- Journal of SD History
Clara Estelle Breed (1906-1994)
Clara Breed was a much-beloved librarian who served 42 years in the San Diego Public Library system. Born in Iowa, she moved to San Diego in 1920 and graduated from San Diego High School in 1923. Following graduation from Pomona College in 1927, she received her master's degree in Library Science from Case Western Reserve.
In 1928 the City of San Diego offered her a job as a children's librarian in the East San Diego branch. After 16 years as a children's librarian she was named acting city librarian in 1945 and was appointed San Diego's city librarian the following year, a post she held for 25 years. She established many of the city's branch libraries and founded the Serra Cooperative Library System, which allows library patrons to borrow books in libraries throughout San Diego and Imperial Counties.
Miss Breed was children's librarian at the Central Library when the United States became involved in World War II, and knew many of the Japanese-American children who were interned with their families as wartime fears and espionage concerns led to the removal of whole families from San Diego and the rest of the West Coast to camps in Arizona and other desolate locations. Miss Breed, as she was known to the children, made sure that when the families were taken away, each student had a supply of stamped postcards, so they could keep in touch. She mailed books, candy, and clothes to them at Poston, a camp located outside of Parker, Arizona, and wrote letters of support concerning fathers who were viewed as security risks and who were held separately from their families. All during their long imprisonment, Miss Breed corresponded with "her" students, making sure they had the things they needed to succeed in spite of their surroundings, and making sure that they stayed connected with the outside world.
Miss Breed held on to the cards and letters she received and in the early 1990s gave one of her former correspondents, Elizabeth Yamada, the collection of letters as well as journals, notebooks and manuscript copies of articles she had written about the children in camp. Elizabeth, recognizing the significance of the various documents, saw the need to preserve them as an important part of American history and donated them to the Japanese American National Museum, where the story of Miss Breed and her enduring friendship with young Japanese Americans will be shared with the public for many years to come.
One of Miss Breed's cherished mementos was a carving of her name in Manzanita wood by one of the captives using a "knife" created from the sharpened end of a bed spring. Some 250 letters from the students are part of the archives of the Japanese-American National Museum in Los Angeles.
Clara Breed died on September 8, 1994.
[contributed by Linda Canada with some details from Miss Breed's obituary in the San Diego Union Tribune by Jim Okerblum]