Regional books: “Forced Out,” “Women’s Bank” and more – The Denver Post

Regional books of note this month:

“Forced Out,” by Judy Y. Kawamoto (University Press of Colorado)

In the anti-Japanese hysteria of World War II, tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans, the majority of them U.S. citizens, were forced from their West Coast homes and sent to relocation camps.  A much smaller number, fewer than 5,000, were voluntarily relocated. That means they were required to move inland but were not incarcerated in camps.

Those families had the freedom to move about, to take jobs, to establish businesses and farms in the interior of the country. Still, it wasn’t easy, writes Judy U. Kawamoto. Young Judy and her family were outsiders in their own land, often treated as aliens. They lacked the cultural closeness of the Japanese in the camps. Even after the war, Yamamoto felt out of place because she had not shared the wartime experience.

“Forced Out” is an autobiography of essays about Yamamoto’s life during the war and into adulthood. It’s also a growing-up tale of a young girl who has always considered herself apart.

At the beginning of the war, the Yamamotos left the West Coast for Sheridan, Wyo., where the father had grown up.  Even old friends were suspicious of him, and he couldn’t get a job. He tried hardscrabble farming in Montana and Wyoming. Even with the help of farmhands — German POWs — he couldn’t make a go of the farm and eventually moved his family to Denver.

The family did not dwell on its misfortune. “Their task was just to do it,” writes Yamamota, a psychotherapist, who gives an insight into Japanese culture. She tells how, as a college student, she turned down the offer of a cookie. She expected her Caucasian friend to coax her. That was the Japanese way. Instead, the friend shrugged and took Yamamoto at her word. Yamamoto quickly learned to say “yes” the first time.

“American Prisoner of War Camps in Colorado,” by Kathy Kirkpatrick (Arcadia Publishing)

Of 1,210 prisoner-of-war camps in the United States, 51 were located in Colorado. Some 425,000 POWs were held in the camps, the bulk of them Germans. There were 50,000 Italians and only 5,413 Japanese.

Housing, feeding and guarding these prisoners was a major undertaking.  Guards were military men, wounded veterans and civilians. One camp estimated a woman with a dog equaled two male guards. Still, men got away. One German escaped from three different camps. After the war, he went to Hollywood, where he acted in movies. Four POWs escaped through a tunnel at a camp in Trinidad. They were aided by five Japanese-American sisters, who were later sent to federal prison for conspiracy to commit treason.

Officers and enlisted men lived in different dormitories, and many of them were paid workers on farms, replacing Americans who had been drafted.  As the war went on, tensions between the POWs and their American captors softened. Many formed lifelong friendships. There were romances and even marriages. And of course, there were deaths — 17 of them in Colorado.

Kathy Kirkpatrick has done a credible job of assembling facts and photos of the POWs and the camps for “American Prisoner of War Camps in Colorado.” There are few human-interest stories, however. No mention is made of one of Colorado’s favorite wartime stories, that of the German soldier singing “Ave Maria” on Christmas Eve in Fraser.  And despite the title, the book contains more information about Utah than Colorado.

“Pulling Harvey Out of Her Hat,” by Mimi Pokross (Rowman and Littlefield)

Mary Coyle Chase is best known for having written “Harvey,” which won her the 1945 Pulitzer Prize for plays. The Denver native wrote 13 other published plays, three screenplays, two books and innumerable articles.

Born in 1907, Chase grew up enamored with writing. She worked as a reporter at the Rocky Mountain News. As the mother of three boys, she later juggled parenting with writing. In what was appropriate self-deprecation for a woman of her times, she referred to herself as a housewife who wrote plays.

Growing up in an Irish family, Chase was intrigued with pookas, mythical beings that took animal form. She first visualized Harvey as a man-sized canary but decided he worked better as a rabbit.  When the play opened in 1944, producers wanted to introduce a bigger-than-life rabbit, but at a tryout, the actor, dressed in a black rabbit suit, didn’t work out. The play was a sensation. So was the movie, which is considered No. 35 of the 100 best comedy films. James Stewart, who played the irrepressible drunk Elwood P. Dowd, said it was his favorite role.

“Pulling Harvey Out of Her Hat” is a fact-filled biography of Chase and her writing. Besides “Harvey,” she wrote “Mrs. McThing” and “Bernadine,” which was turned into a movie with Pat Boone. But nothing ever surpassed “Harvey,” writes Pockross.  Eighty years after it was introduced on Broadway, it is still being produced.

“The Women’s Bank,” by Thomas J. Noel and Gail M. Beaton (University of Colorado)

Every woman of a certain age knows what it was like being told she couldn’t get a loan without a male member of her family co-signing for it.  Although the 1974 Equal Credit Opportunity Act negated that requirement, women didn’t know it, and lending institutions often ignored it. So a group of prominent women decided to open Denver’s Women’s Bank.

In this brief book, Thomas J. Noel and Gail M. Beaton give the history of the Women’s Bank and its founders, from the institution’s opening in 1978 to its acquisition by Colorado Business Bank in 1994. Because this is a Noel publication, the book is filled with Denver and banking history.

Determining what the bank should be wasn’t easy. Some expected it to be a feminist institution, loaning only to women. Others wanted a centrist bank that would prove women could be successful. The day the bank opened in 17th Street’s Equitable Building, some 500 depositors lined up. The bank made a profit in its first month.

While the bank’s emphasis was on women, and held classes and workshops to teach them about finance, the bank encouraged minorities and even men to apply for credit. One was a young entrepreneur who’s been turned down by 33 other lending institutions. The Women’s Bank liked him and his idea, and in 1988 loaned $50,000 to John Hickenlooper to open his brewpub.

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