Tsuda Umeko (December 31, 1864 – August 16, 1929) was an educator who pioneered in education for women in Meiji period Japan. Originally named Tsuda Mume, with mume or ume referring to the Japanese plum, she went by the name Ume Tsuda while studying in the United States before changing her name to Umeko in 1902.
Tsuda Umeko was born as the second daughter of Tsuda Sen, a progressive agriculturist and strong proponent of the westernization and Christianization of Japan. In 1871, she was volunteered by her father as the youngest member of the Iwakura mission at the age of six, to travel to the United States as an exchange student. She stayed behind to study in the American education system until she was 18 years old.
Tsuda lived in Washington, D.C., with Charles Lanman (the secretary of Japanese legation), and his wife Adeline. As they had no children, they welcomed her like their own child. Tsuda attended the middle-class Georgetown Collegiate Institute, where she learned English. After graduating, she entered the Archer Institute, which catered to the daughters of politicians and bureaucrats. She excelled in language, math, science, and music. About one year after arriving in the United States, Tsuda asked to be baptized as a Christian. Although the Lanmans were Episcopalians, they decided she should attend the nonsectarian Old Swedes Church.
After returning to Japan, she published several dissertations and made speeches about improving the status of women. The 1889 Girl’s Higher Education Law, required each prefecture to establish at least one public middle school for girls. However, these schools were not able to provide girls with the same quality education as that of the boys’ schools. In 1900, she founded the Women’s Institute for English Studies (Joshi Eigaku-juku) located in Kōjimachi, Tokyo to provide equal opportunity for a liberal arts education for all women regardless of parentage. The school faced a chronic funding shortfall, and Tsuda spent much time fundraising in order to support the school. Due to her enthusiastic efforts, the school gained official recognition in 1903.
In 1905, Tsuda became the first president of the Japanese branch of the Tokyo YWCA.
However, Tsuda’s busy life undermined her health, and she suffered a stroke. In January 1919, she retired to her summer cottage in Kamakura, where she died after a long illness in 1929. The Joshi Eigaku Juku changed its name to Tsuda Eigaku Juku in 1933 and, after World War II, became Tsuda College. It remains one of the most prestigious women’s institutes of higher education in Japan.
Although Tsuda strongly desired social reform for women, she did not advocate a feminist social movement, and she opposed the suffrage movement. Her activities were based on her philosophy that education should focus on developing individual intelligence and personality.