Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame Inductee Amemiya

The UCSF School of Nursing is honored to share that former student Aiko “Grace” Obata Amemiya will be inducted into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame on August 20, 2016. Grace was instrumental in advocating that the UC Regents make amends to former students who were turned away from their education as part of the Japanese-American internment under Executive Order 9066. As a former nursing student, Grace was among 700 UC students of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast who were sent to internment camps in 1942 after President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. The UC students were among more the 120,000 Japanese national and Japanese-Americans forcibly relocated following Japan’s 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. UCSF was the first public university in California to recognize these students, by providing honorary degrees in 2009.

Photo by Susan Merrell: From left, Setsuo “Ernest” Torigoe, Aiko “Grace” Obata Amemiya and Edith Oto, who also celebrated her 90th birthday on December 4, 2009, received their honorary degrees from UCSF nearly seven decades after they were sent to internm

Grace’s Background

Grace was born and raised in Vacaville, and worked summers on a farm to save money for college. She completed her lower division courses at UC Berkeley and then enrolled as a UCSF nursing student in 1941. She had almost completed her requirements when her family was interned.

Edith Setsuo and Grace Amemiya upon receiving their UCSF honorary degrees.

After leaving the Gila River internment camp in Arizona, Grace sought to complete her nursing studies. She applied to several nursing schools around the county, many turning her away due to prejudice. Eventually, she matriculated at Saint Mary’s School of Nursing in Rochester, Minnesota. Grace spent six months in training as a senior cadet nurse in the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps, serving at Schick General Army Hospital in Clinton, Iowa, and caring for wounded soldiers. Grace is now a retired nurse in Iowa. She still honors speaking commitments to student groups and communities about her experiences during WWII. She has an upbeat message that conveys her hopes that through education and enlightenment, the country will not endure such an injustice again.

Image of UCSF Parnassus campus circa 1930s/40s

Iowa’s Recognition

The Iowa Department of Human Rights and the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women (ICSW) will induct four remarkable women, including Grace, into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame at the end of August. The ICSW established the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame in 1975 to highlight women’s heritage and recognize their important contributions to society.

For those who wish to attend the induction ceremony, it will take place on Saturday, August 20, 2016, at 9:30 AM at the State Historical Building located at 600 E. Locust, Des Moines. The event is free and open to the public and will be followed by a reception hosted by the Friends of the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women in the atrium of the State Historical Building.

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