When Ume Tsuda first traveled across the Pacific Ocean from Japan to be educated in the United States, she was six years old and part of an educational experiment sponsored by the Japanese government. When she returned to the U.S. 18 years later to enroll at Bryn Mawr College, she was planning her own experiment – to improve educational opportunities for women in Japan.
At the age of 24, she entered Bryn Mawr where she thrived amidst the academic challenges, high expectations, and intellectual vitality. The “best qualities of Bryn Mawr, broadmindedness, thoroughness, exact standards of scholarship, became rooted in her and were an integral part of her educational ideal,” noted Anna Hartshorne, her classmate and friend. A biology major, Tsuda co-authored a paper on genetics that was published in a scientific journal in 1894.
Equally important for her future endeavors, at Bryn Mawr Tsuda learned the skill of public speaking. She spoke at public and private gatherings about the need to improve women’s education in Japan and established, with the help of her fellow Bryn Mawr students, an international scholarship fund so other Japanese women could study in the U.S. and Europe.
Returning to Japan after graduation, Tsuda taught English for several years, advancing to the highest teaching level available to a woman at the time. During this time, she formulated the plan to establish an institution of higher education for women, one whose curriculum would be similarly rigorous to that which she’d experienced at Bryn Mawr.
Her goal was realized with the opening of Joshi Eigaku Juku (The Women’s Institute for English Studies) in 1900. Renamed Tsuda College in 1948, it is one of Japan’s leading women’s universities.
In addition to leading the school, Tsuda spoke publicly about the importance of a rigorous education for women, one which would prepare them not for roles as wives and mothers but for employment and self-sufficiency. In 1915, she was decorated with the Sixth Order of Merit from the Japanese government for her contributions to women’s education.
Ume Tsuda, class of 1892, Founder of Tsuda College in Japan
Note: Research for this profile was compiled by Emily Wiseman, as part of a Katharine Houghton Hepburn Center internship partially funded by a gift from Dick Hykes.Read more about...
125 Years of Extraordinary Alumnae