Five College Archives and Manuscript Collections
Mount Holyoke College seal
Downer papers, 1918-1988.
1 box (5 linear in.)
Collection number: MS 0528 (LD 7092.8 Downer)

Abstract:
Downer, Sara Boddie, 1896-1987; Physicist, college teacher, and missionary. Mount Holyoke College graduate, 1918. Mount Holyoke College faculty member, 1919-1920, 1934-1935, and 1945-1946. Papers contain correspondence, writings, scrapbooks, biographical material, and photographs. Primarily documenting her work as a missionary in China during World War II and her correspondence with Mount Holyoke College President, Mary Emma Woolley.

Terms of Access and Use:

Unrestricted

Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections
South Hadley, MA

Biographical Note

Sara Boddie Downer was born on February 22, 1896, in Durango, Colorado. Her father, B. R. Downer, was a Baptist minister and teacher in a theological seminary in Kansas City, Kansas. She attended the Kansas City high school before enrolling at Mount Holyoke College in 1914. At Mount Holyoke she majored in physics with a minor in economics and sociology. After receiving her B.A. in 1918, she worked as a sample clerk at the Faxon and Gallagher Drug Company in Kansas City, Missouri, from 1918-1919. From 1919-1920 she worked at Mount Holyoke as Physics Department assistant. In 1920, she sailed to China as a missionary for the Woman's American Baptist Foreign Mission Society. In 1924, she became an assistant professor of physics at a newly-opened women's college at the West China Union University in Chengdu. Her duties included teaching astronomy, physics, English and music. During her furlough, May to December of 1927, she was a student at the University of California and she received her Master of Arts in physics in 1928. In 1930, she published two physics laboratory manuals in Chinese. She was promoted to Associate Professor at West China Union University in 1932. She spent her furloughs in 1934-1935 and 1945-1946 assisting the Physics Department at Mount Holyoke. She taught at West China Union until the Communist takeover forced her to return to the United States in 1951. She taught at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia until 1955, when she went to Hong Kong to head the Physics Department at the Chung Chi College in Hong Kong. In 1962 she retired to the United States. Downer died on December 4, 1987 in Oakland, California at the age of ninety-one.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Sara Boddie Downer Papers consist of correspondence, writings, scrapbooks, biographical information, and photographs. Of particular significance are letters that Downer wrote between 1918-1986. Many of the documents are copies of letters that Downer wrote for the Woman's American Baptist Foreign Mission Society and sent to her Mount Holyoke College classmate, Ruth Sonn ("Sonny") Fritts; and two Mount Holyoke faculty members, Mildred Allen and Margaret Ball. The collection also includes several personal letters that she sent to Fritts and Ball. These letters chiefly describe Downer's life and work in China from 1920-1951. They reflect her activities at West China Union University in Chengdu, China, where she was a teacher and housemother, and her travels in China; they frequently include comments on political events, such as the Sino-Japanese Conflict, World War II, and the rise of communism in the country. Later letters describe her work in the Chung Chi College in Hong Kong, 1955-1962, and her activities in retirement. Downer's correspondence also includes letters, 1919-1946, written by Mary E. Woolley, President of Mount Holyoke College. The letters discuss events at the College such as the construction of new buildings, Woolley's trip to China and Japan in 1921, and world events. Downer's close relationship with Mount Holyoke's president is reflected by two scrapbooks of clippings, notes and tributes relating to Woolley that she compiled between circa 1918 and 1955. Downer's papers also include two laboratory manuals in Chinese that she wrote in 1930, and her informational brochure about the West China Union University, circa 1938. Rounding out the collection is biographical information, circa 1921-1988, and photographs, circa 1930-1955, which chiefly relate to her life in China.

This collection is organized into five series:


Information on Use
Terms of Access and Use
Restrictions on access:

Unrestricted

Preferred Citation

Please use the following format when citing materials from this collection:

Sara B. Downer Papers, Mount Holyoke College, Archives and Special Collections, South Hadley, Massachusetts

History of the Collection


Additional Information
Contact Information
Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections
8 Dwight Hall
50 College St.
South Hadley, MA 01075

Phone: (413) 538-2013
Fax: (413) 538-2370

Email Reference Form: http://www.mtholyoke.edu/lits/library/arch/forms/areq.htm
URL: http://www.mtholyoke.edu/lits/library/arch/
Language
English.
Sponsor
Encoding funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Contents List
Correspondence,
1918-1986
6 folders

Arrangement:

Arranged chronologically.

Restrictions on access:

Unrestricted

Scope and content:

This series chiefly consists of letters that Downer wrote between 1918-1986. Many of the documents are copies of letters that Downer wrote for the Woman's American Baptist Foreign Mission Society and sent to her Mount Holyoke College classmate, Ruth Sonn Fritts ("Sonny"), and two Mount Holyoke faculty members, Mildred Allen and Margaret Ball. The collection also includes several personal letters that she sent to Fritts and Ball. These describe her life as a missionary and professor at the West China Union University in Chengdu where she taught music, physics, astronomy and English and served as "housemother, nurse, policeman" and supervisor. She also mentions church-related activities and musical events. She describes the effect that the tumultuous politics of China had on the University, the threat of raids, the Japanese invasion of China during the Sino-Japanese conflict, the effects of propaganda on the students, the bombing of campus in 1939, independence day in China in 1942, the Communist government's influence on the University's rules and regulations, inflation, and a particularly hard year in 1949 in which tuition was paid with rice. Evidence of the extreme political situation can also be seen in a sheet of paper included in a letter dated August 6, 1941, outlining a secret code to use in letters. She describes her travels in China to Deer Mountain and down the Yangtze River and an airplane flight from Chongqing to Chengdu in 1935. She also discusses her travels to Cairo, Athens, Italy, Switzerland, Paris and London on her way back to the United States in 1951. Most of the letters to Downer were written by Mary E. Woolley, President of Mount Holyoke College, from 1919-1946. These documents describe Woolley's trip to China and Japan in 1921 and mention events at Mount Holyoke such as the Rockefeller Hall fire, the building of Clapp Laboratories and the Physical and Chemical Laboratories, and the enlargement of the library. She responds to Downer's political experiences in China with remarks of her own about United States-China relations, the Sino-Japanese conflict, and World War II. Woolley also describes her retirement and her concern that a woman succeed her as President of the College.

Correspondence by,
1918-1941

Box 1: folder 1
Correspondence by,
1942-1946

Box 1: folder 2
Correspondence by,
1947-1986

Box 1: folder 3
Correspondence to,
1918-1922

Box 1: folder 4
Correspondence to,
1923-1933

Box 1: folder 5
Correspondence to,
1934-1946

Box 1: folder 6
Writings,
1918-1949
1 folder

Arrangement:

Arranged chronologically.

Restrictions on access:

Unrestricted

Scope and content:

Downer's writings consist of a short article published in "Popular Astronomy" in 1918, two laboratory manuals written in Chinese and published in 1930, and an informational brochure, circa 1949, about the West China Union University Women's College which contains a map of the College, and information about the institution's history, enrollment, and goals.

Writings,
1918-1949

Box 1: folder 7
Scrapbooks,
circa 1918-circa 1955
2 folders

Arrangement:

Arranged chronologically.

Restrictions on access:

Unrestricted

Scope and content:

The two scrapbooks in this series were compiled by Downer to celebrate Mary E. Woolley's life and her work as President of Mount Holyoke College from 1901-1937. The first volume includes a biography and photograph of Woolley and prayers from chapel services appended in Woolley's handwriting. This scrapbook also includes excerpts and paraphrases of several of Woolley's speeches: "The Gift of Days" given to incoming students; "A Welcome to Mount Holyoke" outlining Woolley's view of the what students should gain by coming to the College including physical fitness, concentration and "a scientific way of thinking;" "Manners;" "Four Things to Be Remembered"; and "Courtesy." The second scrapbook is a collection of newspaper and magazine clippings by and about Woolley. The article by Robert E. Rogers, "The Feminization of Our Schools," is included with an article containing Woolley's critical response. Other articles describe Woolley's participation in an international disarmament conference in 1932 and her inclusion on "Good Housekeeping" list of America's twelve greatest living women in 1930.

Scrapbook,
circa 1918-circa 1935

Box 1: folder 8
Scrapbook,
circa 1929-circa 1955

Box 1: folder 9
Biographical Information,
circa 1921-1988
1 folder

Arrangement:

Arranged chronologically.

Restrictions on access:

Unrestricted

Scope and content:

This series contains notes and articles dating from circa 1922-1964 that describe Downer's work as a missionary as well as notice of her death dated 1988.

Biographical Information,
circa 1921-1988

Box 1: folder 10
Photographs,
circa 1930s-1955
2 folders

Arrangement:

Arranged chronologically.

Restrictions on access:

Unrestricted

Scope and content:

This series chiefly consists of snapshots relating to Downer's life and work in China, and most photographs date from the 1930s to 1951. The photographs are of the Fine Arts faculty of West China Union University and of Downer's "adopted" Loh family. They show views of the campus and buildings of the Women's College of West China Union, the students of the West China Union Class of 1930, and fellow missionaries. There is also a photograph of Downer at Spelman College, 1951-1955, and negatives of several formal photographs of her, probably dating from the 1950s.

Photographs,
circa 1930s-1955

Box 1: folder 11
Negatives,
circa 1950

Box 1: folder 12

Search Terms
The following terms represent persons, organizations, and topics documented in this collection. Use these headings to search for additional materials on this web site, in the Five College Library Catalog, or in other library catalogs and databases.

Subjects
  • Downer, Sara B. (Sara Boddie), 1896-1987.
  • Chengdu (China) - Description and travel.
  • China - Description and travel.
  • China - History - 1949-1976 - Sources.
  • China - History - Republic, 1912-1949 - Sources.
  • China - Hong Kong - Description and travel.
  • China - Politics and government - 1912-1949 - Sources.
  • China - Politics and government - 1949-1976 - Sources.
  • Chinese University of Hong Kong. - Chung Chi College.
  • College teachers - China - Correspondence.
  • College teachers - China - Hong Kong - Correspondence.
  • Hua hsi hsieh ho ta hsueh.
  • Mount Holyoke College - Buildings.
  • Mount Holyoke College - Presidents - Woolley, Mary Emma, - 1863-1947.
  • Sino-Japanese Conflict, 1937-1945 - Personal narratives.
  • Women college teachers - China - Correspondence.
  • Women college teachers - China - Hong Kong - Correspondence.
  • World War, 1939-1945 - China - Personal narratives.

Contributors
  • Allen, Mildred, 1894-1900.
  • Ball, Margaret, 1878-1952.
  • Fritts, Ruth Sonn, 1897-1988.
  • Woolley, Mary Emma, 1863-1947.
  • Woman's American Baptist Foreign Mission Society.

Genre terms
  • Letters
  • Photographs
  • Scrapbooks


Questions about this collection? Contact the archives
Home | Help | About | Search