Distinguished WSU Alumna, Yamamoto, Dies in Japan

PULLMAN, Wash.–Washington State University has received word that Matsuyo Omori
Yamamoto, the first woman to receive the university’s Regents’ Distinguished Alumnus Award,
died Aug. 10 in Japan. She was 90.
After earning a degree in home economics in 1937 at what was then Washington State
College, Yamamoto returned to Japan where she pioneered home economics extension work.
She received the university’s highest award for her contributions to better living in rural
Japan through extension work. The award was created in 1962 to honor WSU alumni who have
made distinguished contributions to society, or who through personal achievement have
brought distinction to WSU.
Edward R. Murrow was one of the first recipients of the award in 1962. Since that time, a total
of 28 alumni, including three women, have been so honored. The most recent recipient was
entrepreneur Paul G. Allen last May.
During her career, Yamamoto received numerous awards for her work, including the Ceres
Medal from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 1974. Indira Gandhi,
the late Prime Minister of India, was the first recipient of the Ceres Medal.
Yamamoto came to WSU in 1935, after earning a degree in English from Tokyo Women’s
Christian College. She attended WSU as “the friendship student of the Associated Women
Students.” At the time, women were not allowed to enter any of the higher colleges or
universities in Japan, so she was anxious to study abroad.
Two years of concentrated study in home economics at WSU and a subsequent six-month
experience as an apprentice at the Good Housekeeping Institute in New York changed her life
and made her a “missionary” for improving home life in Japan.
She returned to Japan in the winter of 1938 and became head of the Home Economics
Division of the Tokyo YWCA School, where she changed almost all the curriculum and
developed a new system for homemaking education. She also taught courses in family dietetics
and cooking science.
After World War II, she was asked by the Japanese Ministry of Education to take charge of
the new program of homemaking education for elementary, middle and high schools. In 1945, she
joined the Ministry of Education and made the homemaking course compulsory for boys and
girls from grades 5 through 12.
Later, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry asked her to start Home Economics
Extension Service work, and she was made the first woman section chief. In the first year, she
recruited 68 women field workers or “home advisers” to serve six million farm homes in Japan. By
the time she left in 1965, the number of home advisers, superiors and specialists had grown to
nearly 3,000.
In the summer of 1965, she went to Rome to join the Food and Agriculture Organization of
the United Nations. There, she became the chief of the Education and Training Section of the
Home Economics unit. She also supervised the field work in all Asian and South Pacific countries
and some African countries. In 1968, she returned to Japan, but remained a FAO consultant.
While in Rome, she was notified that she had been selected to receive the WSU Regents’
Distinguished Alumnus Award. She returned to Pullman to be honored and also delivered an
address on “Ups and Downs in Pioneering Home Economics Extension Work in Japan.”