Mary Jane Mikuriya, class of 1956

Mary Jane Mikuriya, class of 1956

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.

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.      

Part 1

Part 2
Recorded on Apr 24, 2017

Mikuriya's home in San Francisco, California

Interviewed by Mimi Pichey