Visualizing Bainbridge History: Mary Woodward’s ‘In Defense of Our Neighbors’ debuts

When Mary Woodward initially conceived a written portrait of Bainbridge Island during the World War II years, she had reams of personal accounts at her disposal and a clear goal: to make history come alive.

When Mary Woodward initially conceived a written portrait of Bainbridge Island during the World War II years, she had reams of personal accounts at her disposal and a clear goal: to make history come alive.

“Early on, what I realized was that I could either write a textbook about Bainbridge Island or the exclusion, or I could write a book that people would actually read,” she said.

Thus began a painstaking process of organizing stories, tangible source material and the treasure trove of her own memory into a highly visual, accessible, and flip-through-able account, “In Defense Of Our Neighbors: The Walt and Milly Woodward Story.” She’ll introduce the book to islanders tomorrow with a reading and presentation at 3 p.m. at Eagle Harbor Book Co.

The glossy, image-filled coffee-table book, published by Fenwick Publishing, tells concentric stories. The first was one of the national climate during World War II, the one that would lead to and be colored by Executive Order 9066, which ordered the removal of over 100,000 Japanese Americans from their homes to internment camps – the first group of which left Bainbridge Island in March 1942.

In contrast to most West Coast news publishers at the time, Walt and Milly Woodward, new owners and editors of the Bainbridge Island Review, voiced open criticism of the internment, or exclusion, as Mary refers to it. This young couple – he a Seattle Times reporter, she a librarian and teacher, neither possessing any experience as editors or publishers – turned their recently purchased news venture into a voice for constitutional and human rights.

The Review of that time, where a reader could reliably find tide charts and farm reports alongside war commentary, painted a portrait of an island community. That, too, is one of the stories told and portraits painted in Mary’s book, as it offers a flavor of day-to-day living in a tiny island community.

It wasn’t hard for Mary to avail herself of source material. Walt and Milly were, after all, her parents, and she needed to look no further than her memory to bring forth rich vignettes illustrating the Woodwards’ life at home: Mary helping Milly with dinner each evening, Walt holding forth as he prepared the salad, Milly quietly consulting the encyclopedia to counter a point Walt wholeheartedly made and most of the time, proving herself right.

To gather information related to the exclusion, Mary early on began collaborating closely with Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community, many of whose members possessed direct knowledge of that period on the island, either because their parents or they themselves had been incarcerated.

When word of the project got out, BIJAC leaders like Hisa Matsudaira encouraged fellow community members to dig deep into their personal archives for material to contribute.

What emerged were everything from family photos to heirlooms brought over from Japan to a couple of the original punch cards used by strawberry farm workers to keep track of their haul.

“I was really amazed at some of the things that were unearthed,” Mary said. “To find Ichiro Nagatani’s (internment ticket), which was number 001, how incredible is that?”

With so much data in front of her, Mary’s overwhelming challenge was to figure out the pattern, and to use the various threads to sew a cohesive story. It’s a process that she laughingly said took her a good year. To facilitate it, she took the recommendation of long-time islander, business owner and BIJAC member Larry Nakata and sought out Fenwick Publishing.

Bainbridge-based Fenwick specializes in creating glossy, coffee table books for corporations and family archives; Nakata had worked with them on a commemorative book for Town & Country Markets’ 50th anniversary.

Fenwick’s vice president for development, Sarah Morgans, knew exactly where Mary Woodward was coming from.

“There’s always something very mysterious to people about how a book goes from something you want to write…to bringing it to the finished product,” she said.

Inspiration for the book’s design came from a source more likely than it sounds: the Dorling Kindersley books.

This reference series, usually found in the kids’ sections of libraries and bookstores, broke new ground when the first publication emerged in Britain in 1982. What set the books apart was that rather than present and organize a reference topic in text-heavy, chronological fashion, imagery existed on equal footing with text. From dinosaurs to medieval castles to baseball, each book’s page design and a conscious, careful consideration of the relationship between words and pictures, along with an overarchingly non-linear treatment of every topic, created historical and reference treatments that popped.

The series has become a classic, a mainstay of kids’ library and bookstore reference sections. And the perfect model, Woodward decided, for her book-to-be.

“As a neophyte author, I didn’t have a lot of demands of my publisher,” Mary said, “but I knew I wanted them to look like those. I could pick up a DK book on football, which I have no interest in, and find something interesting.”

Thus, among Mary’s core, linear narrative and the striking full-size photos lie dozens of sidebars and artfully arranged snippets of newspaper clippings, flyers and leaflets from the time, images of antiques, and even a view of one of the first lines of type Walt and Milly set on their linotype, “Milly Loves Waltie…”

The result is compelling, and Mary can’t hide her pleasure at how “In Defense of Our Neighbors” turned out.

And while she hasn’t quite ironed out the details of tomorrow’s discussion, she’s got plenty of material to work with.

“I had no idea I enjoyed writing quite as much,” she said. “It’s all so interesting, I think I’ll just read the whole book to them,” she said.