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Beatrice Stevens, Ally at Home

Beatrice Stevens, Ally at Home

By Marie Hashimoto

Photo courtesy of Urban League of Portland Records, 1945-2008 (MSS UrbanLeague), Oregon State University Special Collections and Archives Research Center, Corvallis, Oregon.

In conjunction with the August 13th dedication of the Oregon Nisei Veterans WWII Memorial Highway, the Japanese American Museum of Oregon and the History Museum of Hood River County created the exhibition A Long Road to Travel: The Service of Japanese Americans During World War II. This installation profiled examples of both discrimination and white allyship. One such story of solidarity was that of Beatrice Stevens, a white Portland schoolteacher.

When Lucy Capehart, the Japanese American Museum of Oregon’s Director of Collections and Exhibitions, saw a photograph of Beatrice Stevens, she realized that the JAMO archives held several items that once belonged to her: an extensive scrapbook of newspapers clippings related to Japanese Americans in Oregon, as well as a curriculum on the community she developed in 1945. Although JAMO had these artifacts for over 20 years, no one had yet explored the life and influence of Stevens. Lucy then asked me to do additional research to better understand both the objects and their author. Through this project, I encountered a fascinating woman, whose consistent commitment to racial justice in education can serve as an inspiring example today.

Pages from Beatrice Stevens’ scrapbook. Donated by Frances Ota.

Beatrice Stevens was a grade school teacher in Portland, as well as an advocate for a number of social justice causes. Born in Albany, Oregon, in 1894, she spent most of her career teaching English and social studies at high schools in the Portland area, especially Commerce (now Cleveland) High School in Southeast. [1] Her interest in intercultural education and dialogue spanned much of her career, and in 1937, she spent two months touring Japan with other teachers from across the United States.[2]

As a teacher, she advocated for progressive education, especially in the area of racial justice. In the summer of 1945, about the time when Japanese Americans were starting to be allowed to return to the West Coast, she published a high school curriculum titled “Free and Equal?: The Japanese Americans in Oregon,” intended for a unit on intercultural education.[3] Stevens also established an International Club for students at Commerce in 1947, which served as a model for the International Relations Leagues that spread throughout Portland high schools.[4]

Free and Equal curriculum created by Beatrice Stevens. Donated by Frances Ota.

The National Urban League’s journal Opportunity profiled Stevens in an article from the fall of 1946 on intercultural education in Portland, calling her the “forerunner” of such programs in the school district. The author described her as one who took “every opportunity” to teach her students “democratic action and fair play.” Commerce High seemed to have been a relatively progressive institution in general, as the same article cited the principal as an important ally. Administrators and teachers worked with the National Urban League to create and implement a holistic intercultural education program that went beyond other similar programs at the time. For instance, Commerce’s program involved the entire school and became part of every class. According to the article, this curriculum helped to empower students of color and provide programming that emphasized racial justice.[5]

The digital archives at Oregon State University contain a photo of Stevens in the classroom. Dated to 1947, the image shows Stevens standing at the blackboard with a multiracial group of students. They are examining a map of the United States labeled “America—A Nation from Many Countries.” The map highlights different immigrant groups to the United States and where they settled. The language emphasized their American identity as “Americans from Spain/Germany/Norway/etc.”[6]

The lesson of the day seemed to have also involved a section on incarceration and postwar Japanese American life. To the right of the map, a list on the blackboard includes entries like “Aid of Nisei in war,” “characteristics of Nisei (integration)?,” and a reference to “returnees.”[7]  

Stevens’ support for the Japanese American community extended outside of the classroom. She was a member of the Citizens’ Committee to Aid Relocation, a Portland-based group founded in 1945. The Committee worked to defeat anti-Japanese activism, especially as Japanese Americans began to return to Portland after the war. Perhaps reflecting both a desire to highlight any white support and the real work of such groups, the JACL referred to the Committee as “white angels.”[8] Efforts like Stevens’ provided some support to Japanese American returnees facing severe economic hardship and intense racism.

Stevens retired from Commerce in 1958 and taught American government and sociology at Multnomah College until 1963, when she devoted herself to full time work with peace organizations, especially the Peace Corps as a spokesperson and organizer. After her death in 1972, her family, in accordance with her wishes, established the Beatrice T. Stevens Scholarship Fund for students interested in peace and justice studies.[9]

Marie Hashimoto was an archives intern at the Japanese American Museum of Oregon during the summer of 2022. As part of her internship, she was asked to research the Portland schoolteacher Beatrice Stevens and and write a blog post on her findings.

For more information about collections and archives internships, contact Lucy Capehart or fill out a volunteer application.

[1] Obituaries, “Beatrice T. Stevens,” Oregonian (Portland, OR), June 19, 1972.
[2] McDermott, Judy, “Memorial banquet to honor Portlander for a lifetime of work,” Oregonian (Portland, OR), June 23, 1972.
[3] Stevens, Beatrice, “Free and Equal?: The Japanese Americans in Oregon,” (Portland, OR: 1945).
[4] Obituaries.
[5] Edwin C. Berry, “Intercultural Education in Portland,” Opportunity 24, no. 4 (Fall 1946): 183.
[6] “Mrs. Beatrice Stevens teaches a class,” (1947), Oregon Multicultural Archives,
[7] Ibid.
[8] Robert Alan Hegwood, “Erasing the Space Between Japanese and American: Progressivism, Nationalism, and Japanese American Resettlement in Portland, Oregon, 1945–1948,” (master’s thesis, Portland State University, 2011), 51-2.
[9] Obituaries.