Speaking 61 years after graduating from Pembroke College, Mary Jane Mikuriya, class of 1956, shares an exceptionally rich account of her experience as an American student and woman of Japanese and Austro-Hungarian descent in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s.
Mikuriya spends the first half hour of her interview describing her parents’ backgrounds and her family life. She discusses her father’s Japanese background, upbringing, and religions, and her mother’s experience as an immigrant from Austria-Hungary, and her activism for women’s and racial equality in the 1920s. Mikuriya goes on to recall the difficulty of living in Pennsylvania during World War II as a child with Japanese and German heritage, specifically noting instances of racism and abuse from classmates and neighbors, and being monitored by the FBI. She remembers attending a Quaker high school congruent with her mother’s religious beliefs, and explains how she found her way to Pembroke.
Mikuriya speaks more briefly of her time at Pembroke but addresses what it was like to be an early woman engineering student and the sexism of that career path that forced her to change her major to mathematics. Additionally, she shares memories of the lack of racial diversity and the racism she experienced on campus. Mikuriya most fondly remembers living in Bates House on Olive Street, particularly because it was a cooperative dorm, and Father Daughter Weekend that created a deeper emotional connection between herself and her father.
Speaking of her life after Pembroke, Mikuriya describes how she ended up as a math teacher and then administrator in the education field, recalling the emergence of Title I, Title IV, Title IX, and FORTRAN, an early computer programming language. She concludes the interview by recounting the various ways she has learned about other cultures, as well as her volunteerism with Servas, an organization that promotes peace and understanding through travel and hosting.
See also: A finding aid for Mikuriya’s papers.
Recorded on April 24, 2017 in Mikuriya’s home in San Francisco, CA
Interviewed by Mimi Pichey
Suggested Chicago style citation: Mikuriya, Mary Jane. Interview. By Mimi Pichey. Pembroke Center Oral History Project, Brown University. April 24, 2017.
Mary Jane Mikuriya was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on October 8, 1934, to parents of Japanese and Austro-Hungarian origin. She graduated from George School in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, in 1952 and moved on to pursue engineering and mathematics at Pembroke College. After graduating from Pembroke in 1956, Mikuriya received her master’s in Educational Administration from San Francisco State University in 1971, a Life Teaching Credential for grades 8-14 from the state of California, as well as a California Administrative Credential. Mikuriya went on to a long and successful career in educational development, research, and planning for school districts and the federal government. She retired from the San Francisco Unified School District in 1989 and continued to volunteer her time as an educational consultant, assisting in educational grant applications through 2011. She is a proud volunteer host and traveler with Servas.
In 2017, Mikuriya donated personal papers that document her time at Pembroke College. Items include clippings, room assignment correspondence and cards, commencement and Father Daughter Weekend programs, facebooks, scrapbook pages, her diploma, and contemporary reminiscences.