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bMS 718

Universalist Mission to Japan. Photographs, 1891-1966: A Finding Aid.

Andover-Harvard Theological Library, Harvard Divinity School, Harvard University


Andover-Harvard Theological Library, Harvard Divinity School, Harvard University

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: bMS 718
Repository: Andover-Harvard Theological Library, Harvard Divinity School, Harvard University
Title: Universalist Mission to Japan. Photographs, 1891-1966.
Date(s): 1891-1966.
Quantity: 5 boxes
Abstract: Photographs, scrapbooks, and other materials from the Universalist mission to Japan. The bulk of the collection covers 1920-1941.

Acquisition Information:

Gift of the Universalist Historical Society. The scrapbook in folder 9 was donated by Ida M. Hyland in 1977.

Processing Information:

Processed by Erin Binkley, 2012.


There are no restrictions on access to this collection.

Related Materials

For related collections, please see bMS 176

Biographical / Historical

The Universalist mission to Japan, the American denomination's first attempt at a foreign missionary program, began in 1890 and continued until it was merged with a local Congregationalist program in 1940. The staff changed frequently, never grew beyond five or six missionaries, and was plagued in its later years by lack of interest and funding from its American home base. Nevertheless, it achieved much in terms of teaching and service, if less than initially expected in terms of conversion.
The first Universalist church in Japan, known as the Central Church, was built in 1890 on land purchased in Tokyo. The mission staff at that time consisted of George L. Perin and his wife; Universalist minister I. Wallace Cate, and Margaret C. Schouler. Perin left in 1893, and Schouler became ill and was forced to leave as well; the work was taken up by Clarence E. Rice and Rev. Edgar Leavitt, and, by 1894, Catherine M. Osborn. When Cate departed in 1897, Osborn was the only one who remained long enough to work with his replacement, Rev. Gideon Keirn.
In 1896 Osborn had proposed the establishment of a home for girls, and her own residence was used for the project until the more permanent building to be known as the Blackmer Home (after its most enthusiastic sponsor, a Universalist from Vermont named Lucien Blackmer) was constructed in 1903. The Home attracted new sponsorship, particularly from the Women's National Missionary Association (WNMA), who sponsored the addition of Agnes M. Hathaway to the staff. Between Hathaway and Osborn, the Midori Kindergarten was established in association with the Home to help raise funds.
As of 1914, Keirn felt that too much money was being channeled to the Blackmer Home and not enough to other parts of the mission, such as a new church being built at Shizuoka. The WNMA continued to send women to aid in the mission's education, including Rev. Hazel I. Kirk in 1918, while the work of preaching and conversion struggled to hold steady, having contracted from its initial overreach. Keirn departed in 1917, and his assistant, Rev. Nelson Lobdell temporarily managed the mission until 1919, when Rev. Samuel G. Ayres arrived along with his wife, the president of WNMA.
The Ayres built a Mission House to provide a permanent home for their fellow staff, but had a difficult time raising funds for other projects. A projected Perin-Cate Home for boys was not built; a house was rented for the purpose in 1923, but it was ultimately unsuccessful. The Shizuoka Universalist Church went into decline after the local Rev. Mr. Ito was pulled away from it to manage the Perin-Cate Home. The Central Church, now in a brick building constructed in 1902 which had fallen into disrepair, was renovated with much-lauded success, only to be wrecked by the Great Earthquake of September 1, 1923.
Blackmer Home survived the earthquake, and though the Midori Kindergarten was leveled, it was successfully rebuilt. A companion, the Ohayo Kindergarten (after the Ohio State Association, which contributed funding), was built in 1927. At this time the Blackmer Home was run by Alice G. Rowe, and the kindergartens were supervised for a time by Berenice Kent. Georgene Bowen also worked at the Blackmer Home from 1927 through 1937, followed by Martha Stacy in 1938. Ruth Downing arrived in 1929, worked with the kindergartens, purchased a cottage for her own home which became known as "Sunny Corner"", and remained in Japan to the end of her life, well past the end of the mission itself.
The Ayres departed in 1925, to be replaced by another married couple: Harry M. Cary and his wife Maude Cary, both ordained. Rev. Clifford Stetson, his wife Margaret and their child, spent much of the twenties and thirties working at the mission, particularly in Shizuoka. Rev. Ryongki Dzo was enlisted to expand the work to Korea, though it is unclear how successful those efforts were. Local leaders were involved throughout, and a Japan Council, formed of American missionaries and local Japanese leaders, was formed in 1925, to be reorganized several years later as the Japanese Universalist Convention.
However, by the time international tensions began to rise and the Japanese government put pressure on foreign organizations operating on their soil, there was not enough local investment to hold the mission together. Rev. Cary died in 1936, by which point the Shizuoka church had been closed. It was only briefly revived as the Sakurayama (Cherry Mountain) Universalist Church in Tokyo. Mrs. Cary, her son Harry Jr., and his wife June carried on the work when they could, but departed in 1938. Stacy and Downing were advised to return to the States as well; only Downing remained, to be interned in a Catholic convent with other Allied nationals in 1942.
By the end of the war, the Blackmer Home, Dojin House (where the Midori Kindergarten had been located), and Sakurayama Church had all been destroyed. The Mission House no longer functioned as such; the Ohayo Kindergarten was still intact, under the leadership of Mrs. Mitsuko Ike, but in poor shape. A renewal of interest and support for Universalist efforts to return to Japan would not begin until 1950.

Scope and Contents

The photographs in this collection document the Universalist mission to Japan beginning in 1891. Particular attention is paid to the Blackmer Home and the girls and young women who lived and worked there. Also covered are other pre-war projects such as Dojin House, the Midori and Ohayo Kindergartens, the Shizuoka Church, and various sites around Japan and China. Of particular interest are two sets of post-earthquake photographs depicting local destruction.
Many photographs of the key American missionaries and their Japanese co-workers are also included, such as Samuel and Mrs. Ayres, Georgene Bowen, Harry and Maude Cary, Wallace Cate, Ruth Downing, Darley and Lucille Downs, Roger F. Etz, Aya Namba Hana, Agnes Hathaway, Lottie Hersey, Mitsuko Ike, Sempo Ito, Catherine Osborn, Alice Rowe, John M. Shidara, and Clifford and Margaret Stetson.
The collection also includes poetry by Henry Nehemiah Dodge, a large Japanese illustrated print, and a scrapbook extending into the post-war era containing correspondence, publicity materials, financial records, and other related publications.

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