Tag Archives: MRL

Conviction Born From Struggle and Conversion

MRL 3: Arunodaya: The Autobiography of Bãbã Padamanjí, box 1, and folder 1,
The Burke Library Archives, Columbia University Libraries, at Union Theological Seminary, New York

When I was first given the very small collection of Bãbã Padamanjí (so small in fact, that it only contains one book), to process I wasn’t sure if I would find much information about a Hindu man born in May 1831 in Belgaum, India.  I was sure that my history of Bãbã would be limited to what I found in the handwritten translation of his autobiography Arunodaya (which means light or dawn in Marathi).  I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was able to find much more information than I expected for someone who I assumed might have been overlooked by history. Bãbã Padamanjí was a man that by the time of his death in 1906 was responsible for over 70 texts in his native Marathi and also in English, which ranged from Christian tracts that were either written or translated by him to Marathi dictionaries.  He was a man that was dedicated and praised for the conviction of his faith.

MRL 3: The Autobiography of Bãbã Padamanjí, box 1, and folder 1,
The Burke Library Archives, Columbia University Libraries, at Union Theological Seminary, New York

 Bãbã Padamanjí was able to overcome struggles with caste, former religious and pagan practices, family and friends in his journey to become a Christian man in India.  The handwritten translation of his Autobiography in our collection chronicles and gives insight into those particular struggles. I came across numerous sources that discussed how difficult it was to change religions in the caste system of India at the time that Bãbã Padamanjí was struggling with his new found faith.  One source I looked at, Stitches on Time was a collection of social anthropology essays, one of which detailed reasons why these difficulties existed.  Saurabh Dube summarized that “a nation cannot be exorcised from history through the mere expedient of turning our backs on its standardized past and monumental present.”  This is also detailed in a note written for My Struggle for Freedom, (another edited version Arunodaya) the editor Rev. M. P. Davis states, “In a time when changing religion or political belief resulted in a loss of home and family.  [His] story reveals the great advance made in this respect.”

MRL 3: The Autobiography of Bãbã Padamanjí, box 1, and folder 1,
The Burke Library Archives, Columbia University Libraries, at Union Theological Seminary, New York

Bãbã's struggles are evidence as he tells the story of his conversion.  His family was “orthodox and religious minded” and he learned all of the worship ceremonies “from [his] mother’s religious observances.”  These religious observances were mixed with pagan practices such as relying on astrologers, sorcerers, and wizards for “oblations, magic antidotes and the muttering of spells.”  Witches were also brought into the house when the men were gone and he experimented with the “incantations of witchcraft taught by them.”  He admitted to wanting to learn magic spells with “the object of attaining divine power.” His conversion to Christianity was a long process beginning when he was a child and while it was difficult to stop these practices, he was eventually able to overcome them.  He credits the teachings of Christianity with this.  In fact Bãbã states that he writes of these experiences to tell others that “the plan of God made it clear to me…that there is no power in Hinduism to keeps its followers from immoral behaviour [sic]…the fraction of love and peace which is found in the Hindu families is the fruit of their thought, good nature, wisdom, and of reading books of advice of saints; it is not the product of idol worship, muttering of magic spells, vows and fasts…etc.”

His family was of the Kasars caste and prominent.  It was difficult to break with the caste, which was one of the first steps to becoming Christian; once he realized that was something he felt he wanted to do.  He first broke with the caste in secret, with others of like minds in a meeting of the Paramhans Society.  He thought he might not feel as guilty if no one else knew what he had done.  However, he soon became “haunted” in his mind because he was lost to family, “thrown out of the caste (excommunicated);” he felt that all people would call him “polluted.”  This was not the end to his troubles for a man came to meetings, took the vow of secrecy and then revealed the names and the goals of the men there.  “There was great agitation…” his parents like many others took him out of the Mission School and many criticisms were published in the newspapers. 

As his family learned of his desire to become Christian they grew angry.  His father told him “To become a Christian was to him to become polluted and sink to the lowest level.”  His uncle advised his father to disown him, to take away his jobs and money and to encourage others to shun Bãbã in this way as well.  Bãbã felt “in this way I was surrounded and pressed upon from all sides by my own people and the people outside.”  So much so that he vacillated between wanting to run away and poisoning himself.  He eventually set upon expressing his conviction to his father, who even though he felt it would bring great disgrace on the family, realized that Bãbã’s conviction was true and agreed to let Bãbã “have freedom in matters concerning religion.”  His father never followed the advice of the uncle and eventually requested that  his son teach him this religion Bãbã thought was true.

Bãbã Padamanjí said, “It is needless to say what opposition has to be met by one who has to contemplate on an important subject like religion and has to discern as to which things have to be retained or rejected and especially by a man who practices them…we understand how a Hindu (and men of other religions too) has to struggle with hindrances and suffer sorrow, if he desires to become a Christian.”  It is evident throughout the subsequent years following his baptism that once those hindrances and sorrows were overcome Bãbã was able to do what he enjoyed most, write Christian tracts and translations in order to educate other Hindus on what he felt was a more true and enlightened path. 

MRL 3: The Autobiography of Bãbã Padamanjí, box 1, and folder 1,
The Burke Library Archives, Columbia University Libraries, at Union Theological Seminary, New York

Even though I was able to find more information about Bãbã Padamanjí than I thought I was going to, that material is not a large amount.  I am happy that the Burke Library Archives now has been able to add just a little bit more to the history of Bãbã and I that I got a chance to briefly spend some time getting to know him. 

Sources include quotes from Bãbã himself as written in Arunodaya, as well as these other sources:

  • Dube, Saurabh. Stitches on Time: Colonial Textures and Postcolonial Tangles. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004.
  • Padamanjí, Bãbã. My Struggle for Freedom: The Autobiography of Bãbã Padamanjí. Raipur, C.P. [India]: Christian Book Depot, 1944. Burke Call Number: MRL Pamphlets 1830

The Beginning of a Beautiful Career: Interning at the Burke Library Archives

Scouring boxes of papers for an indication of original order, picking out rusty staples, developing an appreciation for acid-free paper, trying not to walk into film crews, eating lunch in a pristine courtyard, and translating the disturbing reports of prisoners of war: these were just a few of the things I did as an intern at the Burke Library Archives earlier this year. This internship was my first foray into archival processing, and I admit I’m hooked. For someone wondering whether or not to intern at Burke, here are a few reasons why you should do it.

First and foremost, Brigette, the Project Archivist and my internship supervisor, is an absolutely fantastic mentor. She has a unique way of combining flawless professionalism with warm guidance and encouragement. I was immediately impressed with how organized and prepared she was at my interview; never before had I had an interviewer answer so many of the questions I’d prepared before I even got to ask them. Brigette’s amazing guidance continued on my first day when she gave me a stack of background readings that constituted a crash course in the most essential knowledge to begin processing archival collections, including readings on both the nuts and bolts of processing and what it means to be an archivist on a more philosophical level. I’m drawn to both the hands-on work of processing and the greater calling of archivists to be activists and advocates of their profession in addition to being stewards of their collections, so I ate this up.

The second reason you should intern at the Burke is that you get to work in a beautiful place. The professor for my Archives Management course this semester pointed out on the first day that archives are either housed in the basement or in the attic. In Burke’s case, we’re in the attic. I realized the first day during my tour that while the Union Theological Seminary is a gorgeous old building (hence the film crews using it for various TV shows), it is also gorgeous old building, and housing valuable historical primary materials under a potentially leaky roof is sometimes just part of the everyday pain and risk of being an archivist. I also admit, though, that the archives work environment is alluring to me. There was something about the inclusion of a spiral staircase and dusty work environment in the internship description that took me back to my undergraduate days of being a theater properties master, and it just somehow seemed fitting to get back into that kind of a workspace. During a tour of the Burke my first day, I was taken up that spiral staircase to see where the Missionary Research Library (MRL) and William Adams Brown Ecumenical Library (WAB) collections that I would be working with were housed, and again I was charmed.

Last but not least, the experience you get working with Brigette at the Burke Library Archives is invaluable. After gaining firm grounding in the space and basic knowledge of archives processing, I was entrusted with processing a few small collections. Brigette’s guidance was absolutely essential to begin with, and I was grateful to have the feeling that I was able to ask any question at any time.

I began to translate a collection of reports from German-speaking missionaries stationed in Cameroon who were taken as prisoners of war in 1914 when the English and French armies took control of the area – see the Finding Aid for more. These reports were fascinating (you can read about them in another blog post). I was very happy to have the chance to use my German language skills to contribute to the archives in a unique way. This again was thanks to Brigette, who was sensitive and creative enough as a supervisor to offer me projects that built on my existing skills.

My most significant project at the Burke was processing the papers of John J. Banninga, a collection that was highlighted as particularly significant in the Henry Luce Foundation grant funding our work on the MRL and WAB collections. This collection includes a wealth of information on the efforts to unite Christian churches in South India, an initiative that took decades to realize and encompassed the greater part of Banninga’s career. The letters, reports, and clippings he kept reveal deep complexities and sometimes surprising disagreements that arose in the attempt to bring together churches that function largely autonomously elsewhere in the world. Both processing the actual papers and researching Banninga and the Church of South India gave me a peek into a discipline and an area of the world of which I have very limited knowledge. One of the reasons I decided to become an archivist/librarian is the opportunity to continually learn while simultaneously enabling future research.

I can say there was no part of my internship at the Burke Library Archives that I did not enjoy. The best times were when my finished finding aids were approved, and when I was able to publish them online and see them come up in the Columbia University Library catalog. I learned a great deal about processing archives, and made a very small contribution to research. Perhaps most importantly, though, this internship was the beginning of what I think (and hope) will be a long and beautiful career.

Lea was recently hired as a part-time processing archivist at the Center for Jewish History in New York City.

“Such scenes are very afflicting to a European beholder…”: The Papers of Samuel Leigh

In his first letter to the Committee of the Methodist Missionary Society in London, the Reverend Samuel Leigh, a Wesleyan Missionary, wrote:


While the above quote puts more emphasis on the differences of missionary work at home and abroad, it also applies to acclimating to an entirely new world and culture. Having been born and raised in England, Samuel Leigh’s life in Australia and New Zealand – where he served as a missionary – was most certainly different from what he was used to seeing and experiencing back home.

After spending a few years building up a missionary circuit in Australia, Leigh traveled to New Zealand where he was immediately thrust into a civil war brewing between the natives. Upon his arrival in New Zealand, Leigh not only heard of the deaths of thousands of native men, but also the way these “heathens” dealt with their enemies. In his first letter from New Zealand dated February 25, 1822, Leigh writes:

It is with a great deal of confidence that I can say that Leigh had probably never heard or witnessed such a thing, and such a description probably served as a shock to his English upbringing.

Dispersed among his letters from a few years later are extracts from Leigh’s journal, dating from December of 1822 to May of 1823. In them, Leigh reports upon the daily goings on in New Zealand in a very matter-of-fact manner:

Despite Leigh’s seemingly casual attitude to the not-so-common events he observed, his initial feeling from his very first letter still stands. In that letter, Leigh starts off by describing the grief of a newly-slain Chief’s wife:

But it is his observation at the end of the letter that belies his ostensibly indifferent attitude:

In the end, Leigh was just another English boy unaccustomed and unfamiliar with native ways. Unfortunately, his time in New Zealand was cut short due to ill health, and he returned with his wife to Australia after only a few short months.

The completed finding aid for this collection can be found online:  MRL11: Samuel Leigh Papers, 1818-1824.

Henry R. Luce Makes an Appearance


Credit to: MRL5: United Board for Christian Colleges in China Records, box 1, folder 2,
The Burke Library Archives (Columbia University Libraries) at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

If you recall from an earlier post detailing the relationship between the Burke Library and the Henry Luce Foundation, the press release which announced the funding included the following statement:

We are delighted that the Luce Foundation can play a part in The Burke Library's preservation of these important collections, so that they can be readily accessible to a wider readership," said Michael Gilligan, president of the Henry Luce Foundation. "Although these collections are distinct from our own archives, they are clearly linked to two parts of our history—Henry R. Luce's intention to honor his parents, Presbyterian missionary educators in China; and the foundation's early support for Christian ecumenism.

Henry Winters Luce and his wife, Elizabeth Root Luce, were Presbyterian missionaries in China during the early part of the twentieth century. Their children – Henry, Emmavail, Elizabeth and Sheldon – were all born in China. According to the Luce Foundation Website, "Luce made his first major gift in 1935, an endowment at Yenching University in Peking to honor his father’s work, and he intended his foundation as a lasting tribute to his parents…"

I always keep a special eye out for the Luce name, and I have found material where Henry Winters Luce had an association, or was perhaps a member of an organization or board.

Today I was excited to come across THE man himself, Henry Robinson Luce, in a new collection.

MRL5: East Asia, United Board for Christian Colleges in China (UBCCC) Records, 1931-1959 was the collection. The UBCCC was established to support and coordinate the activities of Protestant colleges and universities in China. It would later focus efforts more broadly across Asia and change the name to the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia. The collection includes annual reports and supporting information such as correspondence and budgets relating to overall activities.

Among the annual reports are lists of members who attended the meeting, as well as full lists of those who were on specific committees. Henry R. Luce appears to have been an active member of UBCCC, attending not only the annual meetings but serving on multiple subcommittees.

A great find indeed for this dreary Tuesday.

The Gripsholm Exchange and Repatriation Voyages



The Shanghai Evening Post American Edition, Dec. 3, 1943, page 1.
Credit to MRL 12: Foreign Missions Conference of North America Records, Series 2B, Box 33, Folder 9,
The Burke Library Archives (Columbia University Libraries) at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

The Committee on East Asia comprises a large part of the Area Committees section in MRL12: Foreign Missions Conference of North America Records. One specific event of note details the Gripsholm Exchange and Repatriation Voyages during World War II (WWII). The MS Gripsholm, a ship that serviced the Swedish-American cruise line and was originally built in 1925, was used from 1942 to 1946 for repatriation efforts by the United States Department of State. A second ship called Drottningholm also helped with these efforts.

Gripsholm served under the International Red Cross with a Swedish captain and crew. Making thirty-three trips to exchange women, children, diplomats, prisoners of war, and other nationals between Japan/Germany and the United States/Canada, the ship carried over 27,000 repatriates.


The Shanghai Evening Post American Edition, Dec. 3, 1943, page 1.
Credit to MRL 12: Foreign Missions Conference of North America Records, Series 2B, Box 33, Folder 9,

The Burke Library Archives (Columbia University Libraries) at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

Along with articles and general information on the Gripsholm voyages are detailed lists of Americans returning on the MS Gripsholm. People are recorded in alphabetical order, as well as their status, such as “clerk,” “consul,” “American Red Cross,” or “husband,” and their residence if known. Other documents include lists of boards having missionaries on the Gripsholm, and single letters searching for information on individuals.


Credit to MRL 12: Foreign Missions Conference of North America Records, Series 2B, Box 32, Folder 1,
The Burke Library Archives (Columbia University Libraries) at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

An interview between FMCNA Secretary, Joe Mickle, and Sidney Walton of the WHN Special Features Division, held November 29th, was the third in a series of programs in connection with the return of the exchange ship. When asked about the ‘terrible hardships’ suffered by the missionaries, Mickle said:


Credit to MRL 12: Foreign Missions Conference of North America Records, Series 2B, Box 33, Folder 9,
The Burke Library Archives (Columbia University Libraries) at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

Letters were received by those in America from missionaries on the ship. One, written to the secretary of FMCNA Joe Mickle from Olive I. Hodges and Paul S. Mayer, makes the voyage sound pleasant:


Credit to MRL 12: Foreign Missions Conference of North America Records, Series 2B, Box 32, Folder 2,
The Burke Library Archives (Columbia University Libraries) at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

Though this was an exchange, those coming back on the Gripsholm still had to pay their own way for passage and incidental expenses. The FBI also checked the passengers upon their entrance to port:


Credit to MRL 12: Foreign Missions Conference of North America Records, Series 2B, Box 32, Folder 2,
The Burke Library Archives (Columbia University Libraries) at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

After the repatriation and exchange voyages of the Gripsholm and Drottninghalm were complete, there were mixed emotions regarding future mission work in China. The following article was written by George E. Sokolsky, who lived in China for a time period. The article was originally published in the New York Sun of November 13, 1943 and was republished with permission by the FMCNA:


Credit to MRL 12: Foreign Missions Conference of North America Records, Series 2B, Box 32, Folder 1,
The Burke Library Archives (Columbia University Libraries) at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

Foreign Missions Conference of North America (FMCNA) Records – Now Available


Little Boxes in the Archives – Completed FMCNA

The records for the Foreign Missions Conference of North America (FMCNA), covering the years 1894-1968, are now available! This large MRL12 collection totaling 68 boxes (30.50 linear feet) comprise materials documenting inception and institutional proceedings of the organization. Established to create dialogue between missions-based action committees confronting contemporary crises of war, famine, and poverty. Collection contains materials such as correspondence, records, pamphlets, and photographs.

That and much more can be found through the Finding Aid. Enjoy!

“These Are Bloody Times in Which We Live…”: The Journal of Mary Lewis Shedd


June 17, 1918

One of the first collections I processed at Burke was MRL2: Mary Lewis [Mrs. W. A.] Shedd Papers, 1918. This journal made an impact on me not just because of the first-hand account it provides, but also because this copy appears to be completely unique.

The collection is comprised of a 42-page typed copy of Mary Lewis Shedd’s journal, which gives in great detail the events from February to October, 1918 in Urmia, Persia (written as Uremia or Urumia by Shedd) and the withdrawal of Assyrian Christians. Along with experiencing this directly, she was privy to other information because of her husband and includes this in her journal. The journal has been published as The Urumia Exodus: More Leaves from the War Journal of a Missionary in Persia. The collection available at the Burke contains more detail and entries than the published version.

Born in Glen Lock, Pennsylvania on January 15, 1873, Mary E. Lewis became the third wife of William Ambrose Shedd [1865-1918], Presbyterian missionary to Persia and later United States consul in Urmia, in July 1917. According to the forward by Laura McComb Muller in The Urumia Exodus,

Out of Persia, the little-known neutral country that lies between Russia and Turkey… Since the war began, its northern province, and especially the city of Urumia, has been either at the mercy of the Turks or in the hands of the Russians… the Christians endured a five months’ siege in the mission compound…

The published Urumia Exodus jumps from an entry dated March 11 to August 28, 1918. A note is included which says,

When the curtain rises again, five months later, upon the people of Urumia, not only is the scene changed, but a different party is in power. Following the treaties between Germany and the Bolsheviki, the Turks had again advanced and were taking their revenge. (The Urumia Exodus, Page 14)

The longer, unpublished Shedd journal in MRL2 includes entries from this time. Mary has heard news of what is now known as “March Days” or “March Events,” which refers to the infighting and massacre of up to 12,000 Azerbaijanis and other Muslims that took place between March 30 and April 2, 1918 in the city of Baku, then part of the Russian Empire:

This led to the discussion of the potential for Christians to be sent away from the area for safety:

Developments can be traced by reading further through Shedd’s journal:


Mary’s last entry is July 28, after which she is silent until September 24, 1918 when she is located in Hamadan, Persia. She begins to recall the last few weeks:

The Shedds were forced to evacuate Urmia on July 31, 1918, along with thousands of other Assyrian Christians, as the Ottoman Army threatened nearby. She writes in great detail about the confusion, including:

They retreated for six days, at which point her husband became ill with cholera and died shortly thereafter:


"Fifty thousand hunted, terror stricken refugees had passed on, the desolate, rocky mountains loomed above us, darkness was all about us and heaven too far away for prayer to reach."

Mrs. Shedd’s group escaped further from the warzone with the aid of the British towards Iraq, and buried her husband along the way, about seven miles east of Sain Kala.

Mary reached Hamadan August 24. On October 2, she wrote that probably seven or eight thousand died, were killed, or were taken prisoner on the journey she had recently completed.

Despite everything, in her last journal entry Mary Lewis Shedd writes:

Mary would later write a biography of her husband, The Measure of a Man: The Life of William Ambrose Shedd, Missionary to Persia, published in 1922. While not much more is known about her life, she continued her work as a missionary. She appears in New York Passenger lists in 1919; 1930; and 1933. Microfilm copies of Mary Lewis Shedd’s passport, and New York Passenger Lists are available at the National Archives and Records Administration.

All images from: MRL 2: Mary Lewis [Mrs. W. A.] Shedd Papers, The Burke Library Archives (Columbia University Libraries) at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

Further Sources

Mary Lewis Shedd’s first journal was published as a fifty-one page monograph, The War Journal of a Missionary in Persia [1915], available at the Burke Library, Union Theological Seminary (see MRL Pamphlet 1890 and 2069).

The second journal is The Urumia Exodus: More Leaves from the War Journal of a Missionary in Persia [1918]. This can be found at the William Smith Morton Library, Union Presbyterian Seminary, and in the Special Collections of Northwestern University (http://nucat.library.northwestern.edu/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?BBID=1940338). The New York Public Library has it available on microfilm (http://catalog.nypl.org/record=b14791152~S1).

Mary Lewis Shedd’s biography of her husband, The Measure of a Man: The Life of William Ambrose Shedd, Missionary to Persia was published by the George H. Doran Company: New York in 1922. Many libraries have the book, and it can also be found online in its entirety (http://www.archive.org/stream/measureofmanlife00shedrich/measureofmanlife00shedrich_djvu.txt).

“We will never forget this ride of terror”: Translating the Reports of German Missionaries to Cameroon Taken as Prisoners of War


Credit to: MRL1: German Missionaries in Cameroon Reports, The Burke Library Archives (Columbia University Libraries) at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

One of the great benefits of interning at the Burke Library Archives last spring was the opportunity to fuse several of my skills in the various projects I undertook. One of these projects was translating the reports of German-speaking missionaries to Cameroon who were taken prisoner in the fall of 1914 when the English and French armies captured Cameroon’s capital, Douala, and the surrounding areas. These fascinating reports tell of injustices done to the missionaries while simultaneously revealing layers of racism, prejudice, nationalism, and self-righteousness festering just under the surface of their statements. Written just weeks after the missionaries’ return to their homes in Germany and Switzerland in early 1915, the sentiments are raw, the emotions strong, and the wounds still fresh.

The thirteen reports are written as first-person chronological narratives of each missionary’s personal experience as a prisoner of war. All of the missionaries were members of the Basel Mission and most were stationed in Douala. Reading the reports one after the other is like watching a film of the same event made from thirteen different perspectives. From the individual voices, some harsher and some more reserved, an overall impression of the everyday injustices and terrors of war emerges.

In almost every report, missionaries are stripped of their belongings, their homes ransacked and their gardens robbed and trampled. Conditions for sleeping and washing in the various make-shift prisons are disgusting, and the food almost inedible.

All reports are written by men, most of whom also had wives whose experiences are only reported second-hand. Missionary Bührer writes: “Mrs. Gutekunst and my wife were held for hours by native soldiers who broke into and invaded our Akwa house after I left with random and repeated orders and counter orders until the six brute soldiers pilfered the property of Mrs. Gutekunst and finally left.” Exactly what Mrs. Gutekunst and Mrs. Bührer experienced in those hours remains, to a great extent, a mystery.

The reports are also filled with examples of English prejudice against the Germans they took prisoner: Missionary Hecklinger writes “The treatment on this ship on the side of the English, especially the stewards, was thoroughly ignoble. The latter said swear words like bloody swine, bloody dog, German bastard and others.” Swiss citizen Bührer reports that in response to his complaint that he was not allowed to enter his own offices at his Swiss-based mission, an English commanding officer quipped: “What, the Basel Mission neutral? Go on! You Swiss-Germans are three-fourths Germans of the Reich.”

Yet just as the missionaries complain of the discrimination they suffered, their own prejudices emerge, sometimes even against the Cameroon people they had sought to convert. Bührer writes: “Marching like prisoners next to black soldiers with bayonets propped up, we were subjected to the disdainful glances and shouts of delight in our misfortune from the Douala people loitering about.” Missionary Gutbrod is more explicit in his racism: “It is hair-raising how the English treated us in front of the natives, or how they allowed us to be treated by them. The German name has been trampled into the dust by them, and the German mission wasn’t spared. We shouldn’t be surprised then when some of the natives don’t remain true and treat Germans the way that they shouldn’t be treating them! The English are to blame, not the blacks. […] Not only Germans but the respect of the white race has suffered greatly. We’ll have to see what comes of it.”

While these jarring sentiments might lead some to lose sympathy for the missionaries, most of the experiences recounted in the reports do not allow for such clear‑cut finger-pointing. Some instead develop out of a sort of chaos of war with no particular person or group left to blame. One of the most frightening of these episodes occurs in the report from Karl Wittwer, a Swiss missionary stationed in Ndunge (also spelled Ndoungue and Ndoungé) north of Douala. Wittwer recounts how the English troops attempted to transport prisoners on a broken train car:

The next morning, we were brought back to Ndunge, from which we began the journey to the coast together with my wife, child, and the other members and guests of the station. Other prisoners joined us at the nearby railroad station in Mambellion. The women, children, and luggage were loaded onto an open freight car. Since there were no functioning locomotives on hand and the car had no breaks, long ropes were tied to the back of the car, and they had blacks hold these so that the car would not take off too fast going down steep slopes. An imprisoned rail worker who knew the stretch very well and did not completely trust this set up offered to lead the transport. He was refused. It soon became clear that there were not enough men holding the ropes. The car started to run wildly. It could have easily come off the tracks at a sharp curve. Furthermore, both the women sitting on the speeding car and we men rushing after them knew that the bridge some 30 kilometers ahead had been blown up, and if the car were not stopped, it would fly out into the Dibombe River. In their desperation, the women began to jump off one after the other. Although the first to dare to jump—an injured black soldier who had been sitting on the car—fell under the wheels and was killed instantly, the women and children miraculously made it off the car with relatively few injuries. My wife, who together with our 2 ½ year-old was the last to jump down, had it the worst of anyone. She fell on her back and apparently landed on a rock, which left her in pain and almost unable to lie down for weeks. And the back of our child’s head hit her so hard on the mouth that several of her top teeth became loose and some fell out. We will never forget this ride of terror.

Indeed, all of the missionaries’ journeys from working freely in Cameroon through the indignities of imprisonment and finally to their homes in Germany or Switzerland were rides of terror. Despite their often overt bias, these reports offer a view into the difficulties suffered by peaceful civilians during a time of war. Yet even among missionaries—those whom we might guess to be most modest in their needs, pious in their thoughts, and thankful to survive encroaching war—we find indignation, conceit, and hints of seething hatred. As documents of an historical moment and evidence of the cultural attitudes at the beginning of the First World War, this collection is a gem for historians, theologians, and pacifists, and of certain interest to many others.

The German missionaries in Cameroon reports are available to registered readers for consultation by appointment only. Please contact archives staff by phone, fax or email at archives@uts.columbia.edu.

Luce + Archives

While processing the materials in MRL and WAB, we try to keep a special eye out for any collection which includes materials related to Henry Winters Luce. Henry W. Luce and his wife Elizabeth Root Luce were Presbyterian missionaries and educators in China during the early party of the twentieth century. Henry R. Luce, who started magazines such as Life and Time, created the Luce Foundation to honor his parents' legacy.

One such collection which we have that shows Henry Winters Luce activities is in MRL12: Eastern Fellowship of Professors of Missions Records, 1932-1965. HW Luce was secretary of this organization.


Credit to MRL 12: Eastern Fellowship of Professors of Missions Records, box 1, folder 8, The Burke Library Archives (Columbia University Libraries) at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

The Teachers of Missions Group was established to promote the fellowship, spiritual life and professional usefulness of its members through papers, discussion, prayer and social intercourse. Membership consisted of people in New England and the Mid-Atlantic area. The earliest records in this collection, recorded by secretary Henry Winters Luce, date from 1932; however the group began to meet informally in 1917. Early discussions included those on Laymen’s Foreign Missions Inquiry; interacting with International Missionary Council; and the discussion of training missionaries.


Minutes of the Meeting of the Teachers of Missions at Princeton Seminary, October 29, 1932.
Credit to MRL 12: Eastern Fellowship of Professors of Missions Records, box 1, folder 8, The Burke Library Archives (Columbia University Libraries) at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

The constitution was officially adopted April 1940 and stated their name as “The Fellowship of Professors of Missions.” Regular meetings were held twice per year with annual dues set at fifty cents. By 1954, the updated constitution changed the name to “The Association of Professors of Missions.” Membership was opened to professors of missions in the member institutions of the American Association of Theological Schools and by invitation. The meetings were also changed to once every two years.

In 1964, the name again changed to “The Eastern Fellowship of Professors of Missions” to show its region, as the group was a faction of the national Association of Professors of Missions. The national group became closely allied with the American Association of Missiology beginning in 1972. Both the Association of Professors of Missions and the American Association of Missiology are still in existence today.

We were excited to see Henry W. Luce and Henry R. Luce mentioned in the Foreign Missions Conference of North America collection, which is currently being processed. We will have more to share with Luce + Archives in the near future.

The Why

Now that you know a little more about the MRL and WAB collections, as well as the Luce Foundation, I thought it would be useful to explain the reason behind needing this project in the first place.

Most, if not all, archives and libraries have what we call "backlog." Our collections are continually growing: we gather historic documents; professors, alumni, etc… donate their records; people leave material to us in their will; things like that. Unfortunately we don't always have the time (or the funding) to fully process and make available collections as soon as they come into our possession. We give them basic care, security, and the proper environmental conditions and control, but physically arranging and intellectually describing materials can be very time-consuming.

Enter the first reason for this project.

A second major reason for this project and the need to care for MRL and WAB specifically is due to the damage suffered during a major water incursion disaster in the Burke's modern archives stacks in June 2003. Water from a plumbing accident in the Brown Tower (this Brown is not the same as William Adams Brown!), two floors above, saturated materials from the WAB and MRL collections.

The wet papers in disintegrating boxes were quickly removed, relocated, shipped out as an emergency, recovered by vacuum freeze drying, and returned. These collections, which had already experienced a variety of temperature and humidity changes from being used throughout the world by missionaries and ecumenists, became even more fragile and disordered. There was approximately 300 linear feet returned in a state of disarray, with WAB and MRL collections intermixed and much of the original order lost.

The MRL Archives present the special challenge of fragile acidic materials. Various climates combined with being stored for almost a century in acidic boxes in over-heated conditions throughout the history of the actual Missionary Research Library added to their fragile nature. Many unique items are tightly folded and require time, patience and preservation techniques to unfold and care for the items in the long-term.

Throughout the duration of the Luce Project at the Burke Library, which just passed the one-year mark, we will arrange, describe, and provide wide access to a total of 573 linear feet of hidden archives. This project will process the collections so that they are organized and described, with basic preservation treatment through stabilization in acid-free containers, ordered arrangement, and removal of corrosive metals and other materials. This arrangement will enable more advanced preservation treatment and the potential for surrogate copies and selective digitization on those materials which have been stabilized.

For the first time, researchers will have access to many first-hand descriptions of cultural conditions documented by missionaries, physicians, and social workers in Asia, Africa, Australia, North America, Oceania, and South America throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. This project will also be the first to provide access to the records of some of the most important events and institutions in the history of the worldwide ecumenical movement, with especially rich documentation of the religious and cultural history of New York City.