Thursday, February 21, 2013

Come Meet Miss Iwate Tonight at Central Library

“Our dearest Miss Suzuko, we are delighted to send you to America in the far distance as the messenger of peace. We hope you will make good friends with the American people.” These were the words spoken to 1,300 school children of Iwate Prefecture in Japan, commemorating the departure of Miss Suzuko Iwate, one of 58 Friendship Dolls leaving in 1927 as gifts and ambassadors to the people of the United States. These two sentences represented the hopes of many in Japan and the United State as relations between the two countries had deteriorated to the point where the United States passed the Immigration Act of 1924, which prevented any Japanese from entering the country.

In 1927, an American missionary to Japan, Dr. Sidney Lewis Gulick, responded to these events by organizing an effort to collect and send dolls to the children of Japan. Since relations between the two governments were declining, Gulick wanted to show goodwill directly to the people of Japan. His efforts were very successful and resulted in nearly 13,000 American dolls, called “blue-eyed dolls”, being sent to Japan and distributed to schools around the country. The Japanese were overwhelmed. Dolls carry a special place in Japanese culture. They are treasured family heirlooms passed on from mother to daughter through generations, and daughters take them into their new households when they marry.
Birmingham News, July 20, 1928

The people of Japan wanted to reciprocate this generous gesture. Eiichi Shibusawa, a prominent businessman and educator, led the effort to collect money from children throughout Japan to pay for the making of special dolls to be sent to the United States. About 100 master doll makers were commissioned to create 58 dolls of the highest quality to represent the prefectures, cities, and colonies of Japan. No attention to detail was spared in their construction. They even wore socks and underwear, which was not ordinary practice for Japanese dolls, because of their important mission as ambassadors. Each doll was accompanied by a complete Japanese tea set, furniture, shoes, and even a passport.

Birmingham Post Herald, May, 18, 1967
The 58 Friendship Dolls toured the United States before being given to cultural organizations throughout the country. Miss Iwate arrived at the Birmingham Public Library (BPL) in July 1928 to great fanfare. An article in the Birmingham News carried a photo of Miss Iwate and her belongings and quoted library director Lila Mae Chapman declaring that “it is a distinct compliment for the Birmingham Library to have one of the dolls sent here.” Miss Iwate has been on display periodically through the years to the delight of the public.

On February 21st, Miss Iwate will once again be on display at “An Evening with Miss Iwate and Alan Pate,” a program presented by the Birmingham Public Library and the Birmingham Doll Club. Alan Pate, a preeminent authority on traditional Japanese dolls, will speak on “The Long Journey of Friendship: Miss Iwate and the Japanese Goodwill Dolls of 1927.” While in good condition overall, Miss Iwate is in need of some repairs. BPL is raising funds to send her back to Japan to be worked on by master Japanese doll makers, so she may continue her mission of friendship and goodwill.

Click here for more information on Miss Iwate and to make donations towards her conservation.

Click here for more information on "An Evening with Miss Iwate and Alan Pate."

"An Evening with Miss Iwate and Alan Pate"
February 21st at 6:00pm
Arrington Auditorium, Central Library
2100 Park Place, Birmingham, Alabama

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