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Clara Estelle Breed


Bridge Builder

Clara Estelle Breed, beloved librarian for 42 years, created San Diego's county-wide "Serra" lending system. Breed is most notably remembered, however, as the children's librarian whose actions during World War II had a tremendous impact. When more than 120,000 Japanese-Americans were forced from their homes, deprived of possessions, and placed in internment camps, the outraged librarian wrote in protest and sent books, clothing and candy to children in those camps. She handed children pre-addressed, stamped postcards as they were shepherded onto trains, asking them to write her. She corresponded with hundreds of children, saving over 250 letters from them.

She visited camps, wrote journals and articles, and retained mementoes of her moving Japanese-American friendships. "Dear Miss Breed," all the letters to her began. Ted Hirasaki wrote her from Poston, Arizona, in 1942, "How are you? Thanks ever so much for the wonderful letter. (would you mind if I showed it to some friends?) Life is beginning to settle down to the monotonous regularity that is truly depressing. People have gotten so that they don't leave their own block. Let alone leave their 'home'." In the 1990s Breed gave her historic collections to one of her former correspondents, who then donated them to the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. There, and on the Museum's website, we can witness first-hand how one woman built bridges and made a difference to so many during a dark chapter in U.S. history.

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