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Records of the Oberlin Shansi Memorial Association (Group 15)
[19] Records of the Oberlin Shansi Memorial Association, 1881-1987, 44 ft. 6 in.

Administrative History

The Oberlin Shansi Memorial Association (OSMA), a private foundation housed on the Oberlin College campus, has its roots in the fervor for foreign missions that characterized the United States in the late 19th century. In 1881, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) accepted 12 students primarily from the Oberlin Theological Seminary to serve as missionaries in the Shansi province of China. (These 12 students called themselves the Oberlin Band.) Some 30 missionaries from Oberlin served between 1882 and 1900. Several women, known as associate missionaries, were part of this group. Instrumental in reaching the female population in Shansi, these women missionaries visited Chinese women in their homes and introduced them to Christianity. Many of these women, such as Mrs. Lydia Lord Davis (1867-1952), were committed to education. In establishing girls’ schools in Fenzhou-fu and Rencun, Mrs. Davis overcame both Chinese resistance to Western learning and the Chinese belief that education was only for males.

The work of the Oberlin Band was stopped by the Boxer Rebellion, which took the lives of many missionaries and their converts. Between 1900 and 1908, Oberlin sought ways to commemorate the Oberlinians who had died in the Boxer uprising. In 1903, the Memorial Arch at Oberlin College was dedicated to the Oberlin martyrs. A strong desire persisted, however, to memorialize the martyrs further by continuing their educational work in Shansi. This led to the formation of the OSMA in 1908 under the leadership of Oberlin College President Henry Churchill King (1858-1934), the YWCA and YMCA secretaries, and Mrs. Davis and Mrs. Alice Moon Williams, widows of two Oberlin martyrs. Oberlin graduate Kung Hsiang-hsi (1880-1967), a former student in the Taiku missionary school and a friend of the martyrs, returned to Taigu in 1908 to head OSMA’s educational work. A school, Ming Hsien, was built on the land ABCFM received as restitution for the rebellion. This school was originally for boys, but it became coeducational when it merged with the girls school, Bei Lu.

During the 1920s and 1930s the aim of OSMA and Ming Hsien evolved from evangelism into one of Christian service to China. Using the endowment from the Charles Martin Hall estate, OSMA incorporated under the laws of the State of Ohio. In 1926 Mrs. Davis was named OSMA’s first executive secretary, responsible for coordinating the organization’s efforts in China and the United States. OSMA appointed representatives to teach, coach athletics, and lead other extracurricular activities at Ming Hsien. After Ming Hsien became a coeducational and secular school at the primary and secondary level, the program was expanded to include an agricultural department, an industrial school, and rural service.

The invasion of northern China by the Japanese in 1937 forced Ming Hsien to relocate in the Szechuan province, 1,300 miles to the southwest. Here the school prospered until 1951. OSMA withdrew from the country when the United States ended diplomatic relations with China.

The end of Oberlin’s commitment in China caused OSMA to modify and expand its program in other parts of Asia. Margaret (Peg) Leonard (b. 1914) oversaw the evolving OSMA, serving as the organization’s executive secretary from 1943 until 1981. She was succeeded by Carl Jacobson (b. 1947). New emphasis was placed on student and faculty exchange programs with institutions in Japan, India, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, South Korea, Hong Kong, Afghanistan, and the Philippines. In the early 1980’s, OSMA returned to China.

Administered by a board of trustees, a student committee, and an executive director, OSMA’s purpose is to foster international respect and understanding through educational exchange with Asia. Graduating seniors and first-year alumni of Oberlin College can live and work in an Asian culture for two years as Oberlin Shansi representatives. In addition to sending representatives abroad, OSMA offers fellowships and support for Asian-related programs and events at Oberlin to Asian and Oberlin faculty members and students. Each year, the Shansi Student Committee and trustees select up to seven representatives to travel to Asia. In general, representatives receive support from OSMA and affiliated institutions in Asia for teaching English and for language study. For a time during the 1960s and 1970s, a limited number of representatives devised their own programs of work and study in an experimental program that did not necessarily involve teaching English.

Scope and Content

Divided into six subgroups, the OSMA records document the activities of Oberlinians in Asia. The first group records the missionary activities of the Oberlin Band, 1882-1899. Among the records is the recording secretary’s book, 1882-1885. Correspondence 1883-1958—which includes letters by Lydia Lord Davis, reminiscences of the Oberlin Band’s work in China, and handwritten and typewritten notes—summarizes the history of the Oberlin Band.

The administrative records, which comprise the bulk of the collection, primarily document the founding and operation of primary and middle schools, and later a college, in Shansi province, 1908 (1920-1950) 1987. Among the items included in this group are the constitution of OSMA; the minutes of the association, 1907-1940; minutes of the executive committee, board of trustees, 1944-1987; and minutes of the advisory council, 1950. Among the reports, 1907-1980, are the annual reports of the OSMA, 1907-1933. The administrative correspondence details the role of cultural exchange in both higher education and international relations. The correspondence of OSMA, 1904-1986, documents OSMA activities, including its work with the ABCFM, the East-West Association (and its director, Pearl Buck), and the United Boards for Christian Colleges in China and Christian Higher Education in Asia. The records of the student committee are among the committee records. The financial records, 1903-1978, 1980-1986, include annual financial reports and budgets, 1910-1941; reports and correspondence of the treasurer, 1936-1980; records of the finance committee, 1980-1986; and information on scholarship applications and awards, 1919-1971. The general file, 1918-1984, includes materials produced and collected by OSMA or related to the association, including reports, essays, and notes for Susan Hinman’s history of the OSMA.

Program Areas, 1907-1987, documents OSMA’s programs in Asian educational institutions. Among the documents are administrative records; correspondence with exchange students and faculty members and with exchange institutions; and a small amount of printed matter and students’ work from Asian schools.

The experiences of individual OSMA representatives are documented for 1933-1987. The reports and correspondence provide insight into the lives of both the Chinese people in this era and the American men and women living and working in China. These people observed and reported on such political events and social issues in China as the founding of the Nationalist government, the invasion by the Japanese and the ensuing Sino-Japanese War, and the eventual triumph of the Communist forces.

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