Yuki Kitaoka
A Different View


Yuki studies at Lihue Grammar School and Kauai High School, graduating in 1931.

Discouraged from entering the male-dominated engineering field, she is told to enter teaching. In 1935, she obtains a degree, but not in teaching. She graduates with a degree in business from the University of Hawaii.

With no opportunities in business, Yuki attends shorthand and typing classes. She finds employment as a clerk in the territorial land office.

Lihue Grammar School

I liked all the teachers. But one complaint my father always made was, “How come you make all A’s in different classes but you bring a C and D home for deportment?” (Chuckles) And that’s the one thing that my father used to tell me.

I guess there must have had a little fight in me because he — my sisters all say, “You’re his pet.” But [my father] was very helpful in my education because he helped a lot, math and things like that. He was very good. He’s a teacher to begin with. And he always said, “You have the potential. You go ahead and try your best.” But I always fooled around in class. That’s about all I remember.

All haole [teachers]. Not one local. They all came from the Mainland. Very good. I don’t recall one teacher who I objected to.

Classmates, very good. Except I used to get that, “You’re the principal’s daughter. You not supposed to be doing that,” or something like that, always, always. I had that in the back of my head all the time I was being brought up.

Kauai High School

I guess we took [continuing on to high school] for granted. It was something we got to do. No question. I had no objection to going to school. I enjoyed school.

[The teachers] were just nice. Never a teacher that’s condescending or anything. Mostly young, though. You know Robert Clopton? He was my teacher. And who else? Oh, Cecil Dotts. He was my math teacher.

I remember that very well because I remember the incident where he gave us an algebraic problem and he said it took him all night to figure out how to do it. He says, “I’ll tell you kids that whoever finishes that problem within the hour is exempt from final exam.” That’s what he said to us. So we sat down and we figured it out. I figured it out within the hour and a boy figured it out, too. Two of us. Oh, he really meant it. We got exempt.

And he met me at one of the conventions in Honolulu when I was older. I was going to college or something. He remembered me and that incident. He says, “I don’t recall my students very much but I remember that. I didn’t think anybody could do it.”

I remember asking my homeroom teacher, “What is the possibility of becoming an engineer?” She said, “Women don’t become engineers.” So she discouraged me and she says, “If I were you, I wouldn’t pursue that subject because what are you going to do with the men on the field? They’re not going to let you go out in the field.”
“Why not?”
“Well, because you’re a girl.”

And she says, “No, do something else. Be a math teacher or something.” Math was my — I liked it. So I didn’t pursue [engineering] anymore. I thought I’ll be a teacher. Math teacher was my second choice.

Territorial Normal and Training School

So I went to college and decided I wanted to be a math teacher so I enrolled at [University of Hawaii] Teachers College. But I didn’t like it. I don’t know why.

[Moving from Kauai to Oahu was] very easy because they had a dormitory for girls, only girls. Normal School dormitories they called it. It used to be up in Roosevelt High School. All of us went there. There was a streetcar that used to run up to the university.

At that time, of course, we had all kinds of limitations. Real strict. No boys in there. You got to write where you’re going, what you going to do on a piece of paper. You got to sign in by eleven o’clock.

[In 1932, the Territorial Normal and Training School and the University of Hawaii Teachers College merged. The university absorbed the Normal School’s buildings, faculty, student body, and curriculum for elementary teaching.]

I stayed in that Normal School [dormitory] only one year, I think [1931– 32].

Then I went to live with my oldest sister. She was teaching at that time. I stayed in an apartment on Alexander Street with her.

And then the last two years, I stayed at Mid-Pacific because the university rented a portion of Mid-Pacific dorm to house the university students. So we had dinner together for about two years. They gave us dinner as part of the dorm.

Very little [social life at the Normal School dormitory]. We have to find our own. That’s why we got into bridge. I remember trying to learn how to play bridge and we played at night in our off days. We got to be pretty good doing social bridge.

[There was also] dancing, Saturday night. [Takashi Kitaoka] was at the Mid-Pacific dorm [when] I was at the Normal School dorm. The university provided a lot of activities like dancing, parties on Saturdays. Mostly YMCA [Young Men’s Christian Association] I remember. YMCA took a big part in seeing that we were entertained. And I think our social life was very good. I remember going out with [Takashi] all the time.

University of Hawaii

I got out of [Teachers College] and I took up business. So I graduated with a BA and all my classmates were boys.

[My parents] had very little to do with [my decision to not teach]. I guess we got our advice mostly from university advisors because we never figured that our parents knew anything. They’re of a different generation and the language difficulty. I don’t remember doing very much conversing with my parents. I still don’t know how we got along because we never learned to speak Japanese fluently. They never understood our language. So how did we communicate with each other? I don’t know.

I used to [write letters to my parents]. I have one letter there that I wrote to my folks, all in Japanese. And I’m trying to read it and I can’t read it. Honestly, when we were kids, I really don’t know how we communicated with our parents. I think we must have felt that they had nothing to do with us. We were going to do whatever we want to do. Now when I think of going off to Minnesota, I don’t know who I talked to or anything except with [Takashi].

Yuki Kitaoka, Honolulu

At that time, I don’t think any of my [high school] classmates went [to the University of Hawaii]. Maybe one or two. So I just marvel at my parents. There are four of us in the family and three of them [went to] Teachers College. And three of them turned out to be teachers. And I was supposed to be a teacher and I didn’t. At that time, the clerks got better salary than teachers. Teachers got $80 a month or something and secretaries would get $150.


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I graduated university and where am I going? I don’t have any backing from my parents like most boys had. They came from all business families, you know, real estate and everything else. What am I going to do?

So I went to business college and took up shorthand and typing to try to get myself a job at that time. The only job outside of teaching was secretarial jobs. What am I going to do without those skills? I have to buck people who didn’t go to college. But I did, anyway.

I got myself into a territorial land office. This was just after I graduated, 1935. Started off with $130 a month.

It was easy [getting a secretarial job] because you didn’t have to have a college education to do that. And they needed secretaries. So it was easy enough to get a job. I remember my first job at Kress’s. Do you remember Kress’s? I went there as a clerk.

Yuki Kitaoka

Then I went to the territorial land office and started as a clerk but you have a choice of advancement if you’re good. By the time I got out, I was executive secretary to the boss over there. Then the war broke out, so like a foolish, little child, I followed [my husband]. (Laughs)

Yuki Kitaoka's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Takashi and Yuki Kitaoka.

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