A Raw Deal (Part 2) – Agricultural Education in Japanese American Internment Camps?? (5/27/2022)

In Part 1 of this series of Footnotes we looked at the factors at play in establishing Japanese Internment Camps during World War II. In this Footnote we will examine the school curriculum found in the internment camps and find out if they had agricultural education and FFA chapters.

Figure 1. A science classroom at the Manzanar (CA) Internment Center. Photo from the National Park Service.

As a reminder, when the Japanese were forced to leave the west coast, this included all people with 1/16 or more of Japanese ancestry regardless of citizenship status. You might be a doctor, lawyer, journalist, college student, farmer, dentist, business owner, school teacher, merchant, artist, banker and so forth – you were rounded up and moved to an internment center.

Each relocation center was its own “town”. There were schools, post offices, camp stores, businesses, and even some factories that produced garments, mattresses, and cabinets. Some centers had food processing plants (Su, 2011). There was farmland and livestock. Residents could even order items through the mail from Sears and Roebuck.

Residents of internment centers were not forced to work but many chose to do so to fight boredom. And workers were needed for the day-to-day operation of the camps. At first internees were not paid for their labor, but that changed. Workers were then paid $8, $12, or $16 dollars a month depending upon the skill level required in the work. A typical work week was 44 hours.

Education in the Internment Centers

Since many of the internment center residents were of school age, there was a need for schools. The curriculum was similar to what one would find in the public schools except “Americanization” (the teaching of American values) was required at all student levels. The educational model followed in the internment center schools was designed by Stanford University and state school boards. The English and mathematics classes had to conform to state standards and a diploma issued by a camp school was considered to be equivalent to other high schools in the state.

The teachers employed in the schools were typically a mixture of Japanese and Caucasian teachers. Caucasian teachers were expected to live year round in the camps and to work a longer week to accommodate larger class sizes. They were paid substantially more than the internee teachers.

Due to a national shortage of teachers, it was a challenge finding teachers for the internment centers. The location of the centers and the accommodations left much to be desired. Often the teachers had just completed their student teaching or were not the most highly skilled teachers but there were exceptions.

The camp schools were crowded. The student-teacher ratio was 48-1 in elementary schools and 35-1 for secondary schools (Curators note: the national average at this time was 28-1).

The classrooms could be sweltering at times and freezing at other times. The classrooms were typically barrack rooms that had been converted to classrooms. School supplies and equipment were in short supply. There were even typing classes taught with no typewriters.

Was Agricultural Education Taught in the Schools? Were there FFA chapters?

Yes, agriculture was taught in most of the internment centers. Did the internment centers have chapters of the Future Farmers of America (FFA)? Before writing this Footnote, I thought the answer was NO! That opinion was based on an article published in 2009 in the Journal of Agricultural Education. The article was “Winning the War: A Historical Analysis of the FFA During World War II” by Kattyln Wolf and Jim Connors. Here is what they reported (p. 116 ):

The National FFA organization was also drawn into the issue of the Japanese internment camps established during the war. In one instance, the state of Colorado inquired about the possibility of establishing FFA chapters in internment camps. In a letter dated October 24, 1942, from L. R. Davies (personal letter, 1942), Colorado State Supervisor of Agricultural Education, to W. A. Ross, in the U.S. Office of Education, Davies wrote,

Mr. L. J. Burgett of the Granada Project of the War Relocation Authority of Lamar, visited the office today. He has two classes of students in vocational agriculture, the majority of whom are FFA members from California. Would it be possible for these boys to organize an FFA chapter on the W. R. A. project? They are enthusiastic FFA members and American citizens. (p. 1)

T. Spanton (personal letter, 1942), Chief of the Agricultural Education Service responded to the letter by stating, “it will not be possible to organize local chapters of the Future Farmers of America in any school other than those that are recognized bona fide departments of vocational agriculture which are reimbursed from Federal funds…”

So, based on this information, it appears the national leadership had determined that FFA chapters could not be established in internment camps.

But hold on—it appears that agricultural education officials in other states had a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” philosophy. Or perhaps some internment centers established FFA chapters that were not officially recognized by state or federal authorities. Or perhaps the federal officials changed their minds at a later date. I have documented there were FFA chapters in some internment camps. Let’s go visit the camps.

A Visit to the Internment Camps

Central Utah (Topaz) – This internment camp was located in Utah and the high school was known as Topaz High School. The 1943 high school yearbook was the 43 Ramblings. In the senior section of the yearbook we find more information about the graduates. Two of the three seniors pictured below were members of the FFA. Hmm!

Figure 2. Seniors at Topaz High School. From 1943 Yearbook,

Later in the yearbook, in the organizations section, we find an entire page about the Future Farmers of America (See Figure 3). There were 150 FFA members. The FFA had three officers, held a father-son banquet, and made several field trips. There is even mention of the “girls” helping with the truck gardens but I didn’t see any in the group picture. However , two senior girls (Oki Hashimoto and Marian Nishimura) stated in their senior profiles they were in the FFA.

The Topaz Times, the camp newspaper, had an article on May 13, 1943 about the Future Farmers fitting swine for the Delta Stock Show on May 27-29 and identified Alden S. Adams as the agricultural instructor. He was a 1931 graduate of Utah State University.

Figure 3. Page from the 43 Ramblings of Topaz High School. Ctrl+ to enlarge image.

Manzanar – This internment camp was in East-central California. Harlan Unrau wrote a history of the camp in 1996 for the National Park Service. Here are two passages from his book:

“Manzanar’s secondary school curriculum and instructional courses were similar to that found in public schools. Five types of diplomas were offered: general, college entrance, commercial, homemaking, and agriculture.” (p. 545)

“Although some high school clubs were loosely organized and short-lived, some [were] ‘lasting and made real contributions. Among the clubs …the Future Farmers of America which furthered interest in practical agricultural program activities.’” (p. 552)

The image below is from the Manzanar High School Yearbook Our World 1943-1944

Figure 4. Future Farmers from Manzanar High School in California. The gentleman to the back right is Leland Abel, the FFA advisor and teacher of farm management.

Colorado River (Poston)– This internment camp actually consisted of three separate units (Unit 1, 2, & 3) in western Arizona that were three miles apart in a line from north to south. The internees named the camps Roasten, Toasten, and Dustin because of their desert attributes. Each Unit had their own high school – they were Poston High School, Poston II High School, and Parker Valley High School.

The High School in Unit 1 was identified as Poston High School and the yearbook was the Post Ano. The 1944 yearbook faculty directory lists Ralph P. Shaley from Chicago, Illinois as the agriculture teacher. Two seniors listed the Agriculture Club as an activity and seven seniors listed the FFA as an activity but there were no pages in the school activities section of the yearbook for either the FFA or the Agriculture Club. Apparently agricultural education was not a strength of the school. The 1945 yearbook has Mr. Shaley teaching mechanical drawing and there in no mention of the FFA or Agricultural Club.

The High School in Unit 2 was typically identified as Poston II High School. The Poston II Yearbook was called The El Chaparral. The 1944 edition of the yearbook has George Nishimura listed as the teacher of agriculture. The listing of senior activities shows at least five FFA members of which one was a female (Dorothy Sakasegawa – she was also the FFA Harvest Queen as a Junior). Miyoka Hironake was the FFA Harvest Queen as a senior.

The Poston II 1944 yearbook had one page for the FFA. At the top of the page is a photo of four females who were the candidates from each class for FFA Harvest Queen. The list of officers has a watchdog. This is a clue this might be a “real” FFA chapter since the watchdog was a suggested FFA office in the 1940 era FFA manuals. They also had conducted a greenhand initiation ceremony.

Figure 5. The FFA at Poston II High School in Arizona. Ctrl + to enlarge image

The High School in Poston Unit 3 was known as Parker Valley High School and the Yearbook was Campus Echoes. Apparently, there was not a FFA chapter here, but the agricultural students were known as the Ag Boys. The agriculture instructor was Harry Minama. There was also a Boy Scout troop at this high school.

Figure 6. Parker Valley High School Agricultural students in the Poston Internment Camp.

Gila River (Rivers) – This is the second internment camp in Arizona. Both Arizona camps were built on Native America Tribal Lands which was a point of controversy. Two separate units, Butte Camp and Canal Camp, 3.5 miles apart were found in this Central Arizona internment center.

The 1943 Rivulet, the Canal High School yearbook, lists Claude A. Tyrell as the teacher of agriculture. There is a nice write up about the FFA in the yearbook. It appears 1943 was the first year of operation for the FFA but they were off to a good start.

Figure 7. The FFA at Canal High School in the Canal Camp of the Gila River Internment Center.

The 1944 Rivulet lists a second agriculture instruction – L. George. The photo of the FFA officers identifies a sergeant-at-arms which makes sense since the sentinel was not yet an office in the FFA.

The Year’s Flight for 1945, the Butte High School Yearbook, does not mention an agriculture teacher or the FFA. On one page there are two photos of The Farm. I could not locate issues of the Year’s Flight from earlier years.

Heart Mountain – Heart Mountain High School was in Wyoming. The 1944 and 1945 Tempo, the yearbook was devoid of information about an agriculture teacher or the FFA.

Jerome (Denson) – There were two internment camps in Arkansas. The name of the high school at this camp was Denson High School and the yearbook was the Victoria. The first yearbook was published in 1943. Takashi Morita was listed as the agriculture teacher. This yearbook contained very few pictures of the school clubs; there was no FFA page, however one senior listed being in the Future Farmers of America.

Rohwer – The 2nd internment camp in Arkansas was at Rohwer and the high school was the Rohwer Center High School. The 1944 yearbook, Resume, contains no reference to an agriculture teacher or FFA. But there was a horseshoe club!

However in the 1943 Resume we find two students in the “Soil Analysis Club” and one Kazuo Kamita lists being in the FFA but also identifies Watsonville Union High School as the school he attended before arriving at the internment center. A check of the Watsonville High 1942 Yearbook finds him in the group FFA photo. So that is probably where “Kaz” was in the FFA. At least three of the seniors identified themselves as being in the agriculture curriculum.

Minidoka – Hunt High School was at Minidoka Internment Camp in Idaho. Arthur B. Ficke was listed in Memoirs 1944 as the agriculture instructor. He had a B.S & M.A from the University of Idaho. However there was no mention of FFA in the yearbook.

Tule Lake (Newell) –“It’s complicated.” That describes the effort to ascertain whether there was an agricultural program in Tri-State High School in this internment center. Tri-State High School opened its doors to 2,000 students on September 14, 1942. The students chose the name for school and picked the colors (blue and gold). The 1943 Tri-State High School Handbook lists the teachers and starts with Agriculture – Mr. G. R. Greenwood. In the Freshman year all students are required to take drawing, Wood Shop or Vocational Agriculture. However, in the Handbook list of clubs there is no FFA. Furthermore, no mention of agriculture was in the yearbook (Auquila) for 1944 or 1943 (Glenn Greenwood was identified as a teacher in the 1943 yearbook but no subject was identified).

Granada (Amache) -Since this internment camp was in Colorado and a mention was made earlier about the rejected inquiry to the federal government of having a FFA chapter, I nearly skipped over this site, but am glad I didn’t.

An article published in the student newspaper (Amache Hi IT) of Amache High School  on May 3, 1943 announced that a FFA chapter was being organized (See Figure 8). Since this was the only internment camp in Colorado and was also identified as Granada, it must have been the subject of the 1942 inquiry mentioned earlier.

Figure 8. Article in the May 3, 1943 Ameche Hi IT.
This newspaper was published by journalism students in Ameche High School

The 1945 Outlooker yearbook of Amache High School clearly shows a FFA chapter existed in the high school (See Figure 9). The faculty pages show that “Gerald Griffith taught agriculture and sponsored the F.F.A.”

Figure 9. As Gomer Pyle would say on the Andy Griffith Show – Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!. After being told they could not have a FFA chapter Amache ended up with one.

So did the federal agricultural education officials change their mind? Did the state Ag Ed officials in Colorado just look the other way? The newspaper article said the FFA chapter was recognized by the state of Colorado. What gives?  I wish I knew.

Concluding Remarks

Agricultural education and the FFA was found in several of the Japanese American Internment Camps during World War II. It was no surprise to find agriculture being taught in most of the camps. However, I was not expecting to find the FFA because of the journal article cited earlier in this Footnote. I guess the take home message is to not take “No” for the final answer. If you know what you are asking for is for the benefit of the students, then keep exploring ways to get to “Yes”. I don’t know how the Granada (Amache) camp in Colorado overcame the “No” from the federal agricultural education officials but am glad they did.

In next week’s Footnote we will explore the agricultural operations at the internment camps. What was grown or raised at the camps? How were the agricultural enterprises organized and how did they operate? There are some really interesting facts about the agriculture and agriculturists. So, stay tuned.


Su, Christopher (2011). An Ambitious Social Experiment Education in Japanese-American Internment Camps, 1942-1945. Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Unrau, Harlan (1996), The Evacuation and Relocation of Japanese Ancestry During World War II: A Historical study of the Manzanar War Relocation Center, Volume II. National Park Service.