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RG 30/26 - Margaret Portia Mickey (1889-1988)

Margaret Portia Mickey (1889-1988) received an A.B. degree in mathematics from Oberlin College in 1912. She grew up in Highland Park, a suburb of Detroit, Michigan, where she had attended Central High School. Following graduation, from 1912 to 1914, she served as the secretary to C. “Whiting” Williams, assistant to President Henry Churchill King. She would return to Oberlin in 1931 to serve as the secretary to Librarian Julian Fowler of Oberlin College.

During the first half of the twentieth century, Miss Mickey made four trips to the Far East. First, from 1914 to 1920, she was a missionary under the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, serving as a teacher and secretary. Of particular significance was her service as the secretary to the Mission Secretary of the North China Mission in Chihli Province. After a fifteen-year break to care for her parents in Detroit, and then to serve as the secretary to the Oberlin College Librarian (Julian Fowler), she returned for a second time to China and Japan, from 1935 to 1937. In Japan she taught English in the Boys Middle School of Doshisha University, Kyoto; in China, she counted on her secretarial skills, chiefly for the doctor in charge of the hospital at the mission located in Tungehou.

Even though Mickey interrupted her service abroad from time to time to do further graduate study at Columbia University, the University of Michigan, and Radcliffe College, she would ultimately make two more visits to Asia. During her third visit, from 1939 to 1944, she conducted research among the Miao (tribes) people of Kweichow Province, West China. Subsequently, Harvard University published her village study as a 1947 monograph under the title: The Cowrie Shell Miao of Kweichow, as part of Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology, v. 32, no.1). Mickey’s fourth trip to Asia, again to West China, took place from 1948 to 1950. Armed with a Fulbright grant, she continued her studies of the Miao people, leading her to make a record of Miao designs in the museum of West China Union University, Chengtu, Szechuan. With financial support of the Viking Fund, she published A Bibliography of South and Southwest China [microform]: With Special Reference to the Non-Chinese Peoples and Their Relation to the Peoples of Adjacent Areas: Works in Western Languages (1948).

Before retiring, Miss Mickey worked from 1951 to 1954 in the editorial department of the G. & C. Merriam Company in Springfield, Massachusetts. In retirement she relocated to the west coast to reside at Pilgrim Place, Pomona, California, where this world traveler settled in with many friends in the mission field. As Miss Mickey offered in response to a question in an Alumni questionnaire (“What Has Been the Influence of Oberlin on Your Life?”), she stated that the College’s emphasis on individual service had become her “own ideal of life.”

She died of heart arrest on June 13, 1988.

Sources Consulted
The papers of Margaret Portia Mickey, 1914-1940 (RG 30/26); and, the student file of Margaret Portia Mickey (RG 28).
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