Distinguished Women of Past and Present


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Utako Shimoda

From: Japan
Fields: Education, Literature and Poetry
Key Words/Phrases: writer, poet
Utako Shimodo was born Seki Harao in Japan in 1854. The Hirao were samurai and belonged to a clan but the family openly supported the right of the emperor.

Her family was scholarly and, although they suffered because of their convictions, made every effort to give the young girl a classical education. Her father taught her the Chinese classics and she read every book within their household even as a child.

After the abdication of the Shogun Yoshinobu and restoration of the new young Emperor Meiji, her father became an official and his daughter Seki was given the privilege of higher learning. Both the Emperor and the Empress were very encouraging. She attended lectures on education by renowned scholars both from abroad and at home. Her poetry so impressed the Empress that she changed Seki's name to Uta (song), thus Utako. She became the Empress' companion when they visited schools.

After a short marriage ending in the death of her husband, Utako devoted herself completely to education for women and became their champion. She eventually became associated with many emerging women's schools. She also helped establish the Court-sponsored Peer's School for Girls.

She was a strong advocate of western learning and even encouraged new medical research on physical development. The first Prime Minister of Japan, Hirobumi Ito, called Utako "a great woman learned in many fields." She helped many schools open their doors to women and lectured and taught constantly on the benefits of educating women. She even openend a school for Chinese women and a school that taught crafts and fostered artistic skills. She wrote more than 80 books on education, literature, hygiene and poetry among others. She also wrote an introduction to Lady Shikibu Murasaki's book Genji Monogatari but died at the age of 80 before it was complete.

Utako Shimodo is famous also because in 1906, this educator, writer and advocate of women's learning earned the equivalent of $103,000. Not bad.

Contributed by Florence Prusmack, author of Khan: a romantic historical novel based on the early life of Ghenghis Khan in 1998.


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