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RG 30/351 - Susan Rowena Bird (1865-1900)
Scope and Content

The papers of Susan Rowena Bird (1865 – 1900) and the Bird family provide a good source for study of the missionary settlement in Shansi Province, China, and its programs prior to the Boxer Rebellion of 1900. The collection consists primarily of correspondence from Susan Rowena Bird during her time in China as a missionary, as well as letters from other residents of the Taiku community and other Bird family members.

Susan Rowena Bird was a member of the “Oberlin Band,” the group of Oberlinian missionaries working in Shansi Province. The papers provide insight into the circumstances of this group of missionaries prior to their deaths and the scattering of the community during the violence of the 1900 Boxer Rebellion.

The letters written by Bird to her mother include some information about the organization of the missionary community at Taiku and about her work there, as well as personal accounts of her journey and life in China. Letters written to her mother by H.H. Kung, Luella Miner, another missionary, and H.P. Pond of Oberlin, following Bird’s death, discuss her work in the settlement and also provide some detail about H.H. Kung, later to become an Oberlin student (A.B. 1906) and eventually the Chinese finance minister. Other family correspondence is primarily anecdotal and personal in nature.

The collection is organized into six series, the first of which is devoted entirely to correspondence. The subsequent series consist of miscellaneous materials pertaining to William H. Bird, genealogical notes on the Bird family, photographic and other materials related to Bird family members and associates of Susan Rowena Bird, photocopied material received from the Bird family at a 2002 family reunion, and photographs copied from the family at the same occasion. Photocopies of the original documents are also housed in the collection and are kept together within one file folder. The photocopied material received in July 2002 includes letters from Susan Rowena Bird, E.E. Strong, and W.A. Hemingway of Tai’ku, China. Also included is the partial journal of Susan Rowena Bird, written during the time directly preceding her demise in the Boxer Rebellion, which describes the increasing agitation within her community in Shansi Province, China.

Although the papers do not include biographical information, the researcher can consult the student file of Susan Rowena Bird for biographical information (see Alumni Records, RG 28/2).

Series Descriptions

Series 1. Bird Family Correspondence, 1852 – 1932

Contains sixteen letters organized into four subseries: Letters written by Susan Rowena Bird to her mother during 1898 and 1899; letters received in 1900 – 1901 by Mrs. S.B. Bird, following Rowena Bird’s death in the Boxer Rebellion; letters written by Ossian F. Bird to his mother and sister during 1870, 1883, and 1888; and miscellaneous letters written by Silas Bowen, W.H. Bird, Marcia (Bowen?), and “Mother” (Mrs. O.F. Bird) – all members of Susan Rowena Bird’s extended family.

Series 2: William H. Bird Miscellany, 1843, 1848, n.d.

Consists of three letters and copies of an essay entitled “Original Sin.” One letter is a personal letter to friends at Hannible, Mo.; the other two letters were written to the Editor of the Iowa Freeman,  and concern Bird’s convictions regarding the prohibition of slavery and racism by the Christian faith.

Series 3: Genealogical Notes, 1899, n.d.

Handwritten notes, apparently from both primary and secondary sources, concerning the Putnam and Caldwell families.

Series 4: Miscellaneous Textual and Printed Matter, n.d.

Consists of a memorial pamphlet for Jennie Pond Atwater, calling card of Susan Bowen Bird and a handwritten verse dedicated to her, and a newspaper clipping about members of the Wiley family in the Wabash veteran corps.

Series 5: Miscellaneous Photocopied Material [July 13 2002], 1899, 1900, 1907, n.d.

Includes three letters, a segment of Susan Rowena Bird’s personal journal, a Chinese scroll, and two newspaper clippings. The letters were written by Susan Rowena Bird to her nephew, Walter B. Bird, in 1899; from E.E. Strong to Ossian F. Bird, following the Boxer Rebellion in July 1900; and from W.A. Hemingway to his “Dear Father,” sent from Taiku, China in 1907.  Rowena Bird’s journal, though incomplete, documents some of her experiences during the days leading up to the intrusion of rebellion into their small missionary community. The clippings include one article about the Widow of Sun Yat-Sen, whose sister was a wife of H.H. Kung, and one article about the anonymous and somewhat mysterious donation of $6 million to Oberlin College on behalf of H.H. Kung, an Oberlin graduate and former student of Susan Rowena Bird.

Series 6: Photographs, 1907, 1912, 1945, n.d.

Includes two sheets photocopied from a family album (one of which exists in two copies within the file) as well as two reproduced photographic prints. The photocopied album pages encompass seven pictures, and the prints are copies of two of those pictures. The first sheet has three photographs of a house, captioned “Homestead” and “Gene, Homestead, West Allis.” The second sheet has four family photographs that include Florence Turner, Carol Bird, N. Greenfield, Freeman Muth, Mrs. Muth, James L. Stoppard, Evelyn Logan, Mrs. O.F. Bird, Mrs. Thoburn, Mr. Kung, and Mrs. S.B. Bird. Also included is a photograph of Margaret Caldwell, a photograph of Samuel Bird dressed as a sergeant in the Civil War, and a photocopy of a 1945 Bird family reunion photograph, received in July 2002 along with other photocopied family materials which are housed in Series 5.


The papers of Susan Rowena Bird were received from Florence Bird in two accessions (2001/102, 2002/086).

Related Materials

The following collections in the Oberlin College Archives contain materials relating to missionary work in China:

30/42             Missionary Letters of C. N. Pond
38/1               Missionaries
21                  Oberlin File; Section II; Folder 21 (Rowena Bird letter, 1900)
30/67              George Nelson Allen
30/76              Willard L. Beard
30/49              Paul Leaton Corbin
30/130            Everett D. Hawkins
30/26              Margaret Portia Mickey
30/145            A. Clair Siddall, M.D.
30/21              George Frederick Wright
30/58              Mr. and Mrs. George L. (Alice Moon) Williams
15                  Records of the Oberlin Shansi Memorial Association
30/80              Mr. and Mrs. Francis W. (Lydia Lord) Davis

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