Yole Granata Sills
Written by Peter Simonson and Lauren Archer
Yole Granata was born in Greenwich Village, New York in 1919. Her parents were Italian immigrants and musicians (a cellist and a violinist), and her grandmother an opera singer and graduate of Italian music conservatories. They moved to Brooklyn when she was a young child, where she lived bilingually, speaking Italian at home and English in the public schools. Her father made a living by providing orchestras to movie houses, the sound score in an era before the “talkies.” She grew up attending the movies for free with her father’s orchestras, listening to music at home, and living in a cultured immigrant household. She attended Brooklyn College, a recently formed public college created from a merger of the Brooklyn branches of the traditionally female Hunter College and City College of New York. She attended the school in the late 1930s, where she was part of an intellectual climate rich with émigré European faculty members and former fighters in the Spanish Civil War. She studied languages and literature—learning French and surpassing the few Italian professors on staff.
After she graduated from Brooklyn College in 1939, Granata considered enrolling in graduate courses at Columbia, but instead applied for a new job she heard about requiring knowledge of foreign languages. She appeared at the office, was interviewed in Italian, and immediately was offered a job working for a precursor of the Voice of America, which grew out of the Office of War Information (OWI)
and its predecessor, the Office of Facts and Figures—government agencies that handled much of the war-related propaganda and domestic ‘morale’ duties. Located on West 57th Street in Manhattan, the OWI housed 20 or more foreign language sections, which monitored overseas news and radio broadcasting, and produced American propaganda in the strategic battle over information and spin. Granata managed the Italian section, where she worked with Italian-born Jewish refugees and oversaw 15 Italian prisoners of war who were brought in daily from a war camp in Staten Island (including a lieutenant who had been the attorney for one of Joan Crawford’s divorces). She wrote scripts for Italian language radio broadcasts, often addressed to partisan units behind enemy lines, worked long hours, and spoke Italian almost exclusively during her more than five years with the agency. Granata was one of many women working the different foreign language desks in the OWI offices, others of whom were also directors of their language groups.
In 1946, Granata took a job as information officer in the postwar American occupation of Japan, headed by General Douglas MacArthur. She was one of five or so people in a Tokyo office that fed information about the occupation to the press, both in and outside Japan. Granata dealt with the Allied Press, publicizing efforts at land reform and expanding women’s rights in a society that remained extremely traditional. She amplified the efforts of Lieutenant Ethel Weed, an energetic Women’s Army Corps (WAC) officer who met with kimono-wearing Japanese women daily in her office, and helped re-establish a native women’s movement that would eventually push through important reforms. Before she returned to the U.S., Granata would also write two volumes for the government’s internal history of the occupation.
While in Japan, Granata married David Sills, whom she met at a cocktail party at the U.S. embassy. A Dartmouth College English major and son of a Yale librarian, Sills was writing reports for a unit devoted to public opinion and sociological research—an important source for the introduction of public opinion polling in postwar Japan. The couple returned to the States after the Korean War began in the summer of 1950, when much of MacArthur’s occupying force was sent to the first major armed conflict of the Cold War. They moved to New York, where Yole briefly went back to work for the Voice of America and David enrolled in the graduate program in sociology at Columbia.
Yole would go to work for the Bureau as well, as a researcher and interviewer on different sorts of funded projects. By the mid-1950s, the Bureau was beginning to move away from mass communications research into other areas. Yole Sills took part in several of an important series of studies done of medical education, which helped change how medical students were trained. She also interviewed and prepared reports on immigration, black migrant workers from the South, and the current state of the pajama industry among other topics, and taught new graduate students how to interview as well. The Sills adopted a child, and Yole cut back her work outside the home, raising their son and taking care of her infirm mother, while David took over directorship of the Bureau (1957-60). The couple spent a year in India in 1961-62, where she wrote a report based on interviews with Indians about their reading of U.S. and Russian literature. David returned to edit the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, while Yole channeled her interest in medical sociology into adjunct teaching opportunities. In the 1970s, she was appointed Director of Interdisciplinary Studies at the new Ramapo College in New Jersey, and continued to write about medicine. In the 1980s and ‘90s, she conducted research on the AIDS pandemic and the sociology of retirement communities, publishing a well-received book on the former in 1994.
Yole G. Sills, “Problems of Negro Migrant Agricultural Workers: Views of the Migrant Ministry” Columbia University, BASR Report B-0549, 25pp. (1955)
“Report on Common Council Cases,” Columbia University, BASR Report B-0547, 127pp. (1956)
“Manufacturers, Retailers, and Consumers: An Exploratory Study of the Men’s Pajama Industry,” Columbia University, BASR Report B-0602, 107pp. (1958)
“U.S.A. and U.S.S.R. English Language Publications Distributed to India,” Columbia University, BASR Report B-0755-2, 101pp. (1962)
“Three Conferences, Many Question Marks” The Hastings Center Report, 6:4 (1976), 9-11 (with Tabitha M Powledge and Rachelle Hollander)
The AIDS Pandemic: Social Perspectives
, Greenwood Press, 1994
The AIDS crisis and the Modern Self: Biographical Self-Construction in the Awareness of Finitude
, Springer, 2000.