Mabel Milham Roys Papers
Mabel Milham was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1878 and received her early schooling there. She began her studies at Smith College in 1896, and though she was apparently less well-to-do than most of her classmates, she managed to have an active social life. Her interest in missionary work led her to join the Smith College Association for Christian Work. She was active in its Missionary Society, attending student conferences and becoming president of the society during her senior year.
After graduating Phi Beta Kappa, Mabel Milham held jobs as a student secretary for the National Board of the YWCA and traveling secretary for the Student Volunteer Movement, speaking on college campuses throughout the eastern half of the United States. In 1902 she became state secretary of the Minnesota YWCA. She met Dr. Charles K. Roys (Princeton '97) while both were traveling for the Student Volunteer Movement, and they married in June 1904.
Several months later, the Royses sailed for China, having been appointed as missionaries to Weihsien, Shantung Province, by the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the United States. The station had recently been rebuilt after its total destruction in the Boxer Rebellion, but as chief surgeon at the teaching hospital, Dr. Roys found less than adequate facilities. In 1916, the Royses were transferred to Tsinan, where Dr. Roys joined the faculty of Cheloo Medical College as professor of anatomy. The Royses returned to China in 1919, having just completed their second U.S. furlough, only to discover that symptoms Dr. Roys had been experiencing were the result of a brain tumor. The family returned to the U.S. in early 1920 so he could receive treatment in Boston and at the Mayo Clinic. He died in September 1920.
In the early years both Royses spent much of their time learning the Chinese language, and later Mabel Roys worked in cooperation with a Chinese committee for the introduction of a phonetic script. She also taught Bible classes, wrote reports and articles for colleagues and newspapers at home, and, in general, helped with the charitable, medical, and religious work of the missions. While living in China, Mabel Roys gave birth to three daughters: Elizabeth, 1905; Carolyn, 1908; and Mary, 1910. Carolyn died of measles complications a few weeks before Mary's birth in 1910.
Soon after her husband's death, Mabel Roys was appointed General Secretary of the Women's Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the United States. In 1923, the men's and women's boards merged and she became foreign secretary, the first woman to carry administrative responsibility for the foreign field. She was in charge of educational, evangelistic, and medical work in China, Japan, Korea, Thailand, and the Philippines. During 1926-27, she toured the missions under her charge.
In 1928 Mabel Roys became Dean of Wells College, continuing in that position until 1935. She remained an active member of the Board of Foreign Missions until her resignation in 1951. Among her other duties, she served as Associate Director of the Church Community for China Relief during World War II. In this position she initiated fund-raising projects that supported war relief efforts. Roys also worked in various capacities for the International Missionary Council and several committees of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. She received an honorary LL.D. from the Western College for Women in 1928.
Mabel Roys spent her last years with her daughter, Elizabeth Roys Williams, in Madison, Wisconsin, where she died in 1956.