Mabel Milham Roys Papers
Scope and Contents of the Collection
The Mabel Roys Papers consist of 4.75 feet of correspondence, biographical material, writings, speeches, memorabilia, and photographs. They cover the years 1880-1956, but the bulk of the material is from the Royses' China years, 1904-1920.
Over half of the Mabel Roys Papers consists of letters written by Mabel to her parents in St. Paul from Smith College and China. The primary recipient of the letters was her mother, Sarah Ellis Milham. She also addresses her father, Edward Milham, and often refers to her siblings Edith, Win, Bert, and Roy. Most of the letters are very personal, full of details of social and domestic life. The China letters also include accounts of the Royses' work and descriptions of Chinese culture and politics from a sympathetic, but decidedly Western viewpoint. There are several folders of "syndicate," or circular letters and reports that focus more directly on Dr. Roys's medical work, and missionary work in general. Some syndicate letters are mixed with the family letters. Although the letters contain accounts of floods, famine, plague, and poverty, the Royses viewed their own situation as safe and comfortable compared to dangers faced by missionaries in other regions of China. Their letters describe dinner parties, an efficient group of Chinese servants, and the comfortable furnishings of their homes, tending to support Mabel's statement that "We in Weihsien know nothing of the real sacrifices of missionary life..." At the same time, the letters convey a sense of the strains as well as satisfactions inherent in long hours of work. Homesickness, the result of years in the field away from family and friends, is a constant theme of the letters. Letters from the Royses to friend and colleague Caroline Austin and to their benefactor Frances (Mrs. J.P.) Morgan, cousin to Charles's grandmother, round out the correspondence from the China period.
The letters home contained numerous enclosures, and with the exception of most photographs, which have been filed separately, they have been kept with the letters. From 1913 on, Mabel enclosed letters from the children, especially Elizabeth. Some of Elizabeth's early letters are therefore separated from those she wrote as an adult in the 1930's. There are also a few enclosed letters written by the Royses' friends and associates, some of whom had met Mabel's parents while they spent a year in China, 1907-08.
A small amount of other correspondence includes letters home from Mabel Roys's 1926-27 tour; letters to Mabel Roys from her daughters; and a few miscellaneous letters to and from the Roys and Milham families. There are seven letters written by Charles Roys from college to a friend, to Mabel's father regarding Charles and Mabel's engagement, to Elizabeth, and to Mabel a few days before his death.
The bulk of the writings and memorabilia also pertains to the Royses' China years, although there are some items related to Mabel Roys' positions at Wells College, biographical material summarizing her later activities, articles and speeches from her post-China career, and a group of condolence letters received by Elizabeth Roys Williams upon the death of her mother.
A collection of photographs and negatives mirrors the content of the letters written from China. Over half are snapshots of various family members in both the U.S. and China. There is a small group of photos from Mabel's years at Smith College. China scenes and groups make up the balance of the photos, including an album with detailed captions prepared by Mabel Roys.