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RG 30/373 - Irenaeus Atwood Family (1850-1913)
Scope and Content

The papers of Irenaeus J. Atwood and the Atwood family represent a compilation of personal items and writings that reflect the inextricable involvement of their lives with the Oberlin Shansi Mission in China. The collection includes correspondence, printed matter, photographs, and miscellaneous materials and an artifact collected predominantly by Irenaeus Atwood and his daughter, Mabel. The correspondence series is limited in scope, containing only four letters, as are the photographs, of which there are five; however, these materials provide evidence of the Atwood family’s relationship to missionary life in China by providing images of family members both in China and in the United States, and by exemplifying the kind of correspondence they carried on with friends and family.

The printed matter, writings of Irenaeus Atwood, and miscellaneous materials, artifact, and writings are diverse selections of the family’s belongings and provide some evidence of what was most important to them. Printed materials include those intended for missionary workers, such as the Handbook for Missions and Missionaries of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions of 1901, as well as an apparently later pamphlet that includes an image of Irenaeus Atwood himself (Going on Furlo, by Mary Williams Hemingway). The miscellaneous artifact and materials include an illustrated banner, transcribed song, and pocketbook that originate in China, and give tangible examples of mission life in the Shansi region.

Finally, the miscellaneous materials also include the written recollections of Mabel Atwood, briefly detailing her father’s life as she experienced it firsthand. The collection does not provide complete biographical materials on Irenaeus Atwood, nor does it give detailed information in the form of correspondence or writings on daily missionary life. It does, however, provide context, in the form of important family possessions, for the story of Atwood’s success as an Oberlin missionary and diplomatic negotiator in Shansi Province, China.

Series Descriptions

Series I: Correspondence, 1882, 1904, 1906, 1909 (4 folders)

The correspondence of Irenaeus Atwood and the Atwood family is divided into two subseries: the first consists of a single detailed letter written by Atwood to his brothers and sisters during his Chinese journey of 1882, while the second subseries includes three letters received by Mabel Atwood, daughter of Irenaeus, from family and friends.

Series II: Printed Matter, c. 1877, 1895, 1901, n.d. (4 folders)

Printed Matter of the Atwood collection includes four disparate items apparently owned by family members. Each pertains to some aspect of the missionary experience, such as The Christian Minister’s Affectionate Advice to a Married Couple by Rev. James Bean (bearing an inscription of the marriage date of Irenaeus Atwood and Annette Williams) and the Handbook for Missions and Missionaries of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (1901), among whose pages are tucked pieces of embroidery and floral cutouts. The series also includes a Chinese Hymnal and the pamphlet Going on Furlo by Mary Williams Hemingway, the latter of which includes reference to and a picture of Irenaeus Atwood.

Series III: Writings of Irenaeus Atwood, 1900, 1910, n.d. (3 folders)

Included in this series are one published work, Breezes from the Flowery Kingdom: Notes and Incidents connected with Missionary Work in Shansi (1900), and two handwritten unpublished manuscripts, Chinese Proverbs (n.d.) and The Light of Asia vs. the Light of the World (1910). The writings of Irenaeus Atwood concern his experience as a missionary.

Series IV: Photographs, 1905–06, 1968, n.d. (1 folder)

The photographic series includes two undated portraits of Irenaeus Atwood, one with his wife and son Paul, and the other in “Mandarin costume.” Also included are a February 1906 photograph of Annette Atwood and Adelaide Hemingway and a winter 1905–6 scene of a house among snowdrifts. A 1968 photograph of “Ray Atwood in Grandpa’s Robe” is also included.

Series V: Miscellaneous, 1884, n.d. (7 folders)

The miscellaneous materials in the collection have been subdivided into two broad subsections: Materials Relating to the Atwood Family, and Chinese Artifact and Materials. Materials relating to the family include the student book of Mabel Atwood, used during her time studying at Miss Jewell’s school in China, and a folder of Mabel Atwood’s miscellaneous biographical notes and recollections as well as a letter to her by an old friend, late in their lives. This subseries also includes the official 1884 permit issued to Irenaeus Atwood allowing him to travel freely in China. The Chinese artifact and materials are largely undated and include such diverse holdings as a colored illustration of Kitchen Gods, an English transcription of the lyrics to the song, “The Lao Hsi Erh,” a set of Chinese characters on small cards, and a leather pocketbook with Chinese characters.


The Irenaeus Atwood Family Papers were donated by Shirley Macdonald in 2004.

Related Materials

Records of the Oberlin Shansi Memorial Association, 1881–present (RG 15); Records of the Office of the Controller, 1835-1994 (RG 8); Records of the Office of the Treasurer,1822–1997 (RG 7); Presidential Papers of Henry Churchill King, 1873(1902–27)–1934 (RG 2/6); Papers of Mr. and Mrs. George L. (Alice Moon) Williams, 1883–1959 (RG 30/58); Papers of Mr. and Mrs. Francis W. (Lydia Lord) Davis, 1877(1899–1913)–1944 (RG 30/80); Papers of Paul Leaton Corbin, 1886–1937 (RG 30/49); Papers of Chauncey Northrup Pond, 1852–1920 (RG 30/42); The Oberlin File, 1823– (RG 21);  Ellsworth C. Carlson, The Oberlin Band (Oberlin, OH 2001).

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