Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Miss Breed

Clara Estelle Breed, also known as "Miss Breed," was the children's librarian at the San Diego Public Library from 1929 to 1945. Miss Breed was fond of all children, including the many Japanese American children and teenagers who used to frequent the East San Diego branch library where she worked. Before World War II, Miss Breed was a mentor to many Nisei children who visited the library.

As the United states entered the war, these young Nisei were removed from their homes and placed in concentration camps. Shocked and outraged, Miss Breed helped her young friends by becoming a lifeline to the outside world. She handed out stamped and addressed postcards at the railroad station on the day of their departure and encouraged them to write.

Miss Breed sent books, stationery, and gifts to her penpals in the internment camps. She also wrote professional articles questioning the policy of Japanese internment and racist politics. Miss Breed kept up her correspondence with her young readers after the war, and until her death in 1994. In 1992, she gave 300 letters from the camps to one of her correspondents, who donated then to the Japanese American National Museum. You can read the scanned letters online.

Joanne Oppenheim wrote a book entitled Dear Miss Breed.

As the child of a minister who had worked on Ellis Island at the turn of the century, Clara took to heart the struggles of immigrant Americans. Nor did she forget that during the Civil War her ancestors were abolitionists who fought the injustice of slavery. Clara Breed knew that she could not stop the incarceration, but that did not stop her from doing what she could do by speaking out on their behalf and sending them gifts of the heart that showed them they were not forgotten.

(via Metafilter)

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