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Irene Forsythe Hanson papers

Identifier: Coll 028

Scope and Contents note

The Irene Forsythe Hanson Papers contain correspondence, literary manuscripts, printed matter, and a diary that dates from 1927 to 1930. The correspondence series is arranged chronologically covering the years 1921 through 1976, and are particularly rich in detail during Hanson's years in China, 1926-1951. This correspondence is a mix of incoming and outgoing letters. There are also letters written in Chinese which it has been guessed were written between the Fan family and Hanson during World War II when she was back in the United States.

The literary manuscripts series contains articles, sermons, travelogues, slide show scripts, and book manuscripts, many with several drafts; these documents are arranged alphabetically according to the title of the manuscript with the exception of "Miscellaneous" which is at the end. The manuscript of the book published as Cheng's Mother is filed under the working title "Mother Fan." There are two drafts that are both undated and neither is complete; therefore, no distinctions have been made on the folder titles or order of arrangement, aside from the correct page order within each draft.

The subject files series is arranged alphabetically by folder title, except "Miscellaneous" which is last. This series includes topics ranging from Chinese character writing to the will of Amy E. Forsythe, Irene's mother. One of the more significant files is titled "The Nanking Incident" and contains a series of reports by missionaries who survived this turmoil in 1927. Another interesting file contains Japanese propaganda.

The printed matter series includes newsletters, station reports, publicity for the Christian church, pamphlets and periodicals, and newspaper and magazine clippings; this order begins with the most personal material, newsletters, and moves to the least, newspaper clippings.

The oversize series is grouped by size in two boxes.

Photographs include snapshots of Hanson, her colleagues, and her travels in China and Korea.


  • 1907-1980


Conditions Governing Access note

Collection is open to the public. Collection must be used in Special Collections and University Archives Reading Room. Collection or parts of collection may be stored offsite. Please contact Special Collections and University Archives in advance of your visit to allow for transportation time.

Conditions Governing Use note

Property rights reside with Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries. Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs. All requests for permission to publish collection materials must be submitted to Special Collections and University Archives. The reader must also obtain permission of the copyright holder.

Biographical/Historical note

Irene Forsythe Hanson's twenty-five year career as a Presbyterian missionary to China ended abruptly in 1951, when emissaries of the Chinese Communist government roused her at 3:30am and gave her two hours to prepare for deportation to the United States. She had been harangued by the news media and in public meetings for eight weeks prior to this event; the Chinese government accused her of being a "chief American spy." Thus warned, she had prepared a bag filled with warm clothing in case of deportation to Siberia, and a lighter bag of "essentials" should she be imprisoned.

Hanson was born in 1898 in Enterprise, Oregon. She received a B.S. degree from Muskingum College (Ohio) in 1919, and also graduated from the Moody Bible Institute (Chicago) in 1924. It was not long after she arrived in Tsingtao (Qingdao), China in 1926, that the Nanking (Nanjing) Incident exploded. Strife between Nationalists and Communists escalated to the point that foreign missionaries were not safe. Hanson and her fellow missionaries left China for Korea, where she continued her Chinese language studies.

Soon, Hanson was back in China. Her language studies completed, she began a unique program of missionary work. With two Chinese Christians, Hanson became a village evangelist and teacher bringing Christianity to people in the countryside, most of whom had never seen a foreigner. She traveled by wheelbarrow and many of her experiences are found in her book, The Wheelbarrow and the Comrade (1972).

While traveling in China's countryside Hanson met an old Chinese Christian woman who adopted her, thus making her part of an extended Chinese family. This experience produced a book titled Cheng's Mother (1943).

The 1930s were a decade of turmoil; Japanese troops were invading China attempting to expand their territory. After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Hanson was placed under house arrest for six months before being sent out of China in an exchange for prisoners in 1942.

Hanson spent the war years in the United States doing promotional work for Chinese missions. In 1946 she returned to China and was deported five years later by Chinese Communists.

Back home in 1952 she married Perry O. Hanson, who had been a missionary in China. Her missionary life over, Hanson returned to school for post-graduate work. She wrote and lectured about her experiences in China. She died in 1976.


6.5 linear feet (14 containers)

Language of Materials



Irene Forsythe Hanson (1898-1976) was a Christian missionary in Tsingtao (Qingdao) and the countryside of China from 1926 to 1951. The collection includes correspondence, publications, newspaper clippings and a diary that reflect her work as a missionary.

Immediate Source of Acquisition note

Gift of Irene Forsythe Hanson in 1980.

Existence and Location of Copies note

This collection has been microfilmed. Microfilm reels are available for purchase, or via Inter-library Loan. When requesting reels for this collection, please request: “Women’s Lives, Series 3, American Women Missionaries and Pioneers Collection, reel(s) 16-26."

General Physical Description note

14 containers

Processing Information

Collection processed by staff.

This finding aid may be updated periodically to account for new acquisitions to the collection and/or revisions in arrangement and description.

Guide to the Irene Forsythe Hanson Papers
Complete Description
Finding aid prepared by Paz Mendez, Manuscripts Processor
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid is in English
Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Repository Details

Part of the University of Oregon Libraries, Special Collections and University Archives Repository

1299 University of Oregon
Eugene OR 97403-1299 USA