The Japanese Women’s Society of Honolulu was founded in 1954 as an educational and service organization for the purpose of promoting friendship between the United States and Japan, cultivating fellowship among members, and encouraging members to engage in comunity service. The initial call for such a group came from Mrs. Shinjiro Tsumura, wife of the Japanese Consul General, who urged the formation of an organization of service-minded women to represent the Japanese community in Honolulu.
The tradition of a Japanese women’s service organization has deep roots in Hawaii. The earliest example may have been the Women’s Charity Organization, an outgrowth of the Japanese Benevolent Society (Nihonjin Jizenkai) established in 1887 to render aid to the early contract laborers from Japan. When the Benevolent Society became inactive in 1889 it was restructured as the Women’s Charity Organization, and for three years functioned under the guidance of women before reoganization returned the society to male leadership. Thereafter women played a supportive role as the Benevolent Society expanded its welfare activities and went on to found the medical facility that is today known as Kuakini Medical Center.
A more immediate predecessor to the current JWS was the Honolulu Japanese Women’s Society (Nihonjin Fujikai), founded in March 1916 with an initial membership of 103 issei (first-generation) Japanese women. During World War I members prepared bandages under the direction of the Red Cross and gathered pledges in a food conservation campaign.
With the formation of The Japanese Women’s Society of Honolulu in 1954, the organization’s leadership positions passed, for the most part, to a new generation of American-born Japanese, with issei women being called on to act as advisers. As a nod to prewar tradition, the wife of the Consul General, Mrs. Tsumura, was named the honorary president, but on her return to Japan in the autumn of 1954 the presidency passed to Hawaii-born Alice Noda, and remained an elected position thereafter. Today JWSF members strive to fulfill the aims expressed in the mission statement.