Biography of Remsen DuBois Bird
Scope and Content of Collection
Title: Japanese American relocation collection
Bulk Dates: 1941-1947 (bulk 1942-1944)
Collection number: scjar
Mary Norton Clapp Library
8 document boxes and 34 oversize boxes
224 online items
Mary Norton Clapp Library
Los Angeles, CA 90041-3314
Abstract: The collection consists of correspondence, magazines, newspaper and journal articles clippings, and publications from the
War Relocation Authority, religious groups, as well as civil liberties organizations. It also has a series of correspondence
to and from Occidental President Remsen Bird's office, and meeting minutes and other publications from the National Japanese
American Student Relocation Council.
Languages represented in the collection:
Collection is open for research.
All requests for permission to publish or quote from holdings must be submitted in writing to the Special Collections Department.
Permission for publication is given on behalf of Special Collections as the owner of the physical items and is not intended
to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained.
Japanese American relocation collection, scjar, Special Collections Department, Occidental College Library, Occidental College.
Since being assembled by College Librarian Elizabeth McCloy and her staff in 1946, the collection has been held, in closed
stacks, at Occidental College Library's Special Collections department. There is no record to indicate that McCloy, who served
from 1928 until 1957, or her successors had sought to acquire additional related materials after 1946. However, since Occidental
College belonged to the Federal Depository Library Program until 2002, a number of related post-World War II publications
by the War Relocation Authority are in the general library holdings.
In 1996, Jean Paule, retired Secretary of the College, returned to Occidental to serve as the College Archivist. Around this
time, Michael Sutherland, Special Collections Librarian since 1970, asked Paule to organize the collection in archival boxes.
Paule re-affixed folder and box labels without renaming the folders or boxes or disturbing the original order.
In 2004, while processing the collection for online access, Digital Archivist Dale Stieber came across a typed manuscript
describing the Library's holdings that appeared to be a submission for an article. The article, Japanese-American Relocation
Collection, was subsequently located in the September 1946 edition of CLA Bulletin (1946: 22), a publication of California
Library Association. In it Elizabeth McCloy describes the collection in terms of its scope and contents in order to share
information with colleagues in other libraries. The organization of the collection, when reviewed in 2004, reflects the arrangement
and scope described by McCloy in 1946.
Biography of Remsen DuBois Bird
(This Biography is adapted primarily from Joan P. Olson's Remsen DuBois Bird: A Biography, a Master of Arts thesis written
in 1977 when Olson was a graduate student at Occidental College's history department.)
At the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Remsen Bird was the president of Occidental College, a position he had
held since 1921. Convinced that he and his colleagues shared a compelling obligation to help displaced Japanese American college
students, Bird and a few other educators were instrumental in laying the groundwork for what would become the National Japanese
American Student Relocation Council. This is all but one of the many projects Bird took on during his long career in academia,
and it conforms to his belief in the importance of an "open mind" throughout his life.
Born on January 3, 1888 in New York City, Remsen Dubois Bird lost his father at an early age and grew up in dire poverty.
Bird recalled in later years how his mother was forced to surrender their furniture to a landlord in order to avoid eviction.
From about the age 12, Bird lived periodically with an aunt and an uncle, who emphasized patriotism, hard work, and religious
faith in their home. When he was 13, he lost his older sister Daisy to consumption; this was followed four years later by
his mother's death. Bird later told friends that as he sat beside his gravely-ill mother, noting her worsening conditions
and her thoughtfulness of him, he resolved to lead a life of service in her memory.
In 1905, Bird left New York for Easton, Pennsylvania, where he entered the Presbyterian-founded Lafayette College and earned
an A.B. degree in 1909. (Lafayette College endowed him an honorary degree in 1919.) From 1909 to 1912, Bird matriculated at
the Princeton Theological Seminary, earning a B.D. degree in church history. Perhaps because of the difficult and humble beginnings,
Bird relished every opportunity to learn and to broaden his horizons, extending his studies in church history by another year
at the University of Berlin. Rumors and talks of the impending world conflicts did not dim Bird's enthusiasm for Berlin and
its vigorous intellectual as well as cultural life. At the end of the year abroad, Bird returned to Princeton Theological
Seminary to teach church history.
That Bird believed in an open and liberal mind is evidenced by his decision to move, with his wife Helen (they had married
in May 1914), from the east coast to the west. While developing a reputation as a good teacher at Princeton, Bird nevertheless
found himself at odds with fellow faculty members and the school's prevailing rigid, conservative, and closed-minded attitudes.
Bird was particularly disturbed by the Seminary's insistence on narrow interpretations of Presbyterian doctrines and its failure
to utilize the Christian faith in important social issues. Finally in the summer of 1915, Bird accepted an invitation to become
the California Chair of Church History at the San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo, California.
The Birds, who shared a passion for natural beauty, music, books, and friendships with people all over the world, found their
new surroundings in northern California immensely satisfying. Between 1915 and 1921, Bird taught with other devoted and like-minded
faculty, wrote poetry as well as plays, and when the need presented itself, filled temporarily empty pulpit in the area. (Bird
had been ordained as a minister in 1912.) This relatively idyllic period was, however, interrupted by a major world event:
World War I. The United States' entry into the war in 1917 was significant for Bird personally in at least one way: it was
the impetus for serious introspection. Bird, despite a patriotic upbringing, wrote that he was "anything but heroic and belligerent
and ... had no hatred of the Germans." As an ordained minister, Bird thought he might be called upon to serve as chaplain
but found no enthusiasm for that role either. At 30, he was within draft age and dutifully filled out a government questionnaire.
While awaiting a response, Bird learned unexpectedly that the Presbyterian Church of Pasadena had recommended him to serve
at YMCA's centers in France. For the second time in his life, Bird found himself crossing the Atlantic Ocean full of hope,
believing that he would well serve his country and his fellow men.
During his wartime service, Bird had been surrounded by people from various backgrounds --- people outside the circle of faculty
and students and their families which the Birds had built their lives around --- and after his return to California, he grew
increasingly aware that he enjoyed the company of people above everything else. His calling in life was not serious scholarly
research. Bird wrote, "I loved people, all kinds of them, wanted them around in great numbers ... And helping solve the complicated
problems of persons enmeshed in difficulties soon became for me the most satisfying of all." The opportunity to enable Bird
to utilize the talents he knew he possessed came in 1921 when the Board of Trustees of Occidental College asked Bird to become
its next president. It was a position he would hold for the next 25 years.
At the age 33, Bird was the one of youngest men ever to lead the school. He brought to Occidental, in the words of colleague
Robert Cleland, "spontaneous enthusiasm, extraordinary energy, capacity for making friends for the college, imagination, a
contagious love of beauty, and zeal for contributing to the common good." All of these qualities proved enormously beneficial
for the liberal arts college. Bird's appreciation for natural beauty led to large-scale projects which improved the physical
environment of the school, transforming the relatively barren landscape to one dotted with trees and vegetation.
His genuine interest in and love for people meant that he was comfortable with persons of status --- and that he was a prodigious
fundraiser. The Birds counted as their friends politicians, people in the entertainment and finance industries, members of
the church, and of course, colleagues in the academia. Occidental's registrar during Bird's administration once said of him,
"He had charisma before that word became overworked." Bird's ability to utilize his contacts raised much-needed funds for
Occidental, especially during the Great Depression years when the school seemed to be perpetually mired in dire financial
Those who worked with Bird would recall most vividly his enormous energy in both utilizing his talents and inspiring those
around him. Ideas poured out of him so fast that others at times found it difficult to keep up with him. Bird's mind was always
engaged in visions of how to make the school better: an auditorium/theater on campus, the building of a second campus, fundraising
campaigns, recruitment of faculty, relationship with local communities, strong interests in student affairs, and so on. Olive
Hutchison, Bird's personal secretary from 1928 until 1945, remembered working with the president with fondness and amazement
--- fondness because of Bird's kindness and amazement because of the zest he brought to his work, exemplified by his voluminous
letter writing. At one point in the 1930s, the workload grew to a point where her doctor ordered it to be reduced.
Bird's long tenure at Occidental was not without its critics. Admittedly and proudly an idealist, Bird often approached situations
with emotions and not much analysis --- his contemporaries have described him as a "great dreamer" who "engaged in flights
of fancy." He had been known to envision a large project, convince colleagues and community members to join the endeavor,
and then dash off to another project leaving the details to others. At times potential donors found his fundraising tactics
distasteful. Bird's feelings were hurt by some of the criticism, particularly the publication in 1939 of After Many a Summer
Dies the Swan by Aldous Huxley, whom Bird had regarded as a friend. In his satirical novel, Huxley portrays the character
based on Bird as a college president wholly preoccupied with the pursuit of the rich and well-connected, speaking in an "oily
manner, like vaseline with a flavour of port wine". According to Hutchison, Bird "went right to town and told Huxley just
what he thought of him!"
Bird's 25-year tenure covered tumultuous times in history; his leadership took the College through first the Great Depression
and then World War II. It is his idealism, however impractical or imperfect, that prompted him to defend liberalism and academic
freedom (when George Day, professor of sociology and economics, was accused of being pro-communist, Bird resisted calls for
Day's resignation and threatened to resign if the Board of Trustees fired Day), to refuse a large but questionable donation
(businessman George Pepperdine had proposed to support the school's religion program with the condition that he would exert
considerable influence by naming faculty members), and to become involved with the Japanese American student relocation.
Bird announced his resignation from Occidental College in 1945, citing health reasons. For the next 25 years he and Helen
resided in Carmel, California where he remained active in preserving the natural beauty of the Monterey Bay area and in the
founding of the Monterey Institute of Foreign Studies in 1955. Remsen Bird died of heart disease on April 9, 1971.
Scope and Content of Collection
The Japanese American Relocation Collection consists of correspondence, magazines, newspaper and journal articles clippings,
and publications from the War Relocation Authority, religious groups, as well as civil liberties organizations. The subject
of Japanese American internment is vast and widely-studied. This collection, though not possessing the breadth and depth of
holdings found at repositories such as the National Archives and Records Administration, the Hoover Institution at Stanford
University, and the Bancroft Library at University of California at Berkeley, still reflects the tenor of the times. College
Librarian Elizabeth McCloy clearly chose not to "take sides" in her endeavor; using neutral languages, she wrote to organizations
on both sides, those sympathetic and those hostile to Japanese Americans. Additionally, researchers will find publications
authored or sponsored by the War Relocation Authority, which offer some insight to the civilian agency charged with the day-to-day
operations at various relocation camps.
An unique and significant portion of the collection consists of a series of correspondence to and from College President Remsen
Bird's office, reflecting the flurry of activities aimed at establishing a national program which would assist Japanese American
college students displaced by the evacuation orders. To that end, in addition to the letters, the collection also contains
meeting minutes and other publications from the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council. This will draw researchers
interested in how educators responded to the Japanese American internment during World War II, particularly in the little
known history of Bird's efforts.
The filing system of this collection has been kept substantially in its original form; the original folders and their titles
are retained. As a result, researchers will find that a given Series may contain boxes and folders whose numbers are not in
The collection is organized in 4 record series, some of which are further divided into subseries:
- Series: Letters and papers of Remsen Bird
- Series: Contemporaneous publications
- Series: Assembly and relocation center publications
- Series: War Relocation Authority and other U.S. government publications
Series I is divided in three subseries:
- Subseries: Concerning students, relocation, and return
- Subseries: Establishing the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council
- Subseries: Establishing the collection
Series II is divided in two subseries:
- Subseries: Newspaper clippings and magazines
- Subseries: Civil liberties, community, and church organizations
The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in
the library's online public access catalog.
Concentration Camps -- United States -- Newspapers
Japanese American college students
Japanese Americans - Education (higher)
Japanese Americans -- Evacuation and relocation, 1942-1945
World War, 1939-1945 -- Education and the war
National Japanese American Student Relocation Council
United States. War Relocation Authority
Bird, Remsen Du Bois, b. 1888