Mary Jane Mikuriya ’52 broke the mold when it came to what was expected of her. Brown University recently profiled her and posted a recording of Mary Jane sharing her early experiences with prejudice and pushing through adversity as part of a project titled “Brown Women Speak.”
She recounted her story of becoming one of the first female engineering students at Pembroke University—which merged into Brown in 1971—and the reality that sexism in that career path forced her to change her major to mathematics. A photo of Mary Jane, which accompanies the interview, was taken at George School, where she was the first female Mechanical Drawing student in the 1940s. She later went on to become the first female mechanical drawing assistant for her co-op job.
Mary Jane’s story began with the story of her family. She was born to parents of Japanese descent and Austro-Hungarian descent. She recalls in the transcripts of her interview the difficulties of living in Pennsylvania during World War II. Specifically, she spoke of abuse and racism she faced because of her lineage. She suffered at the hands of classmates and neighbors as her family was being monitored by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
She also shared stories of life after graduation, of working for a school district in Minneapolis Minnesota, during desegregation efforts. She said racism and sexism were apparent even during that time.
In the transcripts, she stated, “I was in charge of this desegregation project, but the evaluation head would not put my name on it because I was a woman. And he wouldn’t tell me or talk to me about what their findings were. There was a woman that was on the team—Dr. Noelle Crinkle—and she and I used to go in the ladies’ room so we could talk.”
Mary Jane told stories of how prejudice went both ways as she had a male secretary, who also faced discrimination. “And everybody came to look at him as if he were like in a zoo because secretaries aren’t allowed to be men,” she said.
Later in the interview, she discussed how she became a math teacher and administrator. She concluded the interview by discussing her volunteer work with Servas, a peace-building organization that arranges face-to-face multicultural experiences.