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Overseas Member Spotlight with Bobbie Seligmann

I arrived in Tokyo with my husband and two daughters, aged three, and one and a half, in 1955. Tokyo was a very different city than it is today. Thanks to Barbara Adachi, I was introduced to the College Women’s Club of Tokyo. Since our Foreign Service assignment was only for a year, I did not get very involved. Returning to Tokyo after three and a half years in the Kobe-Osaka area, I became an active volunteer.

 

 

 

At this time, Japanese students were applying to the Club for travel grants to attend colleges in the United States. To raise funds for these travel grants, we organized ad hoc events, such as musicals, theater performances, car raffles, and the sale of a cookbook. An extensive orientation program was organized by our volunteers, providing guidance in western culture. Most Japanese students were unfamiliar with western manners and customs. Since it was so soon after the war, students had very few western-designed clothes. We arranged for clothing drives. A major source for travel was the use of steamship lines, and we urged them to give us special, cheaper rates for the students. Using airlines was much more expensive. The yen was still frozen at that time for travel.My next encounter with the Club was during our assignment in Tokyo from 1976 – 1980. The renamed College Women’s Association of Japan (CWAJ) was now a major volunteer organization. We are ever indebted to Oliver Statler, an American art historian, who suggested that we arrange a woodblock print show. In the beginning, Yoseido Gallery initiated and organized the show, which was first held at International House. We split the proceeds from the sale of the prints with the artists.

By 1978, when I was co-chair of the Print Show with Judy Day, our CWAJ exhibition was recognized as a major art event in October. Japan’s modern prints had achieved wide recognition abroad as well as becoming well known in Japan. The financial success of each Print Show financial success determined the number of scholarships that we could offer to Japanese students, and volunteers spent endless hours all year long planning for this major fundraising event.

Another exciting milestone occurred in 1985 when the Print Show traveled to Washington D.C. on its way to its final destination at the British Museum in London. Residing in the Washington area, I was able to arrange for gallery space in the State Department, and with the able assistance of CWAJ members in Washington, we had an elegant opening night reception.

In 1988, when we were once again back in Tokyo, I had the privilege of serving as President of CWAJ. Now, as I reflect upon all my years associated with the organization, I realize the importance of volunteerism in strengthening its mission. From the very early days in the 1950s, one of its major goals was to encourage racial equality and reforms in women’s education and women’s rights in Japan.

Between 1949 and 1972, the original travel grant program provided financial aid to 459 students. In 2022, CWAJ can be very proud of its scholarship recipients, many of whom have become successful mentors in their fields. Membership of CWAJ has been a lifetime commitment for me. I treasure the friendships that I have made over the decades, and to this day, I remain actively engaged. One of the highlights of my life was to travel back to Tokyo in May 2019 to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of CWAJ.

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