A Friend Back Home

Japanese American National Museum, Gift of Mollie Wilson Murphy (2000.378.2A)
  • As you look at this photograph, what do you notice?
  • What are some things that give you a sense of the time period?
  • What are the names of these two individuals?
  • Do you have any guesses about who they are and what their relationship is to one another?
  • How would you describe the mood of this photograph?
Japanese American National Museum, Gift of Mollie Wilson Murphy (2000.378.5F)

Carefully read this letter and consider the following questions:

  • Who wrote this letter?
  • To whom was the letter written?
  • What information can you gather about who Mollie is? Where is she?
  • What information can you gather about who Mary is? Where is she?
  • What are some of the topics written about in this letter?
  • Based on the content of this letter, what kind of camp is Mary referring to?

Mollie Wilson lived in Los Angeles and attended Roosevelt High School. Many of her Japanese American friends were forced to move during World War II. She would often write to her incarcerated friends, such as Mary Murakami.

Japanese American National Museum, Gift of Mollie Wilson Murphy (2000.378.5B)

Letters provide a great window into history. Even from an envelope alone, there is much information to be gathered. This is the envelope for a letter from Mary to Mollie.

Look closely at the envelope.

  • What do you notice?
  • Based on the return address and cancellation stamp, can you tell where Mary was living when she sent this letter?
  • Why do you think one address is crossed out and replaced by another?
Japanese American National Museum, Gift of Mollie Wilson Murphy (2000.378.24)

This is a photograph of Sandie Saito. Like Mary, she was a friend of Mollie’s from Roosevelt High School. Sandie is pictured here in a Roosevelt letterman sweater while incarcerated at Amache, Colorado. Sandie sent this photo to Mollie from Amache. In the corner she wrote, “To Molly, Just, Sandie,” and on the back of the photograph it says, “This picture was taken way at the west end of the football field.”

Imagine being a young person who is forced to abruptly migrate to an unknown place, far from everything familiar.

  • What people, places, activities, or things would you miss about your daily life?
Japanese American National Museum, Gift of Mollie Wilson Murphy (2000.378.2A)

Childhood friends since elementary school, Mollie and Mary grew up together in an area of Los Angeles called Boyle Heights. They were high school students when Japanese Americans were forcibly removed from their homes and communities.

Mollie kept in touch with many of her Japanese American friends during the war by corresponding with them regularly through letters. She shared what was going on in the Boyle Heights neighborhood, and her friends would share details about their lives in the assembly centers and concentration camps. The letters would often include discussions about the weather and living conditions but also gossip about school, boys, movies, and other topics of interest to the teenaged friends.

  • Which feelings, thoughts, or memories would letters or photographs like these from a far away friend evoke?

Through the simple act of writing letters and sending gifts, Mollie displayed loyalty to her friends despite the miles between them.

  • In what ways is loyalty based on friendship similar or different to loyalty based on a nation or ideas?

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