Umeko Tsuda: a Pioneer in Higher Education for Women in Japan

Mari Kunieda


This article explores the life and achievements of Umeko Tsuda, who played a pioneering role in higher education for women in Japan in the early twentieth century. In 1871, the Japanese government sent five girls to the United States to study. They were expected to become models for Japanese women when they returned. Six-year-old Umeko Tsuda was the youngest among them, and she remained in the United States for eleven years until she had graduated from high school. We trace her steps historically in order to highlight the experiences which drove her to work to raise women’s status in Japan. The first biography of her, by Toshikazu Yoshikawa, was reviewed by Umeko herself, and in the years since other researchers have analysed Umeko’s life from various viewpoints. Umeko’s writings, speeches, and correspondence with her American host family and friends also reveal her thoughts. As an early female returnee, Umeko developed her ideas of what schools for women should be like. With the moral and financial support of close American and Japanese friends, Umeko started her ideal school in 1900 with only ten students. This Tokyo school was the first private institution for higher education for women in Japan. Thus, Umeko’s determination to help Japanese women become more educated and happier was the foundation of Tsuda University, now offering BAs, MAs, and PhDs in a variety of programmes in Tokyo.


Umeko Tsuda; higher education for women; Japan; returnee

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DOI prefix: 10.14516/ete


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