billigmeier kept a diary noting day-to-day events at the camp and wrote reports on the white staff, the hospital, the schools, and most notably, about registration and segregation. At the same time, his production was much less than that of the Nisei fieldworkers, which drew the ire of Thomas. In an April 1943 letter, she complained to Robert Spencer that Billigmeier "has disregarded every one of a series of deadlines I have set," adding that "The boy has spent an enormous amount of time in building up contacts and getting inside information, yet he finds it impossible to systematize his observations or even to give us the observations in their crude form." Thomas did later praise the report he did on registration and cited it in the first JERS publication, The Spoilage . Billigmeier remained at Tule Lake into the summer of 1943. Rosalie Hankey was transferred to Tule Lake from Gila River and was the main JERS fieldworker there as the camp turned into the WRA " segregation center " that fall. [2]

Billigmeier completed his Ph.D. at Stanford in 1951, writing a dissertation on the Romansh Culture, a Swiss ethnic group. He joined the faculty at the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1952 and remained there for the entirety of his career. His research focused on European minority groups and on immigration to the U.S. Though he completed an unpublished monograph on Tule Lake in 1976, he never published anything about Japanese Americans or his experiences at Tule Lake. He retired in 1987 and remained an emeritus professor until his death in 1996 and the age of seventy-nine. [3]

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

For More Information

" Guide to the Robert Billigmeier Collection ," UC Santa Barbara Library.

Key JERS Documents by Billigmeier

All of these—as well as many others—are available online as part of the University of California at Berkeley Bancroft Library " Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement: A Digital Archive " collection.

Diaries, September to November 1942 . 90 pages. BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder R 20.03:1.

Diaries, November 1942 to March 1943 . 122 pages. BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder R 20.03:2.

" Preliminary Report on Population and Ecology ," Jan. 1943, 47 pages. BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder R 20.06.

" The Hospital ," May 7, 1943. 37 pages. BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder R 20.05.

" Notes on the Segregation Program ," Aug. 27, 1943. 65 pages. BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder R 20.14

" The Caucasian Staff at Tule Lake ," February 3, 1944. 27 pages. BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder R 20.01.


  1. Scott D. Billigmeier, "Germans from Russia Heritage Collection," North Dakota State University Library, accessed on June 10, 2020; Robert H. Billigmeier & Fred Altschuler Picard, editors and translators, The Old Land and the New: The Journals of Two Swiss Families in America in the 1820's (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1965), 5; University of California Register, 1938–39, with Announcements for 1939–40 in Two Volumes , Volume II, 125, accessed on June 11, 2020 at ; Interview with Robert F. Spencer by Arthur A. Hansen, July 15–17, 1987, California State University, Fullerton Oral History Program, Japanese American Project, Japanese American World War II Evacuation Oral History Project, Part III: Analysts, edited by Arthur A. Hansen (Munich: K.G. Saur, 1994), 332–33n65, accessed on June 11, 2020 at;NAAN=13030&
  2. Note: all documents cited in this note come from the The Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement: A Digital Archive, a collection at the Bancroft Library, University of California Berkeley. Citations below include the Bancroft call number and weblink, all of which were accessed in June 2020. "Evacuation and Resettlement Study Project Report," Aug. 10, 1942, BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder W 1.51, ; D.S. Thomas, "Memorandum to Field Collaborators," Aug. 27, 1942, BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder K8.81 (1/2), ; Telegram, Dorothy Swaine Thomas to Elmer Shirrell, Sept. 2, 1942, BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder W 1.45:1, ; Dorothy Swaine Thomas to Robert Spencer, April 24, 1943, BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder K8.81 (2/2), ; Letter, Dorothy Swaint Thomas to Harvey Coverley, July 10, 1943, BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder W 1.45:2, ; Dorothy Swaine Thomas to James Sakoda, Jan. 12, 1944, BANC MSS 67/14 c, folder W 1.32:3, ; James M. Sakoda, "Reminiscences of a Participant Observer," in Views from Within: The Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Study , edited by Yuji Ichioka (Los Angeles: Asian American Studies Center, University of California, Los Angeles, 1989), 243.
  3. William H. Allaway, Gordon E. Baker, Dula J. Espinosa, John Foran, Walter J. Mead, G. Robert Odette, Linda J. Ruuska, "Robert Henry Billigmeier, Sociology: Santa Barbara," University of California: In Memoriam, 1996 , 15–20, ; monograph "Guide to the Robert Billigmeier Collection," UC Santa Barbara Library, , both accessed on June 11, 2020.

Last updated Dec. 12, 2023, 5:30 p.m..