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Mabel Rose Jamison (Jamie) Vogel taught art to Japanese American children and adults at the Rohwer Relocation Center during World War II. “Miss Jamison” brought to this unique American experience set in a bleak camp in the uncleared swamplands of the Arkansas Delta a respect for people of all nationalities, including the thousands of imprisoned West Coast Japanese Americans uprooted from their California homes. Such respect was not typical in the United States at that time, and it was certainly not the norm in Arkansas. When the teacher left the Desha County camp as the war came to an end, she took with her not only the friendship of former students, but also an abiding commitment to continue her support of the Japanese-American community and a determination to preserve the pieces of art her students had produced.
Mabel Rose Jamison was born in Texas on September 11, 1905. Her sisters called her “Bodie,” but to her friends, she was known as “Jamie.” She graduated from Arkansas State Teacher’s College (now the University of Central Arkansas). Her education also included the study of art from private instructors, and she went on to teach art at the high school in Mabelvale (Pulaski County) and at the Normal School of the Ozarks near Harrison (Boone County).
Jamison was unmarried when she accepted from the War Relocation Authority (WRA) an appointment to teach at Rohwer Relocation Center. WRA was the civilian agency charged with administration of the ten relocation centers or “camps” to house Japanese Americans expelled from the West Coast shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entry into World War II. Two of those camps, Rohwer (Desha County) and Jerome (Drew County), were in southeastern Arkansas.
She met her husband during her two and a half years at Rohwer. Herbert S. Vogel, a native of Brooklyn, New York, was Jewish and a divorced corporal in the U.S. Army. The two met in Little Rock (Pulaski County) while she was returning to Rohwer and he was en route to his duty as a guard in a POW camp for Italian soldiers near Monticello (Drew County). The couple married on February 9, 1945, in a camp ceremony at Rohwer, after which Vogel returned to active duty. The new bride resumed her teaching duties, remaining at Rohwer through the waning days of the war in mid-1945. The couple had no children, but Vogel had a son from his previous marriage. Known to her stepson and his wife as “Mabel Rose,” she often referred to herself as the Arkansas “hillbilly.” She and her husband lived for a time with his family in Brooklyn before moving to Cleveland, Ohio. There, Vogel resumed his pre-war job in sales while she returned to her calling, art. Herbert Vogel died in 1958.
Throughout the years, Vogel continued to hold on to the threads of her past. She maintained correspondence with, and proved herself a lifeline to, many of those from camp, who, through their former teacher, were able to place their own art and creative pieces—jewelry, for example—in retail markets. Particularly in the years immediately following the war, many in the Japanese American community experienced profound economic hardship. Among those she helped was renowned Japanese American artist and former Rohwer prisoner Henry Sugimoto.
She also worked unceasingly to preserve her Rohwer students’ art and artifacts, which she took with her wherever she moved throughout her life. It is due mainly to her efforts that key dimensions of the camp’s human story exist for students of history today. She donated numerous pieces of art and artifacts from the camp to the Smithsonian Institution and to the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, California. Most notable are the eight pattern replicas of the student mural exhibit, “The History of Evacuation.” While the original pieces perished in a fire at Rohwer after the war, the replicas remain to give evidence of this student project that developed under her supervision. Her understanding of the significance of the student artwork can be seen in this letter to a museum official: “I am thrilled about the two exhibits…and I hope more people will realize those things from Rohwer were not so much ‘art’ as bits of history of young lives in the making during that era.” It is clear she understood that the students’ art would provide a visual history of the camp for generations to come. Of importance also are Vogel’s efforts to advocate for the passage of legislation that eventually acknowledged the injustice of the exile and imprisonment and provided a payment of $20,000 to Japanese American camp survivors.
Vogel died on September 1, 1994, in Memphis, Tennessee, of heart failure. She is buried at Lakewood Park Cemetery in Rocky River, Ohio.
For additional information:
Daniels, Roger. Prisoners without Trial: Japanese Americans in World War II. New York: Hill and Wang, 1993.
Record Group 1342. National Archives, Washington DC.
Rosalie Santine Gould–Mabel Jamison Vogel Collection. Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. Central Arkansas Library System, Little Rock, Arkansas.
Smith-Thompson Papers. Arkansas State Archives, Little Rock, Arkansas.
Ziegler, Jan Fielder. “Listening to ‘Miss Jamison’: Lessons from the Schoolhouse at a Japanese Internment Camp, Rohwer Relocation Center.” Arkansas Review: A Journal of Delta Studies 33 (August 2002): 137–146.
———. The Schooling of Japanese American Children at Relocation Centers During World War II: Miss Mabel Jamison and Her Teaching of Art at Rohwer, Arkansas. Lewiston, NY: The Mellen Press, 2005.
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Last Updated 6/8/2016
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