Teiko Ishida

Name Teiko Ishida
Born April 16 1916
Died May 1 1998
Birth Location San Francisco, California
Generational Identifier


Teiko Ishida (1916-98) was the first woman to be appointed to the national board of the JACL in 1939 and was the first woman appointed to the position of national secretary of the JACL from 1943 to 1945. As secretary to Mike Masaoka and later as the national secretary, Ishida played an influential role in JACL policy during the war and led the return of the JACL back to the West Coast in 1945 with the re-establishment of the national headquarters in San Francisco in January 1945. [1]

Early Life

Ishida was born on April 16, 1916, in San Francisco, California to Tsunegoro "Frank" and Take Ishida. Tsunegoro Ishida was well known among Japanese Americans as one of the first "pioneers" to come to San Francisco, having arrived in 1890. The family lived in the vicinity of Japantown, on 307 Broderick St.

Beginning in 1936, Ishida became involved with the San Francisco chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL). She soon became known throughout the Bay Area as a skilled organizer. In September 1936 Ishida attended the JACL national convention in Seattle alongside delegates Saburo Kido , future national JACL president, and Yasuo Abiko , the son of Nichibei Shimbun owner Kyutaro Abiko .

Prewar Work for the JACL

In July 1938, journalist Evelyn Kirimura interviewed Ishida as part of a series titled "Nisei Portrait," which highlighted Nisei women in "unusual but interesting occupations." Ishida revealed her views on the need for Japanese Americans to adapt to American culture: "Nisei cannot hope to obtain employment in American firms unless they eliminate the accent and bad grammar of their English." Citing her own experience as the only woman at her workplace, Ishida stated that Nisei needed to be courageous and take up whatever opportunities were open to them: "What few gains a woman makes are hard-fought and she can only go so far and no more. I want to get to the top, but I'm afraid that I've gone as far as I can in this company. Nonetheless I intend to keep on trying. Now this is the kind of spirit all Nisei should adopt." As evidence of her support for other women in the JACL, Ishida created and ran a Women's Auxiliary within the San Francisco JACL. [2]

Ishida’s ambitions eventually paid off. In November 1938, JACL National President Walter Tsukamoto appointed her to be "co-chairman" of the national JACL committee and historian of the national JACL—the highest position held by a woman in the organization at the time. Although Ishida resigned from her previous position as head of the Women's Auxiliary, she continued to maintain a presence at their various events.

As part of her work with the national JACL, Ishida became an important figure in outreach efforts between the organization and the general public. In March 1939, Ishida organized a large event in appreciation of the schoolteachers of San Francisco at the Hall of Western States on Treasure Island. (JACL leaders did not seem to appreciate the irony of celebrating schoolteachers when Nisei teachers were excluded on racial grounds from teaching jobs). Over 1,000 people attended the event.

Then-San Francisco JACL Chairman Saburo Kido singled out Ishida for praise, describing her as "a strong leader and a good organizer with an aggressive spirit mixed with the required initiative. The city is indeed fortunate to have such a leader." In April 1939, Ishida appeared alongside Kay Kitagawa and Ruth Tanbara on San Francisco's radio station KSAN. The recording, based on a script written by Ishida, Saburo Kido, and Iwao Kawakami, documented the history of the JACL and its present goals. [3]

Incarceration and Move to Salt Late City

Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Ishida and other JACL members mobilized to enlist Japanese American support for the war effort. In February 1942, Ishida joined several JACL members in persuading Issei community members to register as "enemy aliens," as a demonstration of their own patriotism.

Following the announcement in April 1942 that Japanese Americans would be forcibly removed from the West Coast, the JACL hired Ishida to become office secretary at the new national headquarters in Salt Lake City. On March 29—days before the exclusion order went into effect—Ishida filled her Studebaker with the records and files of the JACL and set off for Salt Lake City. Joining Ishida for the ride were Larry Tajiri , who assumed the position of assistant to National Secretary Mike Masaoka and editor of The Pacific Citizen , and his wife Guyo .

During her time as secretary for the national office, Ishida served as the first point of communication between the JACL and outside organizations. Ishida corresponded with several university presidents, such as Remsen Bird of Occidental College, as well as Allen Blaisdell, director of UC Berkeley's International House, about the status of Japanese American students. (Sadly, because of her leadership position and her name being ambiguous to non-Japanese Americans, she was often misgendered as "Mr. Teiko Ishida" in correspondence.) She also sent reports to various government agencies, such as the Department of Interior and Western Defense Command , regarding the status of Japanese Americans in the armed forces. [4]

She also wrote a regular column for the Pacific Citizen titled "Calling All Chapters" from 1942 to 1943. Her columns summarized the news of the various JACL chapters and included updates from the national headquarters, along with information on funding for the organization. Some of her early columns included moving descriptions of incarcerees boarding the trains for the permanent War Relocation Authority (WRA) camps, though she was told not to state the dates of the transfers due to their classification as "military information." Her first column appeared in the June 1942 issue of the Pacific Citizen, and ran until 1944, when Hito Okada took over the column.

Perhaps Ishida's most controversial decision occurred during the " loyalty questionnaire " crisis. The matter of loyalty oaths for JACL members became a significant detail of Deborah Lim's 1990 investigation into the history of the JACL. As later revealed in Lim's Report, in May 1943 JACL President Saburo Kido sent an internal memo to Ishida discussing the status of loyal JACL members. In the memo, Kido mentioned that he concurred with Mike Masaoka's decision that any individuals who responded "no-no" to questions 27 and 28 —the questions regarding loyalty to the U.S. and willingness to serve in the armed forces—should be removed from the organization:

Regarding members who answered "no," Mike suggests that we send out a bulletin to all chapters that such members will be suspended. He believes this is necessary for our records; that is, we should be clear as to the loyalty of our members. Also we cannot accept anyone who has answered, "no." [5]

In response, Ishida communicated to Kido that Masaoka had agreed to the removal policy, but cautioned against sending an official bulletin to all chapters. Rather, Ishida stated, the JACL should ask the WRA to furnish a list of "no-nos":

As far as the "no-no" ones are concerned, I don’t think we can possibly find out so the best thing is just issue the request to sign the loyalty pledge of all associated members. Then if there is a chapter, issue a special letter to the chapter that the "no-no" ones will have to be suspended until such time as the records are cleared. And if they have any reason for changing the answer to yes, possibly we can suggest to write to the WRA. It is the best that we do this and protect our position. [6]

Kido responded that waiting for a report from the WRA would take too long. Making an executive decision, Kido informed Ishida and JACL treasurer Hito Okada that he would send out individual loyalty oaths to all JACL chapters.

National Secretary and the New York City Office

In September 1943, the Japanese American Citizens League announced that Mike Masaoka, George Inagaki, JACL membership director, and Joe Kanazawa, the JACL's eastern representative, had enlisted in the U.S. Army and left their JACL positions. The JACL then selected Ishida as acting national secretary for the east, and sent her to open a new office at 299 Madison Ave. in New York City. (For a time Ishida, along with the Tajiris, was the JACL's only paid employee).

During her tenure as acting national secretary, Ishida undertook several further initiatives to promote the name of the JACL. She worked with the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council to help bring more students to New York City, arguing that parents would leave camp to follow their children to cities near their colleges. Throughout her time in New York, she made monthly trips to Washington, D.C. to meet with government officials about issues facing Japanese Americans.

Most significantly, Ishida engaged in an intense writing campaign to promote Japanese Americans. On March 6, 1944, the New Republic published a letter to the editor written by Ishida, representing the JACL. Ishida praised the government’s decision to create an all-Japanese American combat unit, and meanwhile used her letter to promote the JACL's mission of "integration and assimilation" by suggesting that readers subscribe to the The Pacific Citizen. [7]

Returning to the question of "no-nos," Ishida softened her previous position. She wrote a letter to the WRA on April 13, 1944 stating that the JACL still considered any individuals who had responded no to question 28 as United States citizens. [8]

On April 30, 1944, the New York Herald Tribune ran an article spotlighting Ishida and her work for the JACL. Written following a report of a chance conversation between Ishida and an army officer ignorant of Japanese Americans, the article attempted to dispel racist notions of Japanese Americans as mindless or prejudiced. [9]

Ishida also masterminded the reopening of the JACL offices in San Francisco. On September 16, 1944, the Manzanar Free Press stated that Ishida had consulted with General Charles H. Bonesteel , the Western Defense Commander, about allowing more Japanese Americans to return to the West Coast. In December 1944, she received personal clearance by General Bonesteel to come to San Francisco in anticipation of the lifting of exclusion.

Following the ruling of Ex Parte Endo on December 17, 1944, the U.S. Army lifted the exclusion of Japanese Americans from the West Coast on January 2, 1945. The next day, Ishida opened the new JACL national headquarters in San Francisco, although the Pacific Citizen and various functions remained in Salt Lake City.

Despite her dynamism, Ishida suffered from chronic medical problems. On June 21, 1945, the JACL announced Ishida's resignation as acting national secretary for health reasons. President Saburo Kido applauded Ishida's record as a master fundraiser for the JACL and for her leadership in moving the JACL headquarters to San Francisco in January 1945. Nonetheless, the JACL leaders continued to hold sexist views. UC Berkeley International House Director Allen Blaisdell, along with a representative from the Rosenberg Foundation, wrote to Saburo Kido asking for Ishida to be replaced by an "effective man" due to her health. Replacing Ishida was Mike Masaoka’s brother, Joe Grant Masaoka. [10]

Later Life and Death

In December 1945, Ishida married Michael "Mickey" Kuroiwa. Originally from Mesa, Arizona, Kuroiwa avoided incarceration and enlisted in the Military Intelligence Service . He later entered the grocery business, and worked as a controller of Littleman Grocers in San Francisco. During the postwar years, Teiko remained active as a regular volunteer at the JACL headquarters, and served on the panel for several national scholarships.

In September 1958, the JACL awarded Teiko a ruby pin at the National Biennium in recognition of her service. She worked as a fundraiser for Hawai'i Senator Daniel Inouye's campaign in San Francisco in 1962. In January 1963, she helped form the United Committee for the Japanese Community, which oversaw the A-2 project, a redevelopment of Nihonmachi in the Western Addition, but left in April 1963 due to personal reasons. She died on May 1, 1998 at the age of 82.

Authored by Jonathan van Harmelen , UC Santa Cruz

For More Information

Hosokawa, Bill. JACL In the Quest of Justice. New York: William Morrow and Co., 1982.

Masaoka, Mike and Hosokawa, Bill. They Call Me Moses Masaoka: An American Saga. New York: William Morrow and Co., 1987.

Robinson, Greg and Eisenstadt, Peter. "Howard Thurman and Japanese Americans - Part 1." Discover Nikkei, June 2, 2021. http://www.discovernikkei.org/en/journal/2021/6/2/howard-thurman-1/

van Harmelen, Jonathan. "Teiko Ishida: – A Woman of Conviction in the JACL — Part 1." Discover Nikkei, August 10, 2022. http://www.discovernikkei.org/en/journal/2022/8/10/teiko-ishida-1/

———. "Teiko Ishida: – A Woman of Conviction in the JACL — Part 2." Discover Nikkei, August 11, 2022. http://www.discovernikkei.org/en/journal/2022/8/11/teiko-ishida-2/


  1. An earlier version of this article appeared on Discover Nikkei. See: Jonathan van Harmelen. "Teiko Ishida: – A Woman of Conviction in the JACL — Part 1." Discover Nikkei, August 10, 2022. http://www.discovernikkei.org/en/journal/2022/8/10/teiko-ishida-1/
  2. Evelyn Kirimura, "Nisei Portrait." Shin Sekai Asahi Shinbun, July 25, 1938.
  3. "Radio Cast: Kay Kitagawa, Teiko Ishida, Mrs. Earl Tanbara Picked." Shin Sekai Asahi Shinbun, April 16, 1939.
  4. "Letter from Remsen Bird to Teiko Ishida, May 4, 1942." Japanese American Relocation Collection, Special Collections, Occidental College. https://oac.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/kt8p303777/?order=2&brand=oac4
  5. Deborah Lim, The Lim Report. (1990), 118.
  6. Lim, The Lim Report, 119.
  7. Teiko Ishida, "Good News for Japanese Americans." The New Republic, March 6, 1944.
  8. Lim, The Lim Report, 121.
  9. Dorothy D. Bromley, "Japanese-American Girl Gives Army Captain New Idea of Nisei." New York Herald Tribune, April 30, 1944.
  10. "J.A.C.L. Advisory Board." CU-483.1, box 2, folder 1, Voices in Confinement Collection, Bancroft Library. https://oac.cdlib.org/ark:/28722/bk0016z559f/

Last updated Dec. 21, 2023, 3:56 a.m..