Umeko Tsuda (December 31, 1864 – August 16, 1929) was one of the first Japanese women to study abroad in the U.S., and a pioneer in education for women during the Meiji period in Japan.
Umeko was only six years old when she first went to the U.S. She lived in Washington, D.C. with a host family. Umeko began studying at Georgetown Collegiate Institute and later studied at Archer Institute. She learned Latin, French, English literature, biology, psychology, music, and visual arts among other subjects.
In 1882, at age 24, Umeko returned to Japan where she worked as an English teacher for the privileged class. Umeko felt that Japanese women were blocked from the opportunity to pursue studies. Furthermore, she was troubled by the inferior status of women in Japanese society. At that time, for example, ‘education’ for women meant ‘home economics’ courses.
In 1889, at age 31, Umeko returned to the U.S.; on this trip she studied biology at Bryn Mawr College, graduating in under 3 years. Umeko was encouraged to remain in the U.S. as a researcher. Instead, she returned to Japan in 1892 to create better education opportunities for Japanese women.
In 1900, Umeko founded the Women’s Institute for English Studies in Tokyo to provide equal opportunity for a liberal arts education for all women. She spent much of her time engaged in fundraising to support and develop the institution.
Tsuda College, as it is now called, was the first college in Japan to found a department of International Affairs in 1969, and now provides a quality liberal arts education.