Document 1: Susan Rowena Bird to Susan Bowen Bird,
26 September-1 October 18981

Font size: AAA


The following document was written by Susan Rowena Bird to her mother, Susan Bowen Bird, in late September and early October of 1898 while she was traveling through Japan with a group of missionaries on the R.M.S. Empress of China. Bird first went to China to work in 1890, but she returned to the United States for a brief period of time in 1897-1898. She returned to China in the fall of 1898, and this letter was presumably written during her return voyage. The letter ends with Bird's arrival in Shanghai, where she planned to mail it before heading inland. The letter spans the course of a week, detailing visits to Yokohama and Kobe and the travel time in between. Bird describes the physical places she visits, as well as her interactions with other missionaries, both those in her party on the Empress of China and those she met in Japan.

Document Text:

Monday, September 26 - 1898

My Dear Mother,3
We have had our little trip about Yokahama, and are on our way again. We mailed letters there, but I do not know when they will be sent on. We expected to meet the Empress of India here, but this time of year a longer stop is made at Hong Kong so the vessels pass at Shanghai, so letters mailed at Yokahama may not reach you before those mailed at Shanghai. Mrs. Thompson and I did not get ashore with the rest of our party, for it looked a little like rain when we anchored.4 When we did go we went directly to the Bible House as we could not speak Japanese and I did not know where to find the places we wished to visit. Mr. Loomis, the Bible agent, instead of simply directing us, sent his clerk along with us to the Bank and the tea store. He was a Japanese who spoke English and so was a great help. When we had exchanged a little money and Mrs. Thompson had bought some tea, this man directed our Ricket (sic) Ricksha men and we took that pretty ride over the hill and around the bay. We took dinner at the Missionary Boarding House and rode back in time for the three o'clock launch that took us back to our ship. We sailed again and four o'clock. Our next stop will be Kobe tomorrow afternoon. Several of us will go to the Kobe Home (the Girls College) and call on our missionaries.5 We have two young ladies on board of the Southern Methodist Society.6 One is to work in Japan so stops in Kobe, the other is to be married tomorrow evening and go with us to Shanghai and finally to Su-Chow. The gentleman she is supposed to marry met her today in Yokahama and expected to take passage there and go on with us to Kobe, but she would not let him so he took train for Kobe and she goes on with us. He will reach Kobe first and so be ready to meet her as soon as we cast anchor.

Wed. A.M. We are in the beautiful inland sea7 now and I cannot afford to take much time for writing. We carried out our plans at Kobe only stayed ashore longer than expected. The Wycuff sisters, Miss Marvill, Miss Chapin, Miss Patterson, Mrs. Thompson, and I, went to the Kobe Home - that is, all the ladies of our party American Board Party.8 Mrs. Lobenstine thought they would come later, but had so many things on land that they did not get up.9 Mrs. Guile met us at the landing and took us to the Home. We did not expect to stay to tea but they had expected us and were all ready so we did. Miss Howe of the Glory Kindergarten took the Wycuff sisters to her home for tea, but they came back to the Home again and went on with us. Miss Howe and Miss Wilcox went to the wedding so they had to hurry a little.10 A little before eight o'clock we went with Miss Cozad to the place where she lives with Miss Dudley and Miss Barrows and we had a lovely visit there.11 Miss Cozad went back to the landing with us and we got back to the ship a little after nine o'clock. The wedding was to be at 7:30 at the Southern Methodist Mission and the party were expected back about ten. The Lobenstine party and Miss Patterson went to the wedding and we arranged that those of us who did not go would decorate the room. We secured flags from the 1st officer and draped the room quite prettily then got a lot of rice from the steward and went up on deck. We had the rice in our handkerchiefs and stood by the railing as their launch came along side. Mr. Bennet assisted the bride to the gang way and the groom was near at hand and friends followed. When they were about half way up the stairs we showered the rice and they got the full benefit of the whole of it. Mr. and Mrs. Lobenstine and Mrs. Morris had been flying around at such a rate that they had had no supper, only the cake and cream served at the wedding. The whole party of us including the bride and groom went to the dining room and chattered about the day while they devoured sandwiches. It was late when we got to bed but we had had a very delightful day. I must go out on deck now and watch these village dotted islands for we are passing through the prettiest part of our journey.

Thursday A.M. We anchored in Nagasaka [sic] bay before daylight this morning. It was so hot in our rooms that we could hardly sleep so we got up when the children waked which was before light. By the time I got up on deck with Marion it was quite light but no one was out. A few days ago we wore our winter clothes and wraps and used heavy steamer mugs besides to keep warm; now we are incased in our lightest summer garments.

Shanghai Sat. Oct. 1st. We hear there will be a chance to send American mail this P.M. if it is ready in an hours time. We left our ship at...about 8 this morning and came up the river in the tender reaching here between 10 and 11. We have had dinner and will try to do a little business this P.M. so as to be ready to start for Tientsin as soon as the steamer goes. It is raining so will be disagreeable getting about but I must do what I can. Love to all the dear ones at home and all enquiring friends.

Most lovingly,

[1] Transcribed by Sarah Jane Kerwin.

[2] Bird used company letterhead for this correspondence. In 1897, the Canadian Pacific Railway Company began a shipping service from Vancouver to Asia, called the Pacific Steampship Company (C.P.S.C.), which was responsible for transporting goods, mail, and passengers across the Pacific Ocean (The University of British Columbia Library, "The Chung Collection: C.P.R. Steamships." Last modified 2013. Accessed May 5, 2013.

[3] Susan Rowena Bird's mother's name was Susan Bowen Bird, which is why the younger woman went by her middle name ("Susan Rowena Bird Biography," Oberlin College Archives,

[4] Tinnie D'Etta Thompson (née Atewitt), a graduate of Oberlin College and seminary, arrived in Taigu in 1890, the same year as Rowena Bird. In 1892, she married James Brettle Thompson, who completed his last year of missionary training at Oberlin and had been working in Taigu, China for five years before Tinnie arrived. Tinnie later died in childbirth on August 23, 1899, and her husband returned to the United States with their two children soon after (Ellsworth Carlson, The Oberlin Band: The Christian Mission in Shanxi, 1882-1900. [Oberlin, OH: Oberlin Shansi Memorial Association, 2001], 25).

[5] The Kobe Home was originally a Christian boarding school for girls in Kobe, Japan founded by the American missionaries Eliza Talcott and Julia Dudley in 1875. It was renamed the Kobe Girls' School in 1879, and the school was renamed Kobe College in 1894 after a college division was added in 1885, although it did not become a full four-year college until 1909 (Kobe College Foundation, "Kobe College History,"

[6] The American Southern Methodist Episcopal Mission, or Methodist Society, was a society affiliated with the Southern Methodist Church concerned primarily with missionary work in Asia in the mid-late nineteenth century and early twentieth century (Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity, "American Southern Methodist Episcopal Mission,"

[7] The Inland Sea, or Seto Naikai Sea in Japanese, is located between the Honsh_, Shikoku, and Ky_sh_ islands and is connected to the Pacific Ocean by straits. "Seto Naikai" comes from the Japanese words "se," "to," "nai," and "kai," which mean "channel," "door," "inside," and "sea," respectively (John Everett-Heath, "Inland Sea," in The Concise Dictionary of World Place-Names,

[8] The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM), founded in 1810, was one of the most active and most important American missionary associations in operation during the nineteenth century (Carlson, 198).

[9] Mrs. Susan Clark Lobenstine and her husband, the Reverend Edwin Carlyle Lobenstine, began their Presbyterian missionary work in China in 1899 in the Anhui Province in Eastern China, retiring from the National Christian Council of China in 1935 (Gregory Adam Scott, "Missionary Research Library Archives: Section 6 Finding Aid for Edwin Carlyle Lobenstine Album, 1935," The Burke Library Archives, Columbia University,

[10] Annie L. Howe started a kindergarten program in Kobe, one of the first Christian missionary schools for early education in Japan, beginning with a small number of students in 1888. By 1894, Woman's World magazine wrote that "the kindergarten at Kobo [sic], Japan, established by Miss Annie L. Howe, is one of the most successful of such institutions that has ever been started anywhere" ("A drive to open kindergartens in Japan," History of Christianity in Japan,

[11] Gertrude Cozad was from the Cleveland area and worked as an ABCFM missionary in Kobe in the late nineteenth century (Gertrude Cozad. Home Letters of Gertrude Cozad, Missionary of the American Board at Kobe, Japan, to Her Father Justus L. Cozad, of Cleveland, Ohio. Forgotten Books, 2012, 1.). Julia Dudley, born in 1840, was a graduate of the Rockford Female Seminary and one of the two founders of the Kobe Home ("Kobe College History"). Martha Jane Barrows, born in 1841, was Julia Dudley's cousin and joined the missionary work at the Kobe Home in 1976 (Noriko Kawamura Ishii. American Women Missionaries at Kobe College, 1873-1909: New Dimensions in Gender. New York: Routledge, 2004).