After nearly eight years in the United States, Charlie finally returned to China, armed with a degree from Vanderbilt, in January 1886. The transition to being part of the Methodist mission in Shanghai was hardly an easy one, however, as he revealed in a June 1886 letter addressed to “My dearest friend.” For one thing, Charlie was homesick, and Shanghai was, in effect, a foreign land to a man who had never been far from his birthplace of Hainan when he had lived in China. He wrote, “I am walking once more in the land that gave me birth, but it is far being from a homelike place to me. I felt more homelike in America than I do in Shanghai.” To make matters worse, Charlie had to rely heavily on English as he learned the unfamiliar dialect spoken in the region.
Charlie also immediately chafed under the stern leadership of Dr. Young J. Allen, whom he nicknamed “the great Mogul.” For example, Charlie was denied permission to visit his parents, whom he had not seen for thirteen years, until 1887, prompting him to show a little of his rebellious side in his letter:
“I am very much displeased with this sort of authority; but I must bear it patiently. If I were to take a rash action the people at home might not fail to understand the nature of the case, and they (my Durham friends especially) might think that I am an unloyal Methodist and a law breaker, so I have kept silent as a mouse. But when the fullness of time has come, I will shake off all the assuming authority of the present Supt. [Superintendent] in spite of all his protestation, assuming authority, and the detestation of the native ministry.”
The last statement points to another problem that would plague Charlie throughout his service, namely racial discrimination within the mission. Despite his collegiate training, Charlie felt he was denied the “privileges and equality which [he was] entitled to,” instead receiving the lower pay and position typical of the second-class status of locally-trained, native Chinese ministers.
Yet Charlie stayed with the mission, experiencing ups and downs his first years with the mission. He was finally able to visit his parents, but was crushed to learn of Annie Southgate’s untimely death back in Durham in 1887. Charlie wrote his condolences to James Southgate from Kunshan (future home of Duke Kunshan University) in February 1887, stating that “Miss Annie was one of my best friends.” Later that year, Charlie married Ni Kwei-tseng, also known as Mamie, with whom he would have six children: Ai-ling, Ching-ling, May-ling, Tse-ven, Tse-liang, and Tse-an.
Charlie finally set off on his own in 1892 after six years of missionary work. Addressing rumors back in North Carolina that he had rejected his faith, Charlie wrote to the Raleigh Christian Advocate:
“My reason for leaving the Mission was it did not give me sufficient to live upon. I could not support myself, wife and children with about fifteen dollars of United States money per month. I hope my friends will understand that my leaving the Mission does not mean the giving up of preaching Christ and him crucified.”
Charlie’s initial forays into private enterprise were closely connected with his faith. He started a publishing business, Mei-hua shu-kuan, printing bibles and religious tracts for the American Bible Society. The family’s fortunes increased with further business ventures, such as managing a flour mill and importing manufacturing equipment. Charlie soon began taking an interest in politics. After meeting Sun Yat-sen in 1894, he remained a longtime friend and political supporter of the revolutionary and future leader.
Charlie did quite well financially over time, making enough money to send all six of his children to school in the United States. The education the Soong children received, along with the family’s growing connections in China, put them on the path to creating powerful political and financial dynasty for the first half of the twentieth century. After spending some time as secretary to Sun Yat-sen, Ai-ling married H. H. Kung, a powerful businessman who would later become China’s finance minister. Ching-ling married Sun Yat-sen and wielded considerable political influence during her lifetime. May-ling, a graduate of Wellesley, married Chiang Kai-shek and became a determined and charismatic advocate for the cause of Republican China in the United States. Tse-ven used his Harvard economics degree to great success in the business sector, served as the head of the Central Bank of China, and also acted as China’s finance minister from 1928 to 1933.
Charlie passed away in 1918, before he could fully see the astronomical rise of his family. If he had lived a bit longer, he would also have witnessed a revival of interest in his own life story in the United States, prompted by publicity tours by May-ling, a.k.a. “Madame Chiang Kai-shek,” in the 1930s and 1940s. At Duke University, Soong will never be forgotten as the intrepid young student who helped open up the institution to a wider, more diverse world.
“Charles Soong” by University Archivist Emeritus William E. King. Reprinted from Duke Dialogue, January 30, 1998
When Charles J. “Charlie” Soong arrived at Trinity College in 1881 as the school’s first international student, he had already seen much more of the world than the average student. Born in Hainan Province, China as Han Chiao-shun in 1866, Charlie traveled to the Dutch East Indies as a young boy to work, eventually sailing to Boston in 1878 to work for his maternal uncle’s tea and silk business. After his uncle adopted him, Charlie’s name changed for the first time to Soon Chai-Jui.
Little is known of Charlie’s time in Boston, except that it took less than a year for him to realize he wanted more in life than working for his uncle. His first step in a new direction was to join the Revenue Cutter Service, predecessor to today’s U.S. Coast Guard, in January 1879. The popular rumor is that he stowed away, but this was not mentioned in a 1943 report on Charlie’s service by a Coast Guard representative. Influenced by his new captain, Eric Gabrielson, Charlie became interested in Methodism.
Charlie’s new career took him all along the East Coast, including the port city of Wilmington, North Carolina, where he was baptized in the Methodist Church as Charles Jones Soon (the “g” is added after he returns to China). It is also in Wilmington that he met the Reverend Thomas Ricaud, who first brought Charlie to the attention of his future benefactors: Julian Carr, Durham tobacco magnate and philanthropist, and Braxton Craven, president of Trinity College in Randolph County. Approving of Charlie’s new desire to become a Methodist missionary, and intrigued by the idea of a native Chinese minister joining existing church missions in China, Trinity College agreed to enroll Charlie as a special student in April 1881. His tuition was paid by Julian Carr.
Attending Trinity must have been a huge adjustment for Charlie. He had lived in the United States for less than three years, most of that time spent in the cutter service. Then there was the fact that he was moving from the northeast to attend what was very much a “Southern” college, less than twenty years after the conclusion of the Civil War. Trinity College was hardly a racially or geographically diverse institution, with 93% of students from North Carolina and none from farther north than Virginia. There were eighteen students from present-day Cherokee, North Carolina, although little is known about these students other than they were, like Charlie, were enrolled in a special course of study.
According to fellow student Jerome Dowd, Charlie “attracted a great deal of attention from the faculty, the students, and the people of the village because of his racial contrast to the Caucasian and because of his exceptional sprightliness.” Some of this attention was negative, as Dowd notes, “boys were disposed to tease him and play all sorts of pranks upon him.” Yet Charlie persevered, remaining “very amiable, full of fun, and always ready to respond in a playful spirit.” While at Trinity, Charlie lodged at the house of Professor Gannaway, and his studies focused primarily on English language and the Bible.
The strongest traces of Charlie’s time in North Carolina are preserved through the contact that he had with his Durham and Trinity friends. Besides the Carr family, Charlie befriended James H. Southgate, a successful Durham insurance agent, and his daughters Mattie and Annie. To “Miss Mattie” in 1882, Charlie sticks to fairly innocent topics. He reports that he recently received a letter from “Miss Annie” (Mattie’s sister), that “all the boys are well” but they “have to study heaps” for the end of the semester.
Another of Charlie’s early letters, written in elegant script although imperfect English, is addressed to J. Gordon Hackett, who was a schoolmate boarding in the same house as Charlie. Writing shortly after commencement in June 1882, Charlie talks about in Randolph County, President Craven’s illness (he died later that year), and missing Hackett’s company. But like any teenage boy might, he talks mainly about…well…girls:
“[B]oth of Misses Field are here yet they will go home next friday morning. I tell you they are very pleasant young Ladies I like them ever so much. I had heard they spoke good words of you and your welfare. I was very much interesting when they compliments you so highly. I enjoyed it. Trinity is very pleasant now, but I don’t know what it will be after the [girls] go off. Dr. Gunn went off this morning and Fortisty moved down here last evening. He is now in your room. Miss Bidgood is here yet I believed. She will stay until next month. She looks as pretty as ever. I went to see her and Miss Cassie sometime since. She talk right lively…
Golden, I been had good times with the [girls] all day long. never looked at the books hardly since [Commencement] except the Bible. Everything is [quiet] now. Miss Mamie and two other [girls] gone to visiting last night we did had big time all the [girls] Fortisty and I we went to called on Ella Carr and we had the best time you ever heard of…”
It was even rumored that the reason Charlie left Trinity to attend Vanderbilt in fall 1882 was that he had become involved with Ella Carr, niece of Julian and daughter of a professor at the College. In fact, there were ample reasons for him to transfer without a supposed illicit romance. The seminary at Vanderbilt had more specialized training for missionaries, and the Board of Missions of the Methodist Episcopal Church South was headquartered in Nashville. After graduating in 1885, Charlie returned to North Carolina for several months, lecturing and preaching while visiting old friends. When he finally returned to China in 1886 as a trained missionary, Charlie would use his education and experience to build an extraordinary life and powerful family.
“Charles Soong” by University Archivist Emeritus William E. King. Reprinted from Duke Dialogue, January 30, 1998
Dearest readers, do you ever feel that there’s not enough Rubenstein Library in your social media day? True, we’re on Facebook, and we have this wonderful blog, and many of our collecting centers also have extensive social media presences (check out the list in the right-hand column) . . . but what if you could follow our every rare-book-and-manuscript action on Twitter?
Well, do we have good news for you! We’ve joined the twitterverse! Come follow us @rubensteinlib, let us know about your research projects and your latest special collections discoveries, and get a behind-the-scenes look at how we spend our working days (and sometimes our non-working days).
The shocking shootings in Kansas City during the past weekend have brought renewed attention to Glenn Miller (Glenn Cross), a longtime white supremacist with ties to North Carolina. In Monday’s Washington Post, Robert Satloff, Trinity College class of 1983, wrote about his harrowing experience interviewing Miller in 1981 and the Chronicle article that resulted.
The first-hand account, from the April 15, 1981 issue of the Aeolus (the Chronicle’s weekly magazine of the period) is a frightening glimpse into Miller’s mindset. Satloff wrote, “Perhaps I didn’t think that such close-minded, violent, intolerant people still exist. Perhaps I am naïve. I’m not anymore.”
Read the chilling article below. This issue of the Aeolus, and other Chronicle issues from 1980 to February 1989, will soon be added to the Libraries’ Chronicle digital collection.
During renovations to the Rubenstein Library, a new carving was discovered in a remote corner of the stacks. The image of a fairly grumpy looking cat is a tribute to a campus friend named Steven Frownington McWhiskers—affectionately known as Steve.
Steve was a local farm cat who took a great interest in the construction on West Campus between 1927 and 1932. Present for everything from the placement of the cornerstone in the Union to the erection of the Chapel spire, Steve was a steadfast friend and critic. His smoldering glare reminded the stonecarvers that even a single errant stone would mar the beauty of the campus. With a low growl and a hiss, Steve reminded all that he watched over them—and did not approve of anything short of perfection.
We fondly remember Steve today for his efforts to ensure that Duke University would be a place of great beauty for people and cats alike.
Post contributed by Valerie Gillispie, Duke University Archivist.
We are pleased to announce a new digital collection, The Duke Chapel Recordings. This collection of 168 recordings features inspiring sermons from a variety of theologians and preachers, including a number of notable African American and female preachers. The collection includes both audio, and where available, video of the services.
The project was a collaboration of the University Archives, the Libraries’ Digital Collections Department, and the Duke University Chapel. The original recordings are part of a large collection held in the University Archives. We hope the recordings are used for a variety of purposes: the study of homiletics, research into the spiritual response to social changes, musical study, and simple inspiration.
Dr. Luke A. Powery, Dean of Duke Chapel, says of the collection, “Duke University Chapel is distinguished in both its faithful preaching and its sacred music. The Sunday morning ‘Protestant hour’ captured within this archive has been the public face and voice of the Chapel for decades; this digital collection makes Duke Chapel’s liturgical history accessible for both those interested in scholarly research in the area of preaching, music, and worship, and those who desire spiritual inspiration. This collection is an interdisciplinary educational resource for teaching and learning, and demonstrates that eruditio et religio is still alive and well at Duke; may it be so for years to come.”
In 2011, the Duke University Archives published Duke Illustrated: A Timeline of Duke University History, 1838-2011. This 80-page, full-color history of the events, traditions, and people that have made Duke one of the world’s leading research universities is the product of almost four decades of research by University Archives staff.
This year, we are happy to announce the publication of a companion volume focusing on the particular contributions of women at Duke, written and compiled by Bridget Booher ’82, A.M. ’92, associate editor of Duke Magazine. The new book, Women at Duke Illustrated, was published to coincide with the 2014 Duke Women’s Weekend, “Find Your Moxie: Duke Women Creating Change,” February 20-22, 2014.
Copies of Duke Illustrated and Women at Duke Illustrated are available for sale by the Gothic Bookshop for $27.50 each. Both books make perfect gifts for Duke men and women of all ages.
The book was published with support from all ten of Duke’s schools, as well as the Duke University Libraries and Duke Athletics.
Nathaniel White, Jr was among the first five black students to attend Duke University in 1963. He was not, however, the first person in his family to attend college. His father, Nathaniel White, Sr., had attended Hampton Institute prior to founding his own printing business in Durham. In a newly-digitized interview, White, Sr. discusses his life, his memories, and his experience as a black man living in Virginia and North Carolina during the 20th century.
White’s interview is part of the Behind the Veil digital project, which has just added over 300 new interviews with North Carolinians, including many from Durham. The interviews capture details of what life was like in the Jim Crow South for African Americans. In White’s interview, he shares the story of his childhood, the black business community in Durham, and the influence of scouting on his life. Of particular interest to local researchers, he describes individuals and businesses in the Durham black community in the mid-20th century, providing deep insight into Durham’s history.
He also briefly discusses his son’s pioneering role at Duke. He mentions that White, Jr., had considered Hampton Institute himself, but then had the opportunity to attend Duke. His father candidly remarks in the interview, “There’s one thing about a situation like that, it’s more like the real world than some other places that you might go and everything seems like it’s alright but it’s not training you for what you’re going to meet when you get outside. It’s a real struggle out there. The sooner you learn that, the better off you might be. . . . In other words, every day he had what it’s like to be an African American citizen in this country. So he didn’t have to learn that after he graduated. He learned it every day at Duke.”
Duke: 175 Years of Blue Devilish Images – Student Photography Contest
Duke students are invited to celebrate the 175th anniversary of Duke University’s origins and win cash prizes at the same time! Explore and emulate the rich images of Duke’s past found in photos from the Duke University Archives and then reinterpret them with your own contemporary vision. Categories include Academics, Athletics, Campus Scenes and Social Life.
What you need to know:
Who may enter: Currently-enrolled Duke students.
When: Contest begins Monday, February 24th and ends Sunday, March 23rd at midnight.
Prizes: Winning photographs in each category will receive $200. First runners-up receive $50.