'Messengers of Goodwill': America’s Tokens of Friendship and Power
In early cultural exchange programs, the act of sending gifts abroad often doubled as an opportunity for children to rehearse and reinforce narratives about their own national superiority and exceptionalism.
By: Katie Day Good
In spring 1927, an American teacher named Lillie Newton Douglas traveled from Los Angeles to Tokyo to initiate an exchange of visual materials between Californian and Japanese schools. Sent by the Visual Education Department of the Los Angeles school system, which was at the forefront of a growing movement to teach internationalism to young people, Douglas’s mission was to make arrangements with the Japanese to exchange “student-made school work, handicrafts, drawings and objects” to illustrate the “home life, school life, and play life of the two countries.” Conducting such an exchange with Japan was important, educators believed, to counter the anti-Asian rhetoric that had led to the passage of the 1924 Immigration Act, which barred Asians from immigrating to the United States.
Yet while she was in Japan, Douglas encountered a similar program that was already underway on the ground — involving not an exchange of visual aids but rather a shipment of 13,000 dolls. Dubbed “messengers of goodwill,” the American dolls had been outfitted by thousands of schools, scout troops, and churches in the U.S., and sent by steamship to Japan under the auspices of the Committee on World Friendship Among Children (CWFC), a nonprofit peace education organization based in New York City and supported by the Federal Council of Churches, an ecumenical association of Protestant denominations.