A Place in History, the Life of Motoko Fujishiro Huthwaite

4 min read

| By Traci Cothran |

Most people live happy, fulfilled lives, providing love and meaning to those around them, but rarely make the history books. Others have colorful lives that play out amidst major historical events. The latter describes a former Gale colleague of ours, Motoko Fujishiro Huthwaite.

Huthwaite worked at Gale from 1986 to 2002, following many years as an elementary school and college educator, and inspired many. But her story started in 1927, when she was born in Boston to Japanese citizens, and her family prospered in Cambridge until the start of World War II. Amongst growing hostilities from neighbors and friends, she and her mother and brother accepted an invitation from the U.S. government to seek refuge in Tokyo, Japan, in 1942. Her father stayed behind to continue his dental practice, but he was arrested by the FBI and sent to an internment camp. He was finally reunited with his family in September 1943, but was, it seems, forever scarred by the experience.

Motoko Fujishiro Huthwaite Collection, courtesy of Robert M. Edsel

Huthwaite’s path was no less easy. As the war progressed, she experienced the horrors of the bombing campaigns of the Allies, the food shortages, and the terror of war. Then the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After the Japanese surrender, her family was once again in touch with their friends from Boston, including Langdon Warner, one of those we now refer to as the Monuments Men. Through that connection, Huthwaite started clerking for several Monuments Men, who were doing local field work. She was one of the 345 people (only a few dozen of whom were women) from 14 countries who helped find, preserve, and return cultural treasures to their owners during that postwar period. By all reports, they’re responsible for the return of over 5 million looted works—several books and movies have been made about their efforts.

Huthwaite returned to Boston in 1948, attending and graduating from Radcliffe College; after, she returned to Japan to work for several years at the American School in Japan. Then it was back to the United States; after she earned her M.A. from the University of South Carolina, she ended up in Detroit to secure her doctorate from Wayne State University. It was there she met and married Navy man William Huthwaite in 1971; earned several more degrees; then landed at Gale, where she worked on many projects, including our Something About the Author series. She was, by all accounts, a wonderful and lively person. “Motoko was a gem. Well read, very insightful, and always waiting to tell an interesting story,” recalls Gale Director Shirelle Phelps. Gale Senior Content Developer Sheila Dow recalls her as “an incredibly warm, caring person.” As a survivor of war, Huthwaite continued to demonstrate for peace throughout her life.

Motoko Fujishiro Huthwaite died on May 4, 2020, due to complications from the coronavirus, at the age of 92. But her legacy, the lives she touched, and her place in history live on—and we are grateful to have known her.

Motoko Fujishiro Huthwaite Collection, courtesy of Robert M. Edsel

Traci J. Cothran

Meet the Author

Traci Cothran is the director of Gale’s K12 content team as well as a history buff, so she can often be found watching videos from the early 1900s in Gale In Context: World History.  

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