Quakers in the World

Quakers in the World

Floyd Schmoe

1895 - 2001

A sixth generation Quaker, Floyd Schmoe was born in Kansas but lived most of his life in the Pacific Northwest of the USA.  He was both a forest ecologist and a marine biologist.  In the course of relief work carried out in six separate wars, he was shot at, but never carried a gun.

In 1917, he was studying forestry at Seattle University when the US entered the First World War.  Schmoe applied to the newly formed American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) for alternative service in Europe.  He briefly joined a Red Cross ambulance unit as a stretcher bearer, then spent fourteen months building pre-fab homes and converting army barracks to house war refugees.

Returning to the US, he completed his studies and was hired as a park ranger at Mount Rainier in Washington State. He wrote a regular newsletter describing the wildlife and flora, and in 1924 became the park’s first full time naturalist.

In 1928, he joined the University of Washington as an instructor in forest biology, while at the same time pursuing a master’s degree in marine biology.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, he organised demonstrations against American involvement in the war and worked with the AFSC to help Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi occupied Europe. After 1942, he became particularly concerned with the plight of Japanese Americans interned following the attack on Pearl Harbor.  He gave up his academic career to head a new regional office of the AFSC.  One of his first projects was to help Japanese American students to transfer to schools further east where they were allowed to continue their education. He and his staff worked alongside other church leaders inside the internment camps and also acted to protect the property of those interned. His work led to an FBI investigation, which labelled Schmoe a ‘rabid pacifist.’

Schmoe particularly abhorred the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, calling it "an atrocity, even in warfare." Believing that building new houses for those whose homes had been bombed was a more meaningful response than any apology, he tried to persuade the AFSC to sponsor a house-building project.  When that failed, he set about organising his own project, Houses for Hiroshima.

Finding it difficult to get permission to work in Japan, he moved initially to Hawaii, where he ran an AFSC programme to provide food and clothing to Japan.  In 1948, he visited Japan for the first time, reviewing the devastation in Hiroshima and bringing with him 250 goats to provide milk for hospitals and orphanages.

Having raised several thousand dollars from friends and family, Schmoe and his wife brought building materials, food and medical supplies to Hiroshima in 1948, and with the help of local volunteers and craftsmen, built houses for four homeless families.  Over the next four years, Schmoe helped build twenty houses in Hiroshima and a further twelve in Nagasaki, housing almost a hundred families.

In 1953, Schmoe heard about the refugee crisis in Korea resulting from the war there.  He sailed from Japan, bringing building materials and building expertise, and set up Houses for Korea.  Between 1953 and 1956, Houses for Korea worked with local people to build homes, secure water supplies, repair roads, and build and run a free medical clinic in Kyonggi Province.

In 1956, following the nationalisation of the Suez Canal, 4000 families from Port Said in Egypt were displaced, some of whom were resettled in the Sinai Desert.  Schmoe organised Wells for Egypt, raising money for plants and a pump for a well, and helping to plant an orchard.

After 17 years working largely as an unpaid volunteer, Schmoe retired in 1959 to write.  In 1987, at the age of 92, he began work with colleagues, clearing land at the University of Seattle to create a Peace Park. The next year, he travelled to Tashkent in Uzbekistan to help build a peace park there, before going on to Japan to receive a Peace Award from the Hiroshima Peace Centre.  Schmoe used his award money to fund the completion of Seattle Peace Park, which opened on Hiroshima Day, 6th August 1990.

Schmoe died in 2001, aged 105.

Print this article

Further Reading and Credits


Image reproduced by kind permission of the copyright holders Washington State Historical Society.  It can be found at http://columbia.washingtonhistory.org/magazine/articles/2009/0209/0209-a4.aspx For non commercial use only