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RG 30/215 - Robbins Strong (1912-1999)

Robbins Strong, reverend, educator, and scholar, dedicated the majority of his life to conducting missionary work in East Asia, Africa and Europe. Strong was born to Tracy Strong (1887-1968) and Edith Robbins Strong (1885-1981) on November 24, 1912 in Seattle, Washington. His parents, both OC ’08, were also passionate in maintaining the Christian faith. His father joined the staff of the World Alliance of YMCAs in 1923, forcing the family to relocate to Geneva, Switzerland by way of traveling through East Asia. In Geneva, he attended local primary and secondary schools, where at an early age he became bi-lingual in English and French. Strong re-located to the United States in 1930, where he began his undergraduate education at Oberlin College.

As an Oberlin-in-Shansi representative of OC ‘34, Strong spent three years in China teaching English at the Oberlin Shansi Memorial Schools in Taiku, Shansi Province, China. He returned to Oberlin College for the academic year 1937-1938 and enrolled in Oberlin’s Graduate School of Theology where he earned a Master’s Degree in 1938 and a Divinity Degree from Yale University in 1940. He then served on the First World Youth Conference held in Amsterdam the summer of 1939, and returned to Yale just a few weeks before WWII began in Europe.

Strong married Katherine Burr Stevenson on September 2, 1939. After spending their first year at Yale University, they were commissioned in the fall of 1940 as missionaries by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions to teach in Northern China, which was then under Japanese occupation. Increasing Japanese pressure in China sent Strong and his wife in to an internment camp in Shantung Province in 1941. It was there that their first son Tracy was born.

The Strongs were released to return to the United States in 1943, where they settled back at Oberlin. After the war, he relocated with his family to China in the spring of 1947 and was granted a position with the International Committee of the YMCAs of the USA in Nanking, China in 1949. The Communists eventually ousted Strong and his American colleagues in 1950, forcing them to relocate northeast to Seoul, Korea and later to Japan.

Strong’s family preceded him to the Unites States, where they eventually settled in New Jersey. However, Strong remained active in his professional endeavors. As a Secretary for Intermovement Aid and Extension for the World Alliance of YMCAs in Geneva, Switzerland (1954-1962), Strong expanded his missionary work to establishing YMCAs in Africa and Asia. In 1962, Strong joined the United Church Board for World Ministries in New York City, which required numerous missionary trips to Europe (1962-1967). Five years later, he joined the World Council of Churches in Geneva to work with the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (1967-1978) until he retired January 1, 1978.

Strong died on June 29, 1999 in Pitzer Lodge of Pilgrim Place in Claremont, California. His wife, Katherine Burr Strong, died on October 6, 1999. They are both survived by their three children Tracy Strong, Jeanne Strong, and John Strong.


Sources Consulted

Oberlin College Archives. Accession 1990/106. Biographical Sketch, Robbins Strong.

Oberlin College Archives. Record Group 28. Alumni File, Robbins Strong.

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