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Sheldon and Fife family papers

Identifier: Ax 079

Scope and Contents note

The collection begins with the correspondence of both the Sheldon and Fife families, arranged in general chronological order with the Fife materials appearing first, followed by the Sheldon letters.

The Fife-associated correspondence extends back to 1851, when David Bell, a cadet at West Point, wrote letters regarding his life there to his niece, Elizabeth Hutchison (later, Theaker, and mother to Mary Theaker Fife). There are also letters from Elizabeth’s brother, David W. Hutchison, a Union soldier under Grant during the Civil War. Hutchison was killed during the battle of Cold Harbor in June 1864, and the letter of notification of his death is included, plus a transcript (typewritten) of all the letters. Another folder contains a few letters and a “memory book” of Elizabeth Hutchison Theaker.

The correspondence of the family of Elmer E. and Mary Theaker Fife follows; much of the correspondence is between the elder Fifes and their daughters, particularly Eunice. The letters provide information about missionary life and work in India, with special emphasis on teaching and education. One folder contains letters ad documents regarding Sadhu Sundar Singh, the Indian Christian and mystic. Singh toured through Europe in 1925 and 1926, and aroused great controversy, particularly among the German clergy (both Catholic and Protestant), because of his claim to miraculous healings and other mystical experiences. Several writers attempted to discredit him as an imposter; others rose to his defense. The letters directed to Elmer Fife request information and documentation as to Singh’s background, as Singh had attended a mission school headed by Fife.

The correspondence of Sidney R. Sheldon completes this series; it dates from 1908 to 1936 and much of it is directed to and from his wife, Eunice, during his business trips. The earlier correspondence with his parents, from 1908 to 1911, describes his travels, his first year teaching in Shanghai, and was saved to form a journal.

The next series includes diaries and documents of various members of the Fife family, including a survey book, dating from 1818 and belonging to Robert Theaker, the diary of Isaac Fife, 1871-1872, a diary of Elmer Fife, 1921, and the diaries of Eunice Fife, 1905 to 1910. Eunice’s diaries, begun when she was 12 years old, are well-written, humorous accounts of domestic life I the missionary and European community in India. The last four diaries are from Mary Elizabeth Fifth covering 1906-1921. She writes of her life in the missionary and European community in Northwest India.

A series of reports, pamphlets and associated items regarding the mission work of the Presbyterian Church in India follows. Of particular interest are the Punjab Mission reports, which give detailed accounts of the activities and projects at each or the mission stations in the Punjab on a yearly basis (although this is not a complete set, by any means).

Appearing next are the texts of Elmer Fife’s sermons, handwritten in most cases, with notes and revisions inserted. Some of the sermons are marked with date and location delivered; some were repeated seven or eight times in different places. The sermons have been kept in the same order they were received, as it is not possible to determine a satisfactory chronological order.

Sidney R. Sheldon’s papers comprise files of teaching materials, letters and documents from his years at Nanyang University in Shanghai. This institution was variously known as Imperial Polytechnic College, government Institute of Technology, Nanyang College and Nanyang University. The latter name appears most often and is used in the finding aid.

The collection ends with a section of miscellany, including documents and published pieces by Eunice Fife Sheldon, pamphlets regarding the Masonic Lodge of China, a thesis by Sidney R. Sheldon and two others regarding incandescent lamps (at the University of Wisconsin), an autobiography of Sheldon on microfilm and Sheldon's scrapbook.

Two boxes of photographs of the Sheldon, Fife, and related families, plus some pictures of Nanyang College, have been removed to the Photograph Collection for preservation reasons.

A series of maps from Sheldon’s trips in Alaska and British Columbia as a young man are included at the end of the collection; many have been cut in strips, probably for easier handling while traveling, and some are in poor repair. An 1867 map of the Johnstone and Broughton Straits and Queen Charlotte Sound is probably the oldest of the group.


  • Creation: 1818-1936


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

The collection comprises the papers of two families, joined in the marriage of Sidney R. Sheldon and Eunice M. Fife, in 1916.

Sheldon was an engineer, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, who taught at Nanyang University (known by several other names as well) in Shanghai, China, from 1910 to 1927. In addition to his teaching work, he made many consultation trips into the interior of China to inspect various installations.

His wife, Eunice Fife Sheldon, was the daughter of Elmer E. and Mary Theaker Fife, Presbyterian missionaries to India. The Fifes first arrived in India in 1889, to serve with the Punjab Mission. Elmer Fife founded what was later to be known as Gordon Christian College in Rawal-Pindi in 1893. He and his family then returned to the United States, where he served as pastor of churches in Lincoln, Nebraska and Boise, Idaho, before returning to India in 1904. Elmer Fife served as principal of several Christian schools in Dehra Dun, Mussoorie and Ludhiana during his missionary career.

In addition to the individuals already mentioned, two people who appear prominently in the collection are Mary Elizabeth Fife ("Bessie"), sister to Eunice and daughter to Elmer and Mary Fife, who later married Fred Collins and died in childbirth in 1923, and Elizabeth M. Hutchins Theaker, mother to Mary Theaker Fife.


6.75 linear feet (14 containters)

Language of Materials



The Sheldon and Fife families were joined by the marriage of Sidney R. Sheldon and Eunice M. Fife in 1916. Sidney Sheldon was an engineer, and Eunice Fife was the daughter of Presbyterian missionaries to India. The collection contains genealogical materials, correspondence, diaries, India mission materials, sermons, Nanyang University (Shanghai, China) documents, and maps. Of particular interest is a collection of letters written by David W. Hutchison, a Union soldier during the U.S. Civil War who served under General Grant. The letter of notification of his death is included.

Arrangement note

Collection is organized into the following series:

Series: Genealogical Materials

Series: Correspondence

Series: Diaries and Documents

Series: India Mission Materials

Series: Sermons

Series: Nanyang University, Shanghai, China, Files

Series: Miscellany

Series: Photographs

Series: Maps

Separated Materials note

Collection includes maps, some of which are stored separately in the repository's map collection.

Processing Information note

Collection processed by Cheryl Roffe, Manuscripts Processor, in December 1982.

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 Sheldon and Fife Family papers
Complete Description
Finding aid prepared by Cheryl Roffe
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