Skip to main content

James E. and Susan L. Skinner papers

Identifier: Ax 209

Scope and Contents note

The Skinner Papers contain the correspondence, diaries, manuscripts, documents, biographical materials, publications, and photographs of J. E. and Susan L. Skinner, as well as of his son and daughter in law, Lawrence and Clara, and other associates. One of the most compelling parts of this collection are accounts from Susan’s youth on the missionary front in western Canada, detailed in her diaries and correspondence to her father and brother. Other material describes significant events in China’s history: the Nationalist revolution, the Second Sino-Japanese War, and the Communist Revolution. Many of these items are difficult to follow in the Skinner’s correspondence and diaries, and much of the information is not first hand, having been collected by the Skinner’s after their retirement.

Series I, Outgoing Correspondence of J. E. Skinner, consists of his correspondence with family members from 1898 to 1957. He tells the story of schoolchildren slaying a tiger, circa 1922. On October 10, 1924, Skinner begins to relay the events of a feudal battle in Yenping. In January of 1934, he begins to write of the communist taking of Yenping and his subsequent relocation to Haitan. He notes the increase of alarm in Futsing on July 1st, 1940 due to the war with Japan.

Series II, Outgoing Correspondence of Susan L. Skinner, contains some description of historical events. She describes war in Fukien in October 1930 and includes some notes on the Fukien Rebellion of 1934.

Series III, Incoming Correspondence, contains letters sent to J. E. and Susan Skinner from missionaries and family. The letter of April 23rd, 1958 sent from Frederick Bankhardt provides a great account of J. E.’s work with lepers. Letters from the Caldwell’s describe some events of the Skinner’s flight to India during World War Two. Chas Gillette details the bombing of Pagoda Anchorage on July 2nd, 1938. On June 22nd, 1934, Luk Ing Hok writes of his escape from the communist attack on Yungan City. Paul Wiant, during the winter of 1933-34, describes the bombing of Foochow.

Series IV, Incoming Correspondence Concerning Medical Supplies, stems from J. E. Skinner’s retirement, during which he produced medicine for Chinese doctors.

Series V, Incoming Correspondence: E. J. Lawrence to Susan Lawrence, consists of letters written by Susan’s missionary father from his home on the Peace River in Canada from 1889 –1894. The letters are mostly personal, although they do reflect some of the specifics of life in the Canadian frontier with references to crops and weather.

Series VI, Diaries of J. E. Skinner, consists of diaries from 1942 and 1944, and a retrospective account of his earlier years in China written in 1945. The former diaries contain brief entries of mundane daily events. The retrospective diary is more thoughtful and recounts broad subjects, noted by some of the page headings.

Series VII, Diaries of Susan L. Skinner (original), covers many years of the Skinner’s stay in China and some of her experiences in Canada. The China diaries contain brief entries on daily events. The diary of 1889 relates a canoe journey from Canada to the U. S. Her retrospective childhood account begins in 1879 and details the Lawrence Family’s move to the mission front on the Peace River and her early experiences there.

Series VIII, Diaries of Susan L. Skinner (copies), contains typed copies of the originals.

Series IX, Literary Manuscripts, J. E. Skinner, contains drafted stories and reports from China. One notable item is Skinner’s encounter with thieves from January 1925. Another is his report on the fall of Futsing from April 12th, 1942.

Series X, Documents, consists of personal identification and some biographical information, included is a description of Susan’s trip to Fort Vermilion in 1894, and an autobiography of her early years, as well as several memorial writings on the Skinners.

Series XI, Biographical Materials, contains some histories of the Lawrence Family with attention to their Canadian experience, newspaper articles on the Skinners, and memorial writings.

Series XII, Publications, contains China missionary periodicals, annual reports, religious tracts, and miscellaneous items. The Yenping Pagoda Herald is the publication with the most relevance to the Skinners’ experience, and contains writing by and about them. J. E. produced 1923’s Ann. Rep. of Alden Speare Memorial Hospital.

Series XIII, Lawrence Skinner Papers, is made up of correspondence, manuscripts, and school records. Subseries A consists predominately of letters from family and missionaries. Several letters, organized together, detail J. E. Skinner’s life, and are the result of Lawrence’s research. Subseries B contains manuscripts of Lawrence, which are stories from J. E.’s life. They provide some good biographical information. Subseries C contains various school records.

Series XIV, Clara Skinner Manuscripts, contains stories of Lawrence and Clara’s adopted Chinese daughter and Korean exchange student.

Series XV, Photographs, contains a number of pictures of the Skinner family and of China. The most informational photos are those of the Skinner family and those from Frederick Bankhardt. These photos are directly relevant, portraying the Skinners and their environs in Yenping. The bulk of the photos are from Edith Abel (Box 8, Fol. 103 – Box 10, Fol. 6) and lack bearing on the Skinners, but do provide an interesting account of Chinese culture with ethnocentric commentary. Abel was a missionary educator in the Haitan, Futsing and Foochow areas.

Series XVI, Oversize, contains oversized correspondence, two photo albums, a Chinese hymnal and various items. In a notable letter, Carlton Lacy writes of the entrance of communists into Foochow. One of the manuscripts was Susan’s brother Fred’s account of his journey to the Peace River in 1879. One photo album contains photos of Chinese tourist destinations and the other is of the Skinner family.


  • Creation: 1889-1956


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

James Edward Skinner (J.E.) was born on December 21, 1867 in Troy, Ohio. He received an A.B. in Chemistry from Wooster University, and 1896, he received his M.D. from Rush Medical College in Chicago, Illinois. He was married to Susan Lawrence on July 24, 1896. Together they sailed to Kucheng, China in 1897 to serve as medical missionaries for the Methodist Church. They had four children Lucy (Geraldine), Esther, Henry, and Lawrence.

In 1903, the Skinners moved from Kucheng to Yenping, a small, remote city on the Min River in the Fukien Province. There Skinner built the Alden Speare Memorial Hospital in 1905 and provided the undeveloped city with running water and electricity in the early years. His career was marked by his efforts at servicing patients outside of the city, including a colony of lepers. He became superintendent of the hospital and educated Chinese doctors.

In 1933, Yenping fell to communists and the Skinners were relocated to Haitan Island to open a clinic. In 1935, they relocated to Pagoda Anchorage, neighboring Foochow. At the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1938, they were again relocated to Futsing. When the Japanese threat became critical in 1940, the Skinners and other missionaries moved inland to Tsiang Lo. In 1943, the U. S. government ordered them out. They traveled on the only open route, over the Himalayas, to India. At the end of the journey, both J. E. and Susan had contracted strong fevers. J. E. was saved only after being flown to the United States for treatment.

In 1944, the Skinners arrived in Tacoma, Washington effectively beginning their retirement. Here they continued to correspond with missionaries. He built a laboratory in which he produced medical supplies that he sent to Chinese doctors. He also used his influence to help his son Lawrence achieve the rights to adopt a Chinese daughter. J. E. Skinner died in Battle Ground, Washington on January 11th, 1959.

Susan Lawrence Skinner was born in South Skulkey, Quebec on March 3, 1871. Her family moved to Fort Vermilion, now Peace River Crossing, Alberta, in the Canadian frontier in 1879, and her parents served as Methodist missionaries to the native people. She went to college at Northwestern University’s medical school, graduating in 1894. She returned to Fort Vermilion to work with her family for one year before returning to Chicago to reunite with J. E. As a missionary, she worked alongside J. E. in the hospital at times, and also contributed to the upbringing of the Skinner family. She died in Battle Ground on April 5, 1952.


5 linear feet (13 containers)

Language of Materials



James E. Skinner (1867-1959) and his wife Susan Lawrence Skinner (1871-1952) were Christian medical missionaries who served in China from 1897 to 1944. The collection contains correspondence, diaries, literary manuscripts, photographs and biographical materials.

Arrangement note

Collection is organized into the following series: Series I. Outgoing Correspondence of J. E. SkinnerSeries II. Outgoing Correspondence of Susan L. SkinnerSeries III. Incoming CorrespondenceSeries IV. Incoming Correspondence Concerning Medical SuppliesSeries V. Incoming Correspondence of E. J. Lawrence to Susan LawrenceSeries VI. Diaries of J. E. SkinnerSeries VII. Diaries of Susan L. Skinner (originals)Series VIII. Diaries of Susan L. Skinner (copies)Series IX. Manuscripts of J. E. SkinnerSeries X. DocumentsSeries XI. Biographical MaterialsSeries X. DocumentsSeries XI. Biographical MaterialsSeries XII. PublicationsSeries XIII. Lawrence Skinner PapersSeries XIV. Clara Skinner ManuscriptsSeries XV. PhotographsSeries VIII. Oversize

Immediate Source of Acquisition note

Gift of Lawrence E. Skinner in 1964.

Existence and Location of Copies

Collection is available online in the Papers of American Missionaries to Asia: Missionaries associated with Fujian and Taiwan, 1889-1976 in Gale Primary Resources.

Processing Information note

Collection processed by Aaron Poor and Bryan Duncan in January 2003.

Guide to the James E. and Susan L. Skinner Papers
Complete Description
Finding aid prepared by Aaron Poor and Bryan Duncan, Manuscripts Processors
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written 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