Saturday, March 18, 2017

When Refugees Were Welcome...

Part of the public debate about recent efforts of the new administration in Washington to limit immigration to the US concerns the fate of refugees, especially those people fleeing the on-going war in Syria. In this context, US immigration policy after World War II has some lessons to teach, and those lessons reach right into Grinnell, where the family of Roberts Lapainis arrived in August, 1948. Roberts, his wife Elisabete (Elisabeth), and their son Egils, were among the refugees admitted to the United States under the authority of the Displaced Persons Act of 1948. Because of this legislation, refugees for the first time became an important part of US immigration policy, and under the act's auspices (renewed in 1950 for two years) a total of some 400,000 individuals "who were victims of persecution by the Nazi government or who were fleeing persecution...[or] who could not go back to their country because of fear of persecution based on race, religion or political opinions" were admitted to the United States. This is the story of one such family.
Grinnell Herald-Register August 12, 1948
Roberts Lapainis was born in Riga in 1919, hard on the heels of World War I and the creation of the independent state of Latvia. In March, 1942 he married the former Elisabete Kremer, and soon thereafter their first and only child, Egils, was born. This young family came together just as the fate of Latvia was sadly woven into the poisonous fabric of war. Latvia fell to Soviet occupation as part of the 1939 Non-Aggression Pact between Germany and the USSR, then later fell to invading German armies in 1941, then again to Soviet troops in 1944. Both occupiers attempted to purge Latvia of resistance by arresting those suspected of harboring ties to the enemy. Roberts very nearly fell into Soviet hands in 1941, narrowly escaping arrest and exile to Siberia; but when the Germans returned in 1944, they sent him to Germany as forced labor. Somehow he escaped this fate, and, as he told the Herald-Register on his arrival in Grinnell, he worked undiscovered on a farm near Wittenburg until the allied armies arrived. Meantime, Mrs. Lapainis and Egils lived in a Displaced Persons (DP) camp in Esslingen, Germany; they were reunited in August, 1945, and lived at the Esslingen camp until June, 1948 when they departed Germany for the U.S.
Egils, Elizabete, and Roberts Lapainis (far left) at arrival in Des Moines
Des Moines Register August 1, 1948, p. 17
The Lapainis family crossed the Atlantic on the S.S. Marine Flasher, bringing with them two trunks, two suitcases, and a couple of boxes with which to begin a new life. Apparently the family was interviewed about places where they might settle, and the Lapainis family chose Iowa, where they arrived August 1, 1948. Church World Service (CWS on the S. S. Flasher manifest) sponsored the immigration of the Lapainis family, but in Grinnell it was St. John's Lutheran Church that took responsibility for the family. According to the report in the Herald-Register, Rev. Harold Bomhoff found a job for Robert with Iowa Southern Utilities, but finding them a place to live in Grinnell proved harder. However, as reported in the 1950 Grinnell city directory, the Lapainis family took up residence at 921 Summer Street. By this time young Egils must have been enrolled in school, perhaps at nearby Cooper Elementary. Still, it must have been difficult, since, except for Elisabeth's knowledge of English, almost everything was strange and new.
Passenger Manifest for S. S. Flasher, arriving in New York From Bremerhaven, Germany, July 26, 1948
Lapainis family members appears ten, nine, and eight spaces from the bottom of the page
Numerous DPs (as they came to be known) in letters sent back to Europe confirmed the difficulties of adjusting to a new country. An article in the October Des Moines Register, which was based upon news included in the European DP camp newspapers, quoted a young Pole who had settled in Fulton, MO: "The beginning of life in America is very difficult," he wrote, "since the sight of cars, houses and other things owned by other people makes you yearn to have the same. There are more cars here than bicycles in our own country." A Latvian who ended up in France asked rhetorically, "And are there no disappointments? Good Lord, who does not experience them in the course of starting a new life? Any DP who expects to find everything perfect in his new country is a fool."

What about the Lapainis family? Did they expect everything to be perfect? Evidently not, although, like most refugees, surely they nursed dreams. Robert (as he came to be called), who spoke Latvian, Russian and German fluently, now had to contend with English, of which he knew very little when the family arrived in Iowa. Having attended night school in Riga before the war to become an electrician, he hoped for a job in the US that would match his skills and provide a living for his family. Elisabeth had studied piano at the Conservatory of Music in Riga, and admitted to the Herald-Register in a 1948 interview that she hoped to "continue to play if I have such a job that allows me," demonstrating her mastery of English gained while she worked for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Commission in Germany. "We want to earn our living, find bread, learn the English, go to night school and get the papers to become American citizens," she continued, summarizing her family's hopes for the future.
149 Kenmore NE, Cedar Rapids (2012 photograph)
For reasons that the public record does not preserve, Mr. and Mrs. Lapainis decided to leave Grinnell, and as early as 1951 they may have been residing at 149 Kenmore NE in Cedar Rapids. Robert had gained admission to the electricians' union and had begun work for Iowa Iron Works in Cedar Rapids. In subsequent years Robert worked for a variety of companies: Cedar Rapids Electric Supply (from at least 1954 through 1957); Paulson Electric (1958); Wubbens Electric (1959); Munson Electric (1970); and Acme Electric (1981). Perhaps the multitude of employment options in a much larger town was the main draw of Cedar Rapids.

Sometime soon after 1953 Elisabeth was teaching piano out of the family's Cedar Rapids home. Twice a year the newspaper announced recitals at which her students performed, so that over the more than twenty-five years she taught piano, hundreds of students passed through her front door.
Cedar Rapids Gazette December 13, 1959
The connections with music were obviously important to Elisabeth, and Cedar Rapids offered numerous paths through which she might continue her musical interests. Her piano teaching brought her into membership of the Iowa Music Teachers Association, and she soon joined the local Mozart Club, where she served as an officer for many years.
Cedar Rapids Gazette July 22, 1956
Her ambition to continue performing also found an outlet in the local Beethoven Club where, alongside other musicians, Elisabeth Lapainis often performed on the piano. As with Robert's work options, opportunities to continue her life in music were more numerous in Cedar Rapids than in Grinnell.
Cedar Rapids Gazette January 12, 1964
Egils Lapainis made the transition from Grinnell schools to Arthur Elementary, an old Cedar Rapids school to which a primary addition was joined in 1952. He seems to have made a fairly smooth adjustment, as local news reported him to be involved in school plays and Cub Scout activities.
Arthur Elementary School PTA Cub Pack 25 version of TV's "Super Circus" (Ringmaster Egils Lapainis far right)
Cedar Rapids Gazette May 23, 1953
At George Washington High School, Egils seems to have continued to prosper. The high school yearbook reported that Egils was a member of Adastra (the local chapter of the National Honor Society) and the German Club, and that he took part in Forum, the local student government organization. After graduating from Washington, Egils enrolled at the University of Iowa where in 1965 he graduated with a bachelor's degree in business administration.
Egils Lapainis, 1961 Monument (George Washington High School Yearbook)
Robert Lapainis died suddenly December 30, 1993, and was buried at Cedar Park Memorial Cemetery. He and his wife were long-time members of St. Mark's Lutheran Church in Cedar Rapids (then at 2100 First Ave., NE, now St. Mark's Faith and Life Center in Marion, IA) where his funeral was held. Elisabeth lived much longer—more than thirty years after she retired from teaching piano—and died July 14, 2014 at her son's residence in Palm Desert, CA.
Gravestone of Robert Lapainis (1919-1993), Cedar Park Memorial Cemetery, Cedar Rapids
What does the Lapainis family's immigration to the United States nearly seventy years ago tell us and how does their experience illumine present-day immigration preoccupations? 

The Lapainis family history makes clear that they successfully adapted and that they contributed generously to the community that received them. It is true that the family left Grinnell surprisingly quickly—why they moved to Cedar Rapids remains unclear, but there can be little doubt that they succeeded in merging into American culture and contributing to their new country.
Photograph of Elisabeth Lapainis (1917-2014) from her 2014 obituary
At the announcement of Elisabeth's 2014 death, several former students took time to add their appreciations in the funeral home's on-line book of remembrance. Nancy (Spear) Patrick, for instance, wrote that Mrs. Lapainis "taught me discipline, patience, and being true to yourself...." Donette Piering, another former student, noted that Elisabeth's teaching had enabled Piering to begin a journey that took her onward to organ performance in college and beyond. Janet Booth Gerdom recalled that "her tough but loving instruction gave me lots of confidence and I have enjoyed playing in the years since." I am better, she continued, for "having known Mrs. Lapainis."

I don't know if Robert's death summoned similar expressions of appreciation from fellow workers or employers, but his work record makes clear that he contributed to the businesses for which he worked. Moreover, as when he and some others volunteered to straighten out poles bent over Cedar Rapids's Kingston stadium, Robert was giving back to the town that had accepted him and his family. No doubt they were equally valuable to the congregation at St. Mark's Lutheran Church.
Robert Lapainis and others repair Kingston Stadium poles bent by wind
Cedar Rapids Gazette June 22, 1954
Unfortunately, the Lapainis's success does not tell the whole story of the 1948 law, and the fuller narrative invokes some unhappy parallels with contemporary immigration policy. As then-President Harry Truman pointed out when he reluctantly signed what became known as the Displaced Persons Act of 1948, Congress had delayed action on the bill until the very last day of the legislative session, so that, if Truman vetoed the bill, there would be no replacement until Congress reconvened. To avoid keeping DPs in difficult circumstances any longer, Truman signed the bill into law, but not without observing its several objectionable features.

In the first place, Truman observed,
The bill discriminates in callous fashion against displaced persons of the Jewish faith. The primary device used to discriminate against Jewish displaced persons is the provision restricting eligibility to those displaced persons who entered Germany, Austria, or Italy on or before December 22, 1945. Most of the Jewish displaced persons who had entered Germany, Austria, or Italy by that time have already left; and most of the Jewish displaced persons now in those areas arrived there after December 22, 1945, and hence are denied a chance to come to the United States under this bill. By this device more than 90 percent of the remaining Jewish displaced persons are definitely excluded.
The same deadline had the effect of preventing many Catholic DPs from qualifying for admission to the US, since many of the Catholics who fled the post-war Communist governments of central Europe arrived after the December, 1945 deadline. As a result, the legislation had embedded within it religious preference, enabling protestants like the Lapainis family to benefit, but prohibiting many thousands of Jews and Catholics.

The act further demanded from immigrants guarantees—that their employment would not affect American workers, that they were assured "safe and clean housing"—and insisted upon detailed investigation of each applicant, a combination of expectations that, as Truman noted, reflected "a singular lack of confidence by the Congress in the capacity and willingness of the people of the United States to extend a welcoming hand to the prospective immigrants."

None of this undermines the good done by the 1948 law, which gave new beginnings to thousands of refugees whose options war had reduced dramatically. Like today's refugees from war in Syria, these people found themselves dependent upon the receiving country's generosity—or lack of it. Similarly, Congress's imposition of religious preference (although more subtle than recent efforts) and the insistence upon detailed vetting are themes prominent in present-day efforts to restrict refugee immigration to the United States.

So, although we can hope that the United States will continue to be receptive to refugees, keeping in mind the satisfaction and payback that come from successes like the Lapainis family, we should remain mindful of the biases of religion and race, and the consequences that their deployment has for millions of refugees worldwide.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017


A few years ago several Grinnell women collaborated to produce an exhibition to mark Women's History Month. Titled "Trailblazers: Notable Women of Grinnell," the display introduced visitors to twenty-two of Grinnell's illustrious women, including Cornelia Clarke (1854-1936), Fannie Buchanan (1875-1957), and Abby Williams Hill (1861-1943, about whom I've posted before). A summary of the exhibit appeared in the summer 2012 Newsletter of the Grinnell Historical Museum, and some of these women were the focus of a 2015 bucket course.
Laetitia Moon Conard (1871-1946) (undated photograph)
Grinnell Historical Museum
One of the women whose life the exhibition and bucket course documented was Laetitia Moon Conard (1871-1946), a scholar, teacher, mother, and political activist. Perhaps especially in a month that celebrates women's history, Conard's life reminds us that the development of Grinnell depended not only upon men like J. B. Grinnell, but also upon many remarkable women like Laetitia Moon Conard. Drawn into the orbit of Socialist Party politics, Conard appeared on the ballot in 1932 as candidate for governor, in 1934 as candidate for Congress, in 1936 as candidate for the U.S. Senate, and in 1940 as candidate for lieutenant-governor—apparently the first woman to stand for election in each case.
Elizabeth Laetitia Moon was born in 1871 on a farm just inside the eastern border of Pennsylvania. A child of observant Quakers, Elizabeth attended Quaker schools, graduating from Westtown Friends Boarding School in 1889, after which she attended Smith College, from which she received her bachelor's degree in 1894. Two years later she took an M.A. from Smith, then went to Paris where in 1896-97 she studied at the Sorbonne. Returning to the United States, she enrolled at the University of Chicago where in 1899 she received a Ph.D., having written a dissertation upon the religious practices of native Americans. In all this, she exceeded the accomplishments of most of her coevals.

The following year she married Henry Shoemaker Conard, a fellow Quaker who himself had attended and later taught at Westtown. A botanist, Conard studied at the University of Pennsylvania, but in 1906 the couple moved to Grinnell, Iowa where Henry took up a position on the college faculty. A daughter—Elizabeth—had been born to the Conards while they were still living in Pennsylvania. In Iowa a second daughter, Rebecca, was born in 1909, and in 1912 a third child, Alfred, joined the family, helping fill the Conard home at 1310 Elm.
Conard Home, 1310 Elm Street (undated photograph)
Grinnell Historical Museum
Henry Conard's career blossomed at Grinnell, and many have written about his accomplishments. How Elizabeth—or Laetitia, as she came to call herself—prospered in these early years is less well-known. In answer to the 1910 census-taker, Mrs. Conard described herself as a "tutor," although exactly what that meant is unclear. The 1920 census reports in the column reserved for work or occupation that Mrs. Conard had "none."

However, in 1925 Mrs. Conard went to New York City to study at Columbia University, and after her return began to teach at the college. Sometimes described as lecturer in economics, she actually helped found the discipline of sociology at Grinnell College, as Susan Ferguson and Katie Mears have written in a fine, so far unpublished study. For the fifteen years before her 1941 retirement, Conard received no salary, despite having introduced an entire sociology curriculum. At the occasion celebrating the half-dozen 1941 retirees, College President Samuel Stevens recognized in Conard "a brilliant and wise woman who has made the subject matter of sociology of vital significance." Remarks at a follow-up celebratory dinner were less enthusiastic and reflected gender stereotyping. Symbolic honors went to zoology Professor H. W. Norris "because of his scholarship and being a 'bright light' on the campus," while Dr. Edward Steiner earned his "because of his honor, dignity and courtesy." "Mrs. Conard," who also had a Ph.D. and no less reason to be called "Dr.," was said to deserve honors "because she had been a good wife, friend, and teacher."

Time has overcome some of the inattention that Conard endured in her lifetime. But what remains largely unattended in Grinnell—both college and town—is Conard's political activity, and it is to that aspect of Laetitia Conard's life that this post now turns.
Right Reverend Paul Jones, Episcopal Bishop of Utah, 1916-1918
Dan Bammes, "Utah Episcopalians Remember Pacifist Bishop" 
Evidence of the first shoots of Conard's politics is barely discernible. For example, the Scarlet and Black reported in March, 1920 that, after attending a talk in Oskaloosa by Jane Addams, Grinnell College students organized to collect money for Armenians, Austrians, Germans, Poles and Serbians who had been affected by the war. The newspaper identified Mrs. Conard as one of the persons to whom students might entrust their donations, presumably because of her interest in the issue. Similarly, a February 1922 S&B article noted that the Conards had hosted a dinner in Quad dining hall in honor of Episcopal Bishop Paul Jones,"who represents [and helped found] the Fellowship of Reconciliation," an organization established on the eve of World War I to advocate for peaceful resolution of conflict. After dinner, the newspaper announced, the group discussed the work of the Fellowship, presumably with the goal of persuading attendees to support non-violent approaches to disputes. It is impossible to know how actively Conard took part in these events, but her later actions make it hard to think that she sat quietly as conversation flowed around her.
Frederick J. Libby (1874-1970), ca. 1942
The Quaker Testimony for Peace: Archival Resources at Swarthmore College
Even as her political interests grew, Conard continued to accompany her husband on botanical excursions, which often involved camping out and bringing along groups of students. Increasingly, however, the record exposes her acting on her own priorities. An April, 1923 article in the Scarlet and Black, for instance, took note of a meeting at the college club where several speakers reported on meetings they had recently attended. "Mrs. Conard," the paper continued, "spoke on a meeting she had attended in which Mr. [Frederick J.] Libby, the pacifist, was the main speaker." Libby, a one-time Congregationalist minister who joined the Society of Friends in 1921, was founder and long-time executive secretary of the National Council for the Prevention of War, so it is not difficult to imagine what Conard had to say about his talk, perhaps a stimulus to Conard's own growing commitment to pacifism.
Robert LaFollette (1855-1925), undated photo
Soon Conard threw herself into supporting the 1924 presidential candidacy of Wisconsin Senator Robert "Fighting Bob" LaFollette (1855-1925). Nominee of  his own Progressive Party, LaFollette espoused a populist platform that favored government ownership of the railroads and electric utilities, support for labor unions, and outlawing child labor, among other things. He had opposed World War I, and sought to demand a referendum before any government could again involve the United States in war.  These views won Conard's support, as a September, 1924 article in the Scarlet and Black noted; "Mrs. Bradshaw and Mrs. Conard" were leading LaFollette boosters, the newspaper observed, and went on to report that "Mrs. H. S. Conard was acting chairman of [LaFollette's] county committee." In 1920s Grinnell, a Republican stronghold, LaFollette's positions must have seemed radical, and Conard later reported that many of her friends had been shocked that she could align herself with LaFollette. However, as later events proved, LaFollette was only the beginning of Conard's political radicalism.

In the 1924 election LaFollette won his home state of Wisconsin and a respectable portion of the national vote, but it was Calvin Coolidge who won the presidency. The race had exhausted LaFollette, however, and he died only a few months later, the promise of a new politics evaporating. As the 1928 presidential election neared, Conard turned to yet another third-party candidate, Norman Thomas (1884-1968), newly elevated to head the Socialist Party. An article in the November, 1928 Scarlet and Black quoted Conard on the unknown candidate. "Norman Thomas," Conard said,
is an absolute pacifist, partly because he knows people, partly because he is an exceptionally clear thinker, and partly because of his indomitable energy in going straight to the heart of every problem....Norman Thomas is for the underdog. He is internationally minded....
Despite Conard's enthusiastic support, Thomas, a little-known Presbyterian minister, made little dent in the 1928 electoral victory of Herbert Hoover. But, like LaFollette's loss in 1924, Thomas's 1928 failure did not drive Conard away; indeed, as the Depression grew increasingly deep and international politics grew more strained, Conard was more drawn to Socialist Party politics than ever.
Delegates to the 1929 Conference on the Cause and Cure for War, Washington, DC
Harris & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress (
Traces of Conard's continuing activism appeared occasionally in newspapers. Articles in the 1929 S&B report that Conard had helped organize a peace committee within the college YWCA, and that the committee maintained a table in the college library that provided peace literature. That spring the college newspaper told of another meeting of the YWCA peace committee at Mrs. Conard's home, at which time she told of her experiences at the Third Conference on the Cause and Cure of War that she had attended in Washington, DC in January, 1928. Her talk seems to have galvanized student activism, for the newspaper told of plans being laid to send members of the peace committee "to make peace talks to Christian Endeavor groups" at churches in the area.
Sherwood Eddy (1871-1963) (undated photograph)
Summer 1930 Conard joined one of Sherwood Eddy's seminars that visited the capitals of several European countries, along the way meeting with experts and friends of Eddy's who briefed them on historical and political happenings (Eddy writes about these trips in chapter 7 of his Eighty Adventurous Years: An Autobiography [NY: Harper & Row, 1955]). As Rick Nutt has shown (The Whole Gospel for the Whole World: Sherwood Eddy and the American Protestant Mission [Macon, GA, 1997]), the so-called American Seminars began in 1921, and typically lasted two to three months, regularly visiting London, Germany, Geneva, Austria, Czechoslovakia and France. Beginning in 1926, the seminars also visited the USSR, and inevitably attracted a wide array of American intellectuals. So Conard was in distinguished company when she set out for Europe that summer.
Grinnell Herald, August 29, 1930, p. 1
Conard kept notebooks of her seminar impressions, but, unfortunately, the notebooks seem not to have survived. Happily, since she, like other seminar participants, published reports on their travels, we can identify some of the events that seminar participants enjoyed in Russia and what effect they had upon Conard, who offered her first reflections in a letter sent from Moscow August 12th and published in the Grinnell Herald August 29, 1930. Then living in a Moscow hotel close to the Kremlin, Conard announced that she was favorably impressed by the energy that revolution had brought to Russian daily life. Based upon visits to local institutions, movies provided by their Soviet hosts, and the blitz of propaganda, Conard judged the infant revolution to be making great strides in mechanizing agriculture, in improving education, and in giving women larger roles in all official bodies. Indeed, after visiting a Moscow People's Court, Conard noted that the judge was a woman, and that more than a third of all Soviet judges were women; moreover, the conductor on the trolley that took them to court was a woman, and it was a woman who controlled the track switches." Finally, Conard observed, "there are prominent Russian women officials" everywhere. By contrast, she continued, "The United States gives less to women in the way of public office than England, Germany or Russia," a circumstance her later life tried to correct.

Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) was a member of Conard's same 1930 seminar, and he reported in Christian Century having discovered, like Conard, great enthusiasm for changes being effected in Russian society. Niebuhr described the group's visit to Bolshovo, a collective farm twenty miles outside Moscow that Eddy's group visited every year. Niebuhr also reported on the 1929 movie, "Turksib," that the group had viewed. Both these experiences doubtless contributed to Conard's conviction that the revolution's progress and fascination with machinery had generated immense enthusiasm.
Strastnoi (Passion) Monastery as represented in pre-revolutionary postcard (Wikimedia Commons)
While in Moscow the seminar also visited the "Anti-Religion Museum," by which Conard evidently meant the then-new museum in the former Strastnoi Monastery (razed in 1938). Crispin Paine, writing about atheist museums in the USSR, described the Central Anti-Religion Museum in the old monastery, founded in 1929, by quoting a 1933 French visitor: "...Displays [there] were based on the idea that all religions were similar superstitions, which they demonstrated by juxtaposing 'idols, fetishes, Christian images and objects of witchcraft.'"

Conard remarked upon the Museum when, after her return home, she addressed the college Cosmopolitan Club in December, 1930. Although she was confident that "religion will return," she observed to Grinnell students that the Anti-Religion Museum had persuaded her that "atheism is truly a religion endeavoring to cast out the superstitions which have delayed the human race for centuries" (Scarlet and Black December 10, 1930).
Tanager vol. 5, no. 2 (January, 1931):40-42
Special thanks to Chris Jones, Grinnell College Special Collections, for making this material available to me
In an essay published in Tanager, a college publication usually dominated by student writing, Conard developed her point. "Communism," she wrote,
partakes of the nature of a religion. The fervor inspired by its tenets results in a willingness to endure hardships equal to those of the sects.... We who were guided around the Anti-Religious Museum by an ardent atheist and who noticed her seriousness and deep emotion as she came to the corner which exhibited the activities of the young atheist society knew that this apostle believed sincerely that atheism is throwing down the idol thrones and eliminating the oppressive authority of capitalist religion...
Conard went on to say that she thought the greatest failure of the Christian religion lay in its neglect of the welfare of the masses, a charge easily laid at the feet of Russian Orthodoxy. Key to this failure, she thought, was the association of religion with war, a point highlighted in displays at the Anti-Religion Museum, where seminar participants saw photographs "of priests blessing columns of soldiers starting to the front" as well as other exhibits that linked the church to war. No doubt these displays appealed strongly to the pacifism with which Conard had grown up.

Grinnell's Russia traveler also felt sympathy for the Soviet effort to wipe out class distinctions. More than once Conard told audiences about the "one class" she had found in Russia, and how deeply impressed she was with official efforts to measure everything, and thereby bring science to bear upon social and economic development (perhaps a reflection of her own growing commitment to sociological methods as illustrated in her later study of the effects of the Depression on family life). At the same time, Conard was bluntly critical of Soviet efforts to limit access to information, warning of the power this course invested in government.
These and other themes drawn from her European sojourn continued to resonate with Conard in the early 1930s as she grew closer to becoming a candidate for statewide office in Iowa. She continued to address various groups, like the League of Women Voters, before whom at a 1931 luncheon in Iowa City Conard talked about "women in industry." Presumably in this period she gave increasing thought to how she might contribute more to Depression-era America, because at the July, 1932 convention of the Iowa Socialist party, Conard was named candidate for Governor, her photograph appearing atop a cluster of photographs of the party's nominees.
Des Moines Register July 25, 1932, p. 2
The Des Moines Register reported on the conference, outlining the party program  and barely commending the nominee:
The Socialist party of Iowa has nominated for governor a woman of character and intelligence, teacher of sociology at Grinnell College, Mrs. Laetitia M. Conard. It has adopted a platform that includes a few shots at the capitalistic system, naturally, but that is largely made up of such planks as one demanding a graduated income and inheritance tax, another insisting that the tariff be made effective on agricultural products, another declaring for the shorter work week, another recommending an international economics conference for tariff reduction, and so on...
The newspaper went on to cast doubt on the party's prospects and its proposed solutions to America's problems:
The Socialist party organization in Iowa is very skimpy indeed...[and] we are a long way from the view that national ownership and management of industries, involving necessarily control by government bureaus and a great subordinating of the individual to the dictation of the government, is the cure for our economic troubles, as serious as those are.
Other responses to Conard's nomination were even less supportive. A month after the Socialist Party convention the Algona Upper Des Moines newspaper openly wondered whether "the candidacy of Mrs. L. M. Conard, wife of a professor in Grinnell College, for governor on the socialist ticket in Iowa will be a profitable ad for that college." Conard herself, however, was undaunted, and embarked upon a series of speeches intended to spread the word about socialist solutions to the country's problems.
Daily Iowan September 18, 1932
The Daily Iowan reported on her September, 1932 talk at the Johnson County Courthouse, where Conard emphasized that "Socialism places human welfare above property rights. The old parties," she continued, "claim that the nation belongs to financiers, but we say it belongs to the workers with brain and muscle, and those who are looking for work...," an echo, perhaps, of her visit to the USSR two years earlier. Moreover, as she often did, Conard asserted that there was little difference between Republicans and Democrats, since both parties were beholden to and supporters of capital, and their policies, even in the best of times, left "countless numbers of unsupported old people, needy families, and unemployed." Socialism, by contrast, Conard argued, was a "philosophy of brotherhood..., the only political theory that expresses the principles of the Christian faith."
Cedar Rapids Gazette October 10, 1932, p. 16
The Cedar Rapids Gazette reported in its October 10th issue on Conard's talk before the Grinnell College Liberal Club, pointing out that Conard took issue with the claim that the United States depended upon a two-party system. "Political parties," Mrs. Conard said, "are formed because of some vital issue, and neither the republicans nor democrats are taking opposite sides on any such issue. If we had a true two-party system," she continued, "it would be socialism against capitalism." This comment must have rankled many in conservative Grinnell, but Conard did not shrink from confronting established powers, also condemning what she called "narrow-minded churches and colleges which condemned a person for being a socialist."

Throughout the autumn Conard carried the message to audiences around the state. The Grinnell newspaper did not often report on these appearances, but a Grinnell Herald article in late October printed responses to a series of questions put to all the gubernatorial candidates by the editor. Conard's replies—usually more detailed and coherent than her fellow candidates'—were printed in full, and allowed her to develop some of the themes of the Socialist campaign.

For example, when asked about repeal of the 18th Amendment (that had instituted prohibition), Conard declined to endorse repeal, but went on cleverly to urge the repeal of unemployment. "By taking over the industries or by compelling those who run industry to cooperate in taking care of all employable people hunting jobs, the temptation to bootlegging will be much decreased," she argued. Conard went on to favor a state income tax, oppose a state sales tax, favor compulsory unemployment insurance in Iowa, and retain a minimum wage for teachers. She advocated state assistance to local relief funds, opposed mandatory military training in the state's high schools and universities, and encouraged local government to maintain ownership over utilities.
Lucas Country Results of 1932 Election (Chariton Herald-Patriot November 11, 1932)
Although many ideas that Conard espoused ultimately found their way into the political mainstream, she and her party suffered defeat in 1932. In Iowa as in much of the rest of the nation, Democrats prevailed. Even if Norman Thomas's vote total improved upon the 1928 election results, Roosevelt's triumph was nearly universal. Conard, one of several minor-party candidates, came in well behind the Democratic victor, Clyde Herring, and even trailed J. W. Long, independent candidate who came in third. Perhaps because of her poor showing, the Grinnell Herald did not bother to include Conard when reporting election results in Poweshiek County.
Grinnell Herald November 11, 1932
What Conard thought of her 1932 defeat we cannot know, but her subsequent activity indicates that she was not much slowed by the election disappointment. Already in January, 1933 the Scarlet and Black had Conard  decrying capitalism, which, she contended, "is only concerned with profits, while socialism strives toward service and the good welfare of the people." An interview published in the same paper two weeks later allowed Conard to explain the origins of her convictions. "Welfare work, the World War, and women's suffrage were the three things which continually drew my interest toward socialism and the socialist party," Conard asserted. "Mrs. Conard's attention was attracted to the socialist party," the newspaper continued, "because they so strongly advocated the necessity of an equal chance for each individual. Her interest was heightened during the World War, for the socialist party was the only organized political group that definitely opposed war...." As to suffrage, "Many other women came into socialist work at this time for it [the Socialist Party] was the one party that gave the most concentrated support to women's suffrage" (Scarlet and Black, January 18, 1933).

Late in February Conard spoke before the college's Sunday Evening Club, referencing her 1930 trip to Moscow. Russian youth, she contended, saw Americans as purposeless because of their "exaggerated regard for material values and the blind religious concepts of American young people...." In March she was discounting American newspapers, which "have not accepted the responsibilities of presenting political news so that the voter can determine what he is doing." Instead of newspapers Conard endorsed voters' leagues and open forums in all parts of the country which, in her opinion, better instructed the citizen in the affairs of his country.
In subsequent years, Conard continued her political activity alongside her on-going teaching duties at the college. Her views, so far as one can find them repeated in the press, did not change. A Des Moines Register article in early February, 1934, for instance, reported that Mrs. Conard had addressed a college class in church, asserting that capitalism is "out of place with the original teachings of Jesus." The next month she was in Estherville, addressing the annual convention of the Iowa League of Women Voters on "women in industry." Back on campus, Conard was telling initiates of Phi Beta Kappa that prerequisites of a scholarly attitude were "an inquisitive mind, insistence upon verification of information, and modesty," characteristics that would also no doubt serve public officials well.
Des Moines Register August 12, 1934, p. 19
The year 1934 saw Conard back on the Socialist ticket, this time as nominee for Iowa's Fifth Congressional District (which then included Grinnell and Poweshiek County). Records prove surprisingly quiet on Conard's part in this election; indeed, the Des Moines newspaper neglected even to mention her nomination when reporting on the Socialist convention, as a letter to the editor of the Des Moines Register shows. Was Conard as energetic and articulate in the more restricted geography of the Fifth Congressional District as she had been when a candidate for governor? It's hard to say, as newspapers seem to have overlooked her campaign entirely, which may explain why the letter to the Des Moines Register, although signed by "Mrs. C. E. Dexter, secretary Grinnell Socialist local," emanated from the Conard home at 1310 Elm Street, Grinnell. Conard lost this race, too, as Lloyd Thurston, a Republican who had previously represented Iowa's Eighth district, claimed the victory.
Des Moines Register August 10, 1936, p. 3
Then, in the summer of 1936, Conard emerged from the Socialist Party convention once again as a candidate, this time for a full six-year term in the U.S. Senate. The Des Moines Register reported on the convention, summarizing the main planks of the party platform: abolish military training at all Iowa educational institutions; empower citizenry by introducing the initiative, referendum and recall petitions; reduce taxes on land and homes occupied by owners; repeal the general sales tax and increase taxes on income, inheritance, gifts and luxuries; and exempt from taxes all homes and farms victimized by natural calamities.

As she had years earlier, Conard repeated her view that the dominant political parties represented little choice. "From the point of view of a socialist," she told an October, 1936 meeting of the Iowa League of Women Voters, "republican and democratic parties are as much alike as two peas in a pod...a capitalist pod." Conard declared that, were voters to elect them, socialists would solve the three great problems bequeathed to society by capitalism: inadequate food, clothing and housing for the masses; industrial autocracy; and the prevalence of war and militarism.

Iowa voters, however, were no more moved by these claims in 1936 than they had been four years earlier, and Conard lost badly to Clyde Herring, the Democrat who had beaten her for the governor's chair in 1932. No record of Conard's reaction to this loss survives, but she cannot have been too surprised by the outcome as she had expended a miserly sum in the campaign. The Des Moines Register, publishing expenditures declared by all the candidates, as required by law, noted that Conard had spent for her Senatorial campaign a total of $5.23, which is little enough, but her Socialist partner, James P. Russell, candidate for governor, reported no expenses whatsoever!
Des Moines Register November 13, 1936, p. 7
Despite—or perhaps even because of—her electoral losses, Conard continued to speak out, depending less upon her commitment to a political career than to policies she thought moral and just. And because she was now a veteran of several state-wide races, Conard remained an attractive candidate to the Socialist Party. Consequently, when Socialists gathered again in 1940 to name a ticket, Conard emerged as the party candidate for Lieutenant-Governor. But in this election, eight years into the Roosevelt administration, Socialists were no more successful than they had been in earlier efforts.

In any event, soon thereafter war once more pervaded American politics, openly challenging Conard's long commitment to pacifism and her opposition to war. A few weeks after the 1940 election Conard published a letter in the Des Moines Register, defending eight students of Union Theological Seminary who had been imprisoned for refusing to register for the draft. Borrowing her argument from another's defense of the students, Conard lauded the students' bravery and the fact that they responded to their consciences in defying the law. "I would add," Conard continued, "my belief that a valuable and not inconsiderable part of the early settlers of this country were made of such stuff as these men. Some of us are glad to be descended from them."

But as war took ever more control of America, Conard's voice grew harder to hear. Perhaps she tired of trying to attract the attention of a disinterested citizenry. Or perhaps she realized that for now only small, personal deeds might make a difference in a country consumed by war. As I have posted elsewhere, in 1942 she and her husband welcomed to Grinnell a handful of American Japanese students who thereby were spared the internment camps so unjustly visited upon American Japanese. Two of those students found their first home in Grinnell with the Conards on Elm Street.

Otherwise, Conard continued her scholarship, telling the Scarlet and Black at the time of her retirement that she hoped to complete her study of the "Kingdom movement," a subject that returned her to some of her early research on religion. All the same, Conard must have seethed at the ways in which wartime America prospered. Little was heard from her in these last years, and apparently her health gradually deteriorated. Her obituary, announcing her November, 1946 death, noted that Conard had spent the last twenty-three months of her life in hospital before meeting the end of a "blameless life, full of good works." The obituary mentions her candidacy for governor in 1932, but no other attempts at elective office. Instead, it mentions her advocacy of various local groups—Uncle Sam's Club; Goodfellows; First Friends Church; PTA; and League of Women Voters. In addition, the obituary observes, "she was deeply interested in every movement for pacifism and against war, and to the fullest extent of her ability contributed to some fifty organizations for human betterment," thereby bringing "her own distinct contribution to the community which was her home for so many years."
Conard's gravestone, Westfield Cemetery

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

When Grinnell College Built a Foundry...

The 2014 announcement that Donaldson Company was closing its Grinnell plant provoked much unhappiness, and of course led to lost jobs. It also meant that, as the company moved to clear title so that it could sell the property, the Grinnell City Council had to pass several measures to clear up complications governing ownership. Reading the text of council resolutions, I had trouble figuring out exactly what had happened: why did city right-of-ways run through the factory property? And how had the city come to own any part of the big tract south of town? I had always assumed that Donaldson had built the factory and had owned the land from day one. It turns out, however, that the story is more complicated than that, and it began with a most unlikely scenario: it was Grinnell College that built the factory—and not for Donaldson. With financial support from townsfolk, the College purchased the land and built a foundry to lease to Marshalltown's Lennox Furnace Company, thereby making the College an industrial landlord. Only after Lennox gave up its lease in 1951 did Donaldson enter the narrative. The rest, as they say, is history!
Grinnell Herald-Register, August 27, 1945, p. 1
As background to this story, it bears remembering that World War II had deeply impacted the college. Recruitment for the armed forces had seriously diminished student enrollment, obliging the administration of President Samuel Stevens (1900-1966) to seek placement of an Officers Candidate School and an Army Specialized Training Program on campus, bringing lots of young men and government money with them. Moreover, in an era when the country was collecting tin cans to recycle for the war effort, philanthropic giving to the college had plummeted. As the war finally concluded in 1945, therefore, the college looked not only to restore enrollment to pre-war levels, but also to discover means to improve the institution's overall revenue stream. College treasurer Louis V. Phelps (1885-1969), along with President Stevens, played major roles in this effort.
Grinnell College President (1940-1954) Samuel Stevens (1947 Cyclone)
Sometime in the summer of 1945 Lennox Furnace Company approached the college with an idea that had first hatched in the brain of D. W. Norris (1876-1949), owner of the Marshalltown Times-Republican and Lennox Furnace Company (today's Lennox International). In a hand-written letter that survives in the archives, Norris proposed that Lennox donate money to the college; that the college solicit contributions from Grinnell townsfolk; and that the college erect in Grinnell a foundry that it would lease to Lennox on favorable terms. The proposal was unusual. Although over the years the college had owned various commercial and agricultural properties, largely a function of donations and bequests, building and owning a factory was something new. How did this idea get traction?
D. W. Norris (1876-1949)
(photo from undated brochure, Lennox: A History)
As Norris explained in a letter of August 11, 1945 to Phelps, the college should expect cooperation from Grinnell townsfolk who would be glad to see new jobs added to the city's work force because of the proposed foundry. Indeed, Norris pointed out, Lennox had successfully followed this plan elsewhere. "When we built a foundry in Washington Court House, Ohio," Norris wrote, "the citizens raised $20,000, which was to have been paid over to us at the rate of 4% of our annual pay roll [sic]. I think that Grinnell citizens would have done that much to get a pay roll [sic] because a small town of 1800 people at Galeton, Pa. has raised $15,000 to be turned over to us on the same terms as at Washington Court House, Ohio." With a population almost three times the size of the Pennsylvania hamlet's, Grinnell could be expected to raise at least that much, he figured. In Grinnell, however, rather than have Lennox collect the return, the company was willing to have "Grinnell [College] get the bonus from citizens...and I am hoping that the promise of a foundry pay roll [sic] in Grinnell [would assist] the college to add to its endowment funds."
Louis V. Phelps (1885-1969) (1947 Cyclone)
From this point, events moved quickly. In late August the Grinnell Herald-Register published a drawing of the proposed foundry (see above), and announced that the college trustees had approved the plan. A building of some 24,000 square feet (later increased to 36,000 square feet) was imagined, "up to the minute in all details of its construction." More to the point, the new industry was "expected to give employment to upward of 100 men." Grinnell's city fathers were sufficiently encouraged to donate some $30,000 to the effort, thereby justifying Norris's confidence in what the town could afford. An article in early September's Herald-Register confirmed previous speculation about the land chosen for the project—the old county fairgrounds south of the city and adjacent to the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad track. By month's end, the sale of 32 acres—about eight of which were allotted to the new foundry—was complete. Almost immediately the college announced that building design was done, and that the Weitz Company of Des Moines—Rudolph W. Weitz (1901-1974) had joined the college board of trustees in 1944—would erect the factory, commencing construction immediately.
plat of property acquired by Grinnell College for Lennox Foundry
Courtesy of Grinnell College Special Collections, RG-DEV, Ser. 5.1, box 6
An interesting sidelight to the plan was the attention that Norris and his officials gave to the layout of the property. Having the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad build a spur to connect to the factory was a perhaps obvious corollary of the plan, the better to assist installation of foundry equipment and shipping of foundry output. For the same reason, the building itself was to be set back from East Street, situated close to the railroad. But what to do with the rest of the property?

Norris and his secretary, Edward C. Booth, had plenty of suggestions, all written into a draft plat, a copy of which survives. The drawing imagined dividing the property into sixteen lots, the largest of which, lot 15—7.87 acres—was reserved for the foundry. Three other roughly equal lots—one north, one south, and one northeast of the foundry—together consumed 7.6 acres. Most surprising was the proposal of dividing the property to the east—between the foundry and East Street—into ten residential building lots, each measuring 100' x 160'. An 80-foot right-of-way for a proposed east-west street was also written into the plan, this street intersecting with another right-of-way for a 60-foot-wide proposed north-south street. Anticipating how to make the proposed residential zone suitably attractive, Booth, in behalf of the Lennox company, proposed a series of restricted covenants.
Proposed set of Restrictive Covenants Governing Property on Which Lennox Foundry Was Erected (1946)
Courtesy of Grinnell College Special Collections,  RG-DEV, Ser. 5.1, box 6
Most provoke no surprise: one provision excluded "trailer, basement, tent, shack, garage, barn or other out-building" on the lots; another stipulated that "no dwelling costing less than $5,000" shall be allowed; a third required that each lot could contain only "one detached single family dwelling not to exceed two stories in height and a one or two car garage." Lennox even demanded that houses built on the corner lots of the north row of the subdivision face south, and those built on the corner lots of the south row face north.

College officials offered no amendments to these plans, but another covenant did draw attention. Paragraph D specified that "All lots in the Tract are intended to be used solely by the Caucasian race and no race or nationality other than those for whom the premises are intended shall use or occupy any building on any lot," excepting only "domestic servants of a different race or nationality employed by an owner or tenant." Sadly, covenants establishing racial exclusion were not unique to this time and place; today's news stories keep discovering more places where builders' covenants clearly aimed to guarantee white-only residents. To their credit, college officials declined to endorse this provision, a fact that Booth confirmed in a July 8, 1949 letter to Joe Rosenfield, the college trustee most directly involved in the project. Whether all the other covenants were filed is unclear; certainly no homes were ever built on the land east of the factory. Already in 1949, Booth could affirm that the "Foundry property is a beautiful place and a credit to both the College and the town."
Construction of the factory began hard on the heels of purchasing the property. The October 5, 1945 issue of the Scarlet and Black reported that ground had been broken the previous Monday. Two weeks later the campus newspaper confirmed that the College, as part of its deal with the Weitz Company, had provided the construction supervisor—Martin Erickson—with the "housemother's suite" in Gates Hall where he could reside and stay close to the project he was overseeing.

The following spring marked completion of the building, and Lennox began to move in its own equipment. As town boosters had hoped, the foundry did generate new jobs, and, as Lennox had hoped, its rent was tax deductible. The foundry began to pour iron in September, and was at full production before the year was out.
Des Moines Register, September 1, 1946.
The college remained owner of the land, and leased the building to Lennox. When the first lease expired in 1951, however, Lennox announced its intention of taking up the option to purchase the foundry and the land on which it stood at the price specified in the lease—$60,000. The lease required Lennox to exercise its option by July 31, but, when matters were delayed, Lennox requested—and received—an extension. Then, at the November 3, 1951 meeting of the College trustees, Joe Rosenfield announced that Lennox had sold the lease to the Donaldson Company of St. Paul, and that Donaldson would exercise the lease's purchase option. Accordingly, the trustees voted to authorize the sale.
Grinnell Herald-Register, November 26, 1951, p. 1
A November 26, 1951 article in the Herald-Register reported the news to the community—that the college would sell the property to Donaldson, who manufactured mufflers and air cleaners for trucks and farm equipment. The foundry would have to be re-fitted, but company officials were optimistic that by March, 1952 the plant would be operational, and employ 75-100 persons, no doubt provoking huge sighs of relief from Grinnell businesses. Lennox officials expressed gratitude to Grinnell and the College, and soon John Norris, son of D. W. Norris (who had died in 1949) and successor to his leadership of Lennox Industries (as the firm was renamed in the 1950s), took a seat on the Grinnell Board of Trustees, a tacit acknowledgment of the mutual gain that had resulted from this unusual deal.
Scarlet & Black, September 26, 1952
Meanwhile, the complex of lots platted at the time the College acquired the property gradually followed their own histories. Already in 1946 College trustees had approved the sale of Lots 1, 2, and 16 to W. J. Beeler, and in 1950 the College donated the southernmost section of the property to the Poweshiek County 4-H Fair, officials confirming appreciation in a letter to the College.

Ownership of the rest of the property found resolution in a series of decisions that began with Donaldson's acquisition of the Lennox Company lease. In a letter of November 21, 1951 from Richard Donaldson, Vice President for Engineering and Sales, Donaldson indicated that the company was exercising the option of purchase, and proceeded to include the legal description of what the plat identified as Lot 15. The College trustees, for their part, prepared a resolution, an undated copy of which survives, confirming the transfer: "The Trustees of Iowa College hereby sell and convey Lot 15 of the Richard H. Donaldson for the sum of Sixty Thousand and No/100 Dollars...."
Letter of Richard H. Donaldson to Iowa College Trustees,  November 21, 1951
Grinnell College Special Collections, RG-DEV, Ser. 5.1, Wills and Trusts, Box 7, "Foundry, 1944-51"
Since the whole Board of Trustees had approved the sale in a meeting earlier that month, events moved quickly, and Donaldson soon took possession of the former foundry and the lot on which it stood.

There remained in college hands, however, that part of the original plat intended for residential building—Lots 3-12 and the rights-of-way for the roads imagined to cut through this part of the property. For a few years nothing changed, but in 1958 trustees received word that the City of Grinnell would like to take ownership, intending to use the land for recreational purposes. Noting that the land now had an insignificant book value, trustees decided to donate it to the city. In a deed drafted in October (and again in November), 1958 the College deeded over to the City of Grinnell Lots 3-12, making specific reference to the 80-foot roadway that ran east-west from East Street. For reasons that remain unclear, the city did not formally act on the transfer until March, 1960, when the Grinnell City Council passed a resolution accepting the property. The College specified that the donation required the City to use the land for recreational purposes, although, despite the fact that the City resolution recognized this condition, no recreational use of this property was ever developed. Finally, as Donaldson's requirements expanded, the city transferred ownership of this last section of property to Donaldson, but neglected to vacate all the rights-of-way built into the original plan.
Resolution of Grinnell City Council, March 7, 1960 (2nd page, not reproduced here, provides signature and date)
Grinnell College Special Collections, RG-DEV, Ser. 5.1, box 6
When Donaldson opened its new plant in Grinnell in 1952, it was able to hire fewer than 75 men. Over the years, however, as the company's products prospered and the factory expanded, coming to encompass more than 200,000 square feet, employment soared, reaching a maximum of more than 200 employees in the first years of the twenty-first century.
Donaldson Factory in 1964 Before First Major Addition (Grinnell Herald-Register April 30, 1964, p. 1)
In the last decade of the company's existence in Grinnell, however, jobs at the plant gradually withered. Occasionally city officials visited Donaldson headquarters in St. Paul, seeking confirmation that all was well, that the company would continue to provide for Grinnell workers. But many of the economic forces working against Donaldson were beyond the reach of city officials, as new developments in air quality and automotive machinery bypassed Donaldson's main products. The 2014 announcement about closing the Grinnell factory, therefore, was not a surprise. And soon the St. Paul company was looking for a buyer for its soon-to-be abandoned plant in Grinnell. When a buyer was found—Langhals Enterprises LLC, Delphos, Ohio—attorneys discovered that the city had never fully cleared the rights-of-way from the original plat, and it was this difficulty that obliged the Grinnell City Council to make these amendments in its December 19, 2016 meeting.
Grinnell Herald-Register April 29, 2002 (special supplement)
Donaldson had prospered in Grinnell for more than half a century, and along the way had provided many more jobs than had Lennox in its brief, five-year history at the original foundry. Grinnell College, too, prospered. In a March, 1951 memo, college officials totaled the expenses for building the foundry and counted them off against total returns—gifts, rental income, and final sale price. When all the expenses were taken into account, the college calculated total cash receipts of just over $49,000; if the contributions of Grinnell businessmen were subtracted, the gain seemed much smaller—just over $19,000, which seemed modest in comparison to all the effort and expense involved.

But the worst days were behind the College; the war was now history, enrollment had recovered, and soon a new president would bring to campus a new vision and inspiration. The city of Grinnell was also looking forward. Among those contributing to a new economic vigor was Donaldson Company, whose Grinnell factory promised still greater job opportunities in future. All this success was the result of the surprising 1945 collaboration between Grinnell College, Lennox Furnace Company, and Grinnell businessmen that brought a college-owned foundry to Grinnell.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Japanese Americans Come to War-Time Grinnell...

Executive Orders are much in the news these days. The new administration in Washington has made surprisingly ample use of them, among other things barring immigrants from seven Muslim states. Executive orders do not enjoy an altogether illustrious past. Indeed, one of the most famous—Executive Order 9066—unfairly and arbitrarily ordered the internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans, among whom were many American-born citizens. Hastily uprooted from their homes and businesses in the western states, Japanese immigrants and their descendants were sent to ten "War Relocation Camps." Grinnell was not one of those destinations, and in the 1940s had no resident Japanese or Japanese Americans. But, through the efforts of a Grinnell College alumnus and his uncle, Professor of Botany and Dean of the faculty, Henry Conard, four young nisei (second generation, America-born Japanese) arrived in Grinnell in May, 1942 to study at the college and make Grinnell their temporary home. Over the next few years another ten or so Japanese Americans came to Grinnell on the same program, thereby continuing their educations and escaping the grim internment to which so many others were condemned. The stories of Grinnell's nisei shine especially brightly now as Americans wrestle anew with a president's executive order that stereotypes racial and religious difference.
Scarlet & Black May 5, 1943, p. 1
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, pulled the United States into World War II, and sped up the militarization of the American economy. With the threat of yet another Japanese attack, this time perhaps directed at California or Washington, Japanese and Japanese Americans resident in the western states found themselves under suspicion. If Japan did attack mainland USA, people wondered, how would Japanese immigrants and their American-born descendants respond?

Although the likelihood of Japan launching another attack on the United States after Pearl Harbor was tiny, the Federal government—unable to do much military damage to Japan immediately after the immense losses at Pearl Harbor—gave the appearance of defending the country by ordering the forced resettlement of some 120,000 Japanese Americans resident in the West. On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt authorized the military to organize the abrupt collection of these people, most of whom were ultimately sent to one of ten internment camps. One of those camps (in Rohwer, Arkansas) took in the family of Grinnell's Dan Ogata, long-time pastor of Grinnell's First Presbyterian Church. Like many others in Grinnell, I first learned from Dan about the harsh conditions in the camps, whose closing was officially announced in December, 1944 (although the last camp did not close until 1946). After years of disgrace and the unfair expropriation of many of their possessions, victims of internment who were still alive in 1988 received an apology and some financial compensation from the Federal government.
Joseph Conard '35 (1911-1965) (1935 Cyclone)
A story less well-known concerns the young people among the affected communities who ended up escaping internment by enrolling at colleges and universities outside the zones outlined by the military. Thanks to the intervention of the American Friends Service Committee and one of its local officials in California, Joseph Conard (Grinnell College Class of '35), several Americans of Japanese descent—all born in the United States and therefore all American citizens—ended up at Grinnell College, where Conard's uncle, Professor Henry Conard, was able to engineer their admittance.
Barbara Takahashi (1926-1985) (1942 Roosevelt High School [Los Angeles] Yearbook)
In a letter of May 2, 1942 to his Uncle Henry, Joseph Conard reported that two young people had already secured government permits to travel to Grinnell: Barbara Takahashi and William Kiyasu. Young Conard waxed enthusiastic about Grinnell's generosity: "We cannot tell you how much we appreciate what you and Grinnell have done to help these students. We have had many good offers from [colleges in] the Middle West, but none equaling Grinnell's, with board, room and tuition for two students." As he pointed out, Grinnell's aid was crucial, because "the family of these people will not be in a position to earn additional money." Conard used the letter to advocate in behalf of a third student, Akiko Hosoi, and urged speed upon Grinnell so as to steal the march on evacuation of her family.
William Kiyasu (1923-2010) (1940 Lowell High School [San Francisco] Yearbook)
The College did respond promptly, with the result that Takahashi, Kiyasu, and Hosoi stepped off the Rocky Mountain Rocket at the Grinnell depot at 3:55 AM May 8. The college newspaper reported their arrival, and provided brief biographies of the newcomers: Takahashi had been a senior at Roosevelt High School in Los Angeles where she "led her class of 531"; Kiyasu was a sophomore at University of California, Berkeley where he was an honor student; Hosoi was also a student at Roosevelt High in Los Angeles, where she was ranked fifth in her class. The newspaper added that a fourth student, Hisaji Sakai, a high school senior in San Francisco, was due soon.
Akiko Hosoi (1923-1988) (1942 Roosevelt High School [Los Angeles] Yearbook)
How might Grinnell receive these young people? Joseph Conard had warned his uncle that Kiyasu, at least, had heard "frightening rumors of racial prejudice in the Midwest," and therefore he and the young arrivals might "show undue nervousness because of the great uncertainties they face." To their credit, Grinnell students seem to have welcomed the newcomers. Indeed, when in 1943 Iowa State Senator C.V. Findlay proposed a resolution–the so-called Findlay Memorial–that would have barred "the privileges of higher education to a group of young people, citizens by virtue of their birth in this country, whose loyalty and patriotism are rendered doubtful because of their racial extraction...," the college newspaper responded vigorously. An elegant editorial ("The Foe Within," Scarlet and Black, March 19, 1943, p. 2) used the presence on campus of the Japanese Americans to reject Findlay's proposal.
Beginning of editorial, Scarlet & Black, March 19, 1943, p. 2
"You see, Mr. Findlay," the editorial says, "we happen to know whereof you speak. We've been living for a year with what you call 'a serious problem.' We have Japanese-American students on Grinnell campus.... To us they have been, are, and shall continue to be, kids we go to school with." They have been, the writer continued, "an integral, valuable, enjoyable part of our student body...They live in our dorms, and we like them. They are part of our social life, and we don't want to lose them."

Turning the whole project against Findlay, the editorial observed that "In Grinnell we have not been smitten by any differences. We've forgotten about them. They [the Japanese American students] have not made us conscious of race...[It is you who] have brought race consciousness into the field of necessary attention. We have been reminded. We don't like it. We think such reminding renders you a man who endangers this nation, this people, this ideal we are seeking, and which we call America."

The same issue of the college newspaper reported on resolutions approved by both students and faculty. "We believe," the student resolution began, "that Japanese-Americans of good reputation should have the same privileges afforded other American youth. Any attempt to return Japanese-American students to relocation centers constitutes a threat to the democratic principles for which we are fighting." As the newspaper editorial had, the resolution also leaned on the college's experience with the Japanese American students who "have contributed equally to the welfare of our college life." The faculty resolution took a similar line: "We protest against the assumption that citizens are disloyal because of their 'racial extraction' as contrary to the fundamental principles of our nation in which people of all races constitute the citizenship."

Evidently, therefore, Takahashi, Kiyasu, and Hosoi found a generally welcoming atmosphere on campus. Indeed, Hisaji Sakai later remembered that, when he arrived at the Grinnell train depot May 10, 1942 at 3 AM, the entire freshman class was there to welcome him!
Hisaji Sakai (1925- ) (1942 Lowell High School [San Francisco] Yearbook)
Some years later, responding to inquiries from Grinnell student George Carroll (who completed an ACM summer research project on Grinnell's nisei students), Sakai remembered that Iowa was "refreshingly free of the virulent anti-Japanese sentiment that pervade[d] California.'" At the same time, midwestern unfamiliarity with Japanese could prove awkward. At a meeting with College President Stevens soon after arriving in Grinnell, Sakai learned that, because Stevens could not pronounce his first name, Stevens gave Sakai a new, easier-to-pronounce name: "Al." Consequently, for the rest of his time at Grinnell, Sakai was known as Al. Since both Takahashi and Kiyasu already had westernized given names, Stevens's christening might not seem so strange. And it bears emphasizing that several other nisei at the college—for example, Akiko Hosoi and Taduko Inadomi '47—regularly used and were known by their Japanese given names.

But if the college campus was generally welcoming and shunned racial prejudice, what about townsfolk? With increasing numbers of their young men and women in uniform, with the news regularly filled with reports of battles, of the dead and wounded, and with little experience with ethnic or racial difference, how did ordinary men and women in town treat the Japanese Americans they saw on the streets or on campus?

In a 2001 telephone interview with George Carroll, Kiyasu recalled that the town was far less welcoming. In his recollection, farmers held "a more menacing view of the Japanese," and, since the farmers were often in Grinnell on the weekends, Kiyasu and others learned to stay out of town then. Another respondent to Carroll's inquiries—Alden Matthews who lived in Gates Hall with Kiyasu—recalled that Kiyasu had once been refused a haircut from a barber in town. Takahashi told Guy Montag in the 1980s that she'd had "some rocks thrown at her," although whether she was being literal or metaphoric is unclear; elsewhere she reported having little experience with prejudice.

Overall the nisei recollections collected by Carroll and earlier by Montag contain little evidence of townsfolk hostility. And Grinnell's newspaper provides no reason to dispute these remembrances. When the first group of nisei arrived in town, the Herald-Register reprinted the college newspaper article, complete with basic biographical information of the first arrivals. So far as news reports can confirm, no one registered any objection to the arrival of these young people.

Nevertheless, readers of the newspaper might have registered surprise, given the general tone of reportage in these years.
Grinnell Herald-Register, May 7, 1942, p. 1
For example, the same issue that announced the arrival of Takahashi, Kiyasu, and Hosoi also contained a photographic reproduction of a letter "To the People of Iowa" from Iowa Governor George Wilson (who himself had once attended Grinnell). Taking note of Mother's Day, Wilson wrote that "The Iowa mothers are giving the treasured gems of their households for a service to humanity...The sending of their sons to meet the challenge to our life and our homes imposes a debt we can never repay...." Wilson urged Iowans to "Remember Mother's Day, and especially remember the service mothers, and comfort them as they follow their sons into the far lands that we and our children may know the blessings of liberty always." Of course, several of those "far lands" to which Grinnell youth were sent were defended by Japanese.
Grinnell Herald-Register, May 21, 1942, p. 1
Week in and week out, the town's newspaper fairly burst with war-related news, inevitably keeping the war foremost in readers' minds. In addition to periodic calls for recycling tin cans or for collecting paper for the war effort, and the invitations to subscribe to war bonds, the Grinnell paper also reported—in bold headlines—special events, like "War Activity Day," scheduled for June 10, 1942. A regular column of the newspaper was titled "With the Boys in Service," a place to report on letters received from soldiers, on wartime promotions or movements to new bases, and on injuries sustained or fatalities recorded. Even New Years wishes received a wartime dressing. In the final issue of 1942, published right before a new group of nisei students arrived in Grinnell, the Herald-Register greeted the New Year with the traditional image of a child—but this time wearing an army cap and saluting the "boys in service."
Grinnell Herald-Register, December 28-31, 1942
In these circumstances, townsfolk might easily have allowed the frenzy and anxiety of war news to overcome their better natures, and encourage them to vent their frustrations upon the American Japanese who were studying at the college. And apparently they sometimes did. Grant Gale, who taught physics at the College in these years and who had a nisei live with his family for a time, told interviewers in the 1990s that "There was an element in town that felt that...'the Japs' didn't belong" in Grinnell.  Gale recalled a neighbor who used to give their nisei student a hard time. But then still another neighbor rebuked the man: "'You lay off that Japanese kid...He's a citizen of this country,'" the neighbor said. So townsfolk had to wrestle with and reconcile their emotions and their consciences.

No doubt Takahashi, Kiyasu, Hosoi and the others for the most part kept to the campus, and therefore gave townsfolk little chance to express any hostilities they might have nursed. And the campus by all accounts proved to be vigorously welcoming. Carroll, however, in concluding his research paper on Grinnell's nisei, asserted that the American Japanese students "were treated differently, and perhaps defended virulently, due in large part to their race." The College community, he continued, "did not react to their racialized treatment by treating them without regard to their race."
Taduko Inadomi (1947 Cyclone)
Given the war-time environment, it seems unrealistic to imagine that Grinnell could somehow have ignored race, if that's what Carroll meant. As the 1943 Scarlet and Black editorial observed, the actions of government—not least the War Relocation Project—brought race to the foreground. But Grinnell managed to look beyond that discourse, and worked hard to provide a peaceful environment in which these talented nisei could prosper. This is how Grinnell's Japanese American visitors themselves remember their time here, as Taduko Inadomi ('47) wrote so movingly to George Carroll:
I shall always remember with gratitude Grinnell, its administration, faculty, and students for the help and encouragement they gave me. Grinnell nurtured me, not only academically, but socially and spiritually, at a very difficult time in my life. It had the vision and foresight to see beyond the hysteria and fears of the moment to help its students prepare for the post-war world.
As Americans confront a new round of fear and hysteria, remembering how in the depths of World War II Grinnell warmly welcomed this handful of young Japanese Americans may help encourage us to do likewise. 

As often happens, my inspiration for pursuing this subject came from a friend's suggestion—in this case from Jen Jacobsen, who reminded me of the nisei and their mention in Al Jones's Pioneering. Thanks, Jen!

There is much to say about these students, many of whom compiled outstanding records at the college, but there is not space here for all that detail. I should say, however, that in addition to the handful I mention by name in the post, the College hosted at least another seven or eight Japanese American students. Surviving records are sometimes confusing, so the list is probably not complete. Six of the group graduated from Grinnell (indicated in bold); the others left early, usually for financial reasons.
Janie (Yuni) Kobukata (1948 Cyclone)

Kenneth Kobukata (1949 Cyclone)

John Hatakeda
Akiko Hosoi
Taduko Inadomi '47
William Kiyasu '44
Janie (Yuni) Kobokata '48
Kenneth Kobokata '49
Katsuro Murakami
Hisaji Sakai
Barbara Takahashi '46
Gertrude Takayama
John T. Ushijima
Toshio Uyeda
Coolidge Wakai '49
Coolidge Wakai (1949 Cyclone)

Peter Oshima '47 actually entered Grinnell in 1937, before the war, and returned later to finish his work. Similarly, Barton Nagata '42 also enrolled at Grinnell before the war (1938). Neither was part of the effort to place students caught up in the War Relocation Act.