‘…Bless God today that I am here’

— Ellen Davis

Sue Stanford (back row, center) at the McTyeire School in Shanghai around 1930. Stanford served as a missionary to China from 1914–1950.

Collection Documents Southwestern’s Early Connections to China

Southwestern’s connections to China date back almost to its founding. Several early faculty members, such as bible professor Herbert Lee Gray, had been missionaries in China (Gray was a missionary there from 1890 to 1897).

Several early Southwestern graduates also went to China as missionaries. One of the first was 1895 graduate Edward Pilley. Pilley’s impressions of the country are documented in an eight-page letter written to his former professor Claude Carr Cody shortly after his arrival in Shanghai. The letter—which is in a scrapbook of Cody’s in the Special Collections area of Southwestern’s A. Frank Smith, Jr. Library, provides a fascinating perspective on what China was like a century ago and the mindset of early visitors.

“The only way to travel is by boats, except afoot, no horses or conveyances of any kind here, no roads, a narrow foot path is about all,” Pilley wrote. “Not a person in town that speaks English, nor understands it. I have just learned enough Chinese to make my servant know what I want, if I do not want too much. But Professor Cody, bless God today that I am here. I have a brighter, richer experience today I believe than I have ever had, while away from home and friends in a strange land among a strange, degraded people.” Pilley concludes his letter by writing that “If I had another life to spend I would be glad to spend it here.”

Sue Stanford, a 1911 Southwestern graduate, also went to China as a missionary with the Southern Methodist China Mission in 1914. Stanford had studied under professor Herbert Lee Gray, and he influenced her decision to dedicate her life to missionary work.

Stanford was stationed with the Pilleys at a mission in Huchow, a city of 100,000 people located about 100 miles from Shanghai. She served as a teacher and principal at the Virginia School, a boarding school for girls that had been started just after the turn of the century—a time in which formal education for girls in China was non-existent. Stanford also taught at the famous McTyeire School in Shanghai, which had pioneered quality education for Chinese women. She remained in China until missionaries and other foreigners were forced to leave the country after the communists came to power in 1949. During her time in China, Stanford witnessed upheavals caused by both civil war and the Japanese invasion in 1937. She wrote a first-person account of her experiences in a “Life Sketch” prepared for the Board of Foreign Missions shortly after her retirement in 1953.

Stanford’s nephew, E.R. Stanford Jr. ’40, also wrote a biography of his aunt and her experiences in China from 1914 to 1950. A copy of the book is in Southwestern’s Special Collections, along with research materials, publications and correspondence that Stanford gathered to write the biography.

“Significant progress toward gender equality (in China) could hardly have occurred had high-quality educational opportunities for girls, such as those provided by Christian missionaries, not become available,” Stanford writes in the biography.

Southwestern also has some artifacts collected by Rev. John Littleberry Hendry, who served with his wife, Alice, as a Methodist missionary in Huchow from 1888 to 1929. All four of the Hendry’s children, who were born in China, attended Southwestern: Cullen Hendry and Madge Hendry, who both graduated in the class of 1910; John Hendry Jr., who graduated in 1915; and Robert F. Hendry, who attended from 1916–1917. The Hendry collection includes Chinese coins, an opium pipe and shoes worn by women with bound feet.

Over the years, others have donated early books published about China to Southwestern. The library’s Special Collections has several early travel books on China, including one published in 1846 and another written by a bishop of the United Methodist Church in 1881. The library also has a children’s book published in 1879 and a beautifully colored three-volume set of books on oriental ceramic art that was published in 1896.