Paddy Tsurumi, pioneering scholar of women's history


- Christina Laffin, UBC

L-R: Drs. Tsurumi, Constance Rooke and Jennie Waelti-Walters in 1979.

Dr. E. Patricia (“Paddy”) Tsurumi, historian and UVic professor emerita, died last month in her home on Hornby Island. Known for her thoroughly researched scholarship grounded in a strong sense of social justice, Paddy contributed to the history of women, education, colonialism and labour.

Tsurumi, who joined UVic in 1972, helped launch the university’s first women’s studies course in 1979 and co-founded the Women’s Studies (now Gender Studies) department. Her on- and off-campus advocacy and activism were recognized through community awards and for their powerful effect on campus. “She was a community-engaged scholar before we invented the term,” recalls John Lutz, chair of history.

As a scholar, Tsurumi is best known for her groundbreaking 1990 study of labourers, Factory GirlsWomen in the Thread Mills of Meiji Japan, which was awarded the Canada-Japan Book Prize from the Canada Council. Sally Hastings (Purdue) notes how this work established the field for further studies on Meiji women: “Tsurumi showed in no uncertain terms that in the Meiji period, the women who earned the foreign exchange that built industrial Japan by and large acted out of self-interest rather than blind patriotism and resisted their employers to the extent possible.”

Tsurumi practiced her scholarship with an infectious zeal and exuberance as she addressed gaps in Japan’s prewar, wartime, and postwar history; documented forgotten writers and scholars; and brought women’s contributions to light.

Unwavering in her support of junior scholars and the underdogs of academia, Paddy went above and beyond to connect students to resources or even provide housing in times of need.

She was a champion of women scholars and those who did not follow the traditional trajectory for academic advancement, encouraging one retiree with an interest in Japanese-Canadian history to carry out doctoral research, resulting in Midge Ayukawa’s Hiroshima Immigrants in Canada, 1891-1941, a work that would expand our understanding of Western Canadian immigrant history.

After retiring from UVic, Tsurumi moved to Hornby Island, where she continued to conduct research on early Japanese feminists Yamakawa Kikue and teach courses for residents.

Through her scholarship, Paddy encouraged us to seek out evidence of lived experiences and to go beyond simple narratives of victimhood and agency. She wrote of Meiji factory women, “If we really want to unravel their history we shall have to keep listening for their voices.”

Submitted by Christina Laffin, UBC


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Keywords: in memoriam, obituary, gender studies

People: Paddy Tsurumi

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