Joyce Lebra, feminist trailblazer, noted scholar and the first female history professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, died on October 10 in Boulder. She was 95 years old.
LeBra’s closest friends and chosen family described her as a formidable, intelligent and warm woman whose heart was divided between Asia and America, her love of the sea and the mountains of Colorado.
Born in Minnesota and raised in the Hawaiian area, LeBra’s life was shaped by the injustices she witnessed as a child, said Andrew Violet, who leads the University of Colorado Library CU Legends Series.
He met and became close friends with Violet LeBra, he said, when he was named a CU Legend, and he now feels like his adopted nephew.
“I think she was filled with a sense of injustice from where she grew up in Hawaii, which she wanted to address and even atone for,” Violet said.
Lebra’s father worked as an entomologist for pineapple and sugar companies in Hawaii that were displacing indigenous people and exploiting migrant workers.
“I think the feeling of injustice overwhelmed him, and it never left him,” Violet said. “I don’t know whether this story was intended to be told by a scholar and academic or as a personal sense of solidarity and atonement with those who were oppressed. It was probably a combination of all those things.”
Lebra became the first woman in the United States to receive a doctorate in Japanese history in 1958, when she graduated from Harvard/Radcliffe and was CU Boulder’s first—and only—female history professor for 15 years. He taught at CU Boulder for 29 years.
She was a Fulbright scholar who studied in Japan from 1955–1957 and in India from 1965–1966 and published research that other academics did not or did not focus on, such as the Indian National Army from the perspective of Japanese and Indian sources. the construction of. .
One of the greatest honors of his life came in his final weeks, when he was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rage with a Neck Ribbon by the Consulate General of Japan in Denver. As the Denver Post reports, it is the third highest honor one can receive for contribution to Japan, and he received it for “promoting academic exchange and mutual understanding between Japan and the United States”. .
She received the medal in August and wore it consistently, said close friend KJ McCrory.
“She never took it off. She slept with it, and she wanted to give it to me before that Friday passed because she wanted to make sure it got back to Andrew and (CU) the library,” McCrory said. “It was truly a symbol of his life’s work and promotion of culture.”
David Wagner, a longtime friend who counts Lebra as an adoptive mother, wrote a chapter honoring her in an upcoming book about her life in Japan, “Never Give a Young Person a Map If You expect him to stay home.”
Wagner wrote, “He always aimed high, repeatedly broke the mold, and never wavered in times of difficulty.” “She was a great practitioner of living life to the fullest every day. More than anything, she was a lighthouse to me, a guiding light from someone who lived in Japan even before I was born.”
LeBra’s legacy lives on through the vast community that he built and maintained in his final days.
While Lebra became less mobile later in life, McCurry recalls Lebra’s gathering with friends for Japan nights, when they would cook Japanese food and serve it on special Japanese dishes that they had collected.
The last time McCrory met her, on the Friday before her death, LeBra told her she had 13 visitors the day before.
And Lebra loved cats—especially black cats, the latest of which was Piffy, adopted five years ago. Piffy was initially supposed to be adopted by McCorry after Lebra’s passing, but Lebra did not want Piffy to live with McCurry’s other cats.
“She was such a straightforward person — I came over, and she said, ‘You know, it just won’t work with you, KJ,'” McCrory said with a laugh.