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Guide to the Midori Shimanouchi Lederer Papers TAM.596

Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
2nd Floor
New York, NY 10012
(212) 998-2596

Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives

Collection processed by Janice Liao

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on February 08, 2022
Description is in English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

 Record updated by Rachel Searcy to reflect 2020 accretion Record updated by Rachel Searcy to correct harmful language regarding drug use Record updated by Rachel Searcy to provide GitHub location of previous versions of the finding aid  , September 2020 , October 2020 , November 2020

Biographical Note

Midori Shimanouchi Lederer (1923-2005) was the founder and president of Japanese American Social Services, Inc. (JASSI), which was established to address gaps in social and cultural service needs of the Japanese and Japanese American community. She founded JASSI when she was nearing retirement age in 1981. JASSI still remains the only East Coast organization that continues to provide a wide range of social services catering to Japanese and Japanese Americans.

Born in 1923 to immigrant parents in Fresno, California, Shimanouchi was the youngest of five children. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, she and her family were forcibly removed from their home and incarerated with 110,00 other Nisei at the Central Utah Relocation Center, a concentration camp (euphemistically referred to as an internment camp) in Topaz, Utah. Before World War II, Shimanouchi was a student at University of California at Berkeley. While at the camp, she appealed to the United States government to permit her to continue her studies. Her request was granted and she resumed her studies at Pace College in New York City in 1943.

In 1952, Shimanouchi became the secretary to film producer Michael Todd. Despite having no background or work-related experience in the film industry, she served multiple roles as office manager, secretary, chief assistant and diplomat, and was Michael Todd's production assistant for Around the World in 80 Days, which earned five Academy Awards. Following Todd's death in 1958, she worked for a year on a film being made in Spain by Michael Todd, Jr. In 1960 she joined the firm formed by Todd's press agent, Bill Doll and Company, a top New York firm of press agents at the time. As vice president of Bill Doll and Co., she handled publicity for Federico Fellini, Maurice Chevalier, Judy Garland, Louis Armstrong, Andre Watts and other prominent artists, which garnered her the title from media outlets as "Broadway's Number 1 Lady Press Agent."

At the height of her career as a publicist, Shimanouchi married Peter Lederer in 1966. Five years later, she retired and with the encouragement of her husband began to channel her energies toward community volunteer work. In 1971, Shimanouchi began volunteering at a drug rehabilitation agency at the Lower East Side Center, which specialized in helping elderly Chinese individuals experiencing drug dependence. She continued in aiding the senior community by volunteering for the Japanese American Help for the Aging (JAHFA) in 1979. After working with the Japanese American Senior Support Group, Shimanouchi founded JASSI in 1981 at the age of 58. With volunteers Kimi Shimizu and Cyril Nishimoto and a $5000 start-up fund, together they began providing counseling services to Japanese seniors from Shimanouchi's dining room table. With additional fundraising efforts, JASSI then secured the necessary funds to ensure all clients received services free of charge. Shimanouchi's philosophy in social services was to never turn anyone away in need of help. As a result, JASSI's services quickly grew to encompass a broad range of needs, including legal and immigration services, and assistance to restaurant workers, abused women and international students. JASSI's mission further expanded with Shimanouchi's creation of a support group in Japan.

In recognition of her community activism, Shimanouchi was the first Japanese American woman to receive the Ellis Island Honorary Award in 1992. The following year, she received an Outstanding Asian Americans Award from Governor Mario Cuomo, and a Justice in Action award from the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund in 1997. Her efforts to build bridges between social work for the aged in the United States and Japan also earned her The Order of the Sacred Treasure from the Emperor of Japan. Shimanouchi was a founding member of the board of the Asian American Federation of New York and served on the boards of The Methodist Church Home for the Aged and the Japanese American Association of New York.

Shimanouchi died on March 9, 2005, at the age of 82.