Sidney Gulick

Name Sidney Lewis Gulick
Born April 10 1860
Died December 24 1945
Birth Location Micronesia

Missionary, activist. Dr. Sidney Lewis Gulick (1860–1945) was an advocate for international understanding and the best-known defender of the rights of Japanese Americans in the early 20th century.

Early Life and Career: An Interpreter of Japan for the West

Gulick was born April 10, 1860, at Ebon, Marshall Islands, the son of Luther Halsey Gulick and Louisa Gulick, a family of missionaries. He spent part of his youth in Hawai'i, where his father was secretary of the Hawaiian Board of Missions, before moving to California. After attending high school in Oakland and spending a year at the University of California, he enrolled at Dartmouth College. There he received an A.B. in 1883. After attending Union Theological Seminary, he returned to Dartmouth, where he received an M.A. in 1886, and ultimately a D.D. in 1902. He pursued further education in the years that followed, attending Oxford University, Marburg University and the University of Berlin. In 1914 he received D.D. degrees from Yale University and Oberlin College.

In 1886 Gulick was ordained as a Congregational minister, and invited to become a supply minister at the Willoughby Avenue mission in Brooklyn. Soon after, he married Cara May Fisher. The Gulicks would have five children in the years that followed.

In 1887 Gulick was posted by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions to Japan, and was assigned a remote outpost in Matsumaya, Kumamoto prefecture. In the years that followed, he became an admirer of Japanese culture, and learned to read, write and speak Japanese fluently. In 1906 he was named professor of Systematic Theology at Doshisha University in Kyoto, and a year later was also invited as lecturer at Imperial University in Kyoto.

During this period, Gulick became a notable interpreter of Japan for the West. In his book Evolution of the Japanese: Social and Psychic (1903), he reported on society, religion and family life among the Japanese. Later critics would tax Gulick with racist views, citing such passages (but only the negative aspect) as this: "The Japanese give the double impression of being industrious and diligent on the one hand, and, on the other, of being lazy and utterly indifferent to the lapse of time." He also presented himself as an opponent of imperialism and an advocate of independence for Asian countries. In The White Peril in the Far East (1905), written in the period of the Russo-Japanese War, Gulick deplored the aggressive policy of European imperialist powers in Asia, and supported a powerful Japan as the best guardian of peace and stability in the region. He proposed that a Japanese victory in the war against Russia would check the advance of Western imperialism and allow China and other Asian states the opportunity to assert their independence and to begin to modernize on the Japanese model.

In 1913, due to poor health, Gulick resigned his professorships and left Japan. Upon returning to the United States, he was named secretary of the department of international justice and goodwill of the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America. Through this position, he sought to improve international understanding, especially between the United States and Japan, and deter war. As part of this, Gulick engaged in internationalist activities. In 1916, he became secretary of the American branch of the World Alliance for the Promotion of International Friendship. As a delegate of the Federal Council of Churches, he was present at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, and spoke in support of Woodrow Wilson's plans for the League of Nations and in favor of the United States joining the World Court.

An Advocate for Japanese Americans

In the two decades following his return from Japan, Gulick continued his efforts to defend Japanese policy and promote American-Japanese relations. He wrote: "I am as truly a missionary working for Japan as if I were in Japan." Meanwhile, in the wake of the enactment of California's anti-Asian alien land law, he threw himself into the immigration question, and distinguished himself as a defender of Japanese Americans. Gulick called for just treatment of all aliens and immigrants regardless of their race, color or religion. In a set of books, including The American Japanese Problem (1914) and American Democracy and Asiatic Citizenship (1918) he deplored prejudice and presented the argument that Asian people were "assimilable."

In the years after World War I, as anti-immigrant sentiment and anti-Japanese pressure became increasingly common, Gulick expanded his lobbying efforts. In 1919 he formed the National Committee for Constructive Immigration Legislation, and submitted a proposed bill to Congress that would assign immigration quotas on a non-racial basis. In 1919, California Senator James Phelan, an outspoken advocate of total exclusion of Asian immigrants, made public a letter that the journalist and publicist Kiyoshi Karl Kawakami had written to Gulick about the bill. Phelan falsely accused Gulick of working with Kawakami as an agent of the Japanese government.

The passage of the Immigration Act of 1924, as part of which Congress enacted an absolute ban on Japanese and other Asian immigration, greatly distressed Gulick, who argued that the nation's rigid immigration laws were a source of outrage and humiliation to the Japanese, and deterred the establishment of good international relations. In the years that followed the act, he directed his efforts to propagandize and lobby for offering Japan at least a tiny (symbolic) immigration quota.

Later Years: The Doll Exchange and World War II

Meanwhile, Gulick sought to encourage American interest in Japanese culture. He was animated by the conviction that tensions between the two countries might be reduced if Japanese and Americans had a deeper understanding and appreciation of each other's culture. In an attempt to improve U.S.-Japan relations, in 1926 Gulick formed the Committee on World Friendship Among Children and undertook the doll exchange, the action for which he remains best known. The doll exchange was a massive nationwide effort to encourage American schoolchildren to make or dress dolls to send to their Japanese counterparts, as a symbol of the dream of international understanding. Eventually a reported 2.6 million American school children participated, and 12,739 dolls (many with blue eyes) were sent to Japan. The dolls, dressed in hand-made clothes and accompanied by letters from the senders, arrived in Tokyo in January 1927. There they were enthusiastically received, and sent on to new homes and schools throughout the country. The Japanese reciprocated with their own doll project, and sent 58 "Dolls of gratitude" to American schoolchildren.

In 1934 Gulick retired from the Federal Council of Churches. That same year, he was decorated by the Emperor of Japan with the Third Class order of Meiji Decoration of Sacred Treasure. In 1935 he published his best-known book, Toward Understanding Japan . He spent his later years living in Hawai'i. His last major book, Mixing the Races in Hawaii (1937), spoke positively about interracial marriage in Hawai'i and the coming of a "new neo-Hawaiian American race" composed of white, Asian and Hawaiian elements. In keeping with his support for Japanese-American understanding, he continued to champion the Americanism of the Nisei . In an address in early 1941, he stated, "We rejoice that we can report at this time a fine feeling which has recently been developed here in these islands toward American citizens of Japanese ancestry. The commander-in-chief of the military forces in the territory of Hawaii has recently stated that the way the Nisei have come forward for registration and enlistment in our army, together with the spirit and attitude of their parents, has dispelled all the suspicions which had been held in certain quarters."

In mid-1941, Gulick's longtime wife Cara died. He seems to have given up public activity afterward, apart from speaking briefly at the reception for an exhibition of his awards and honors at the Central Union Church in late 1941. During World War II, he knitted sweaters for the Red Cross as his contribution to the war effort. Curiously, he was publicly silent on the wartime treatment of Japanese Americans, whom he had so strongly supported in prewar years. In the months after the war, he moved to Idaho to live with his daughter. There he died on December 20, 1945.

Gulick's sincere affection for Japanese culture and his belief in international understanding led him to work with Japanese officials to promote Japan, but in the process to deny or excuse Japan's international aggression during the 1930s. In the same way, he was a genuine champion of Japanese Americans, but his support inevitably linked them in the public mind with Japan.

Authored by Greg Robinson , Université du Québec À Montréal

For More Information

Hirobe, Izumi. Japanese Pride, American Prejudice: Modifying the Exclusion Clause of the 1924 Immigration Act . Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001.

Taylor, Sandra C. Advocate of Understanding: Sidney Gulick and the Search for Peace with Japan. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1985.

Works by Gulick on Japanese Americans

The American Japanese Problem: A Study of the Racial Relations of the East and the West . New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1914

American Democracy and Asiatic Citizenship . New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1918. New York: Arno Press, 1978.

Japanese in California . XCIII of the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. Philadelphia, January 1921.

Last updated Jan. 25, 2024, 7:29 p.m..