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Maude Nason Powell papers

 Record Group
Identifier: UA-10.3.59

Scope and Contents

The Maude Powell papers consist of correspondence, financial records, scrapbooks, publications, a journal, and legal documents. The bulk of the correspondence relates to life in China between 1917 and 1987, beginning with letters between Maude and Ralph in 1916 as they prepared to go to China. From 1917 to 1927 their letters to friends and relatives back home describe and comment on their life in China as missionaries. Letters between Maude and Ralph during their separations discuss their daily triumphs and struggles while working for the American Red Cross or for the Yale University mission school. Maude's unfinished book, written when she was in her seventies, includes recollections of this time, and gives more narrative descriptions of the Powells' daily life.

The collection also includes correspondence and other documents related to their two foster daughters, Chingen Tseng and YuYing Tu. One item of particular interest is the original letter from Chingen's mother to the Powells in 1920 allowing Chingen to live with them.

After the Powells returned to America in 1927, they kept in touch with the girls whose letters during this time contain references to their daily lives, but little mention of the political situation. They frequently mention their progress in school and include copies of report cards. This correspondence ceased while Chingen and YuYing were attending The Ohio State University from 1936 to 1940, but references to these years are made in other letters.

Following the girls' return to China in 1940, their letters resume, continuing until 1965. YuYing, now known as Ruth, married Hanson Liu, also a student at OSU, soon after she returned to China. Her letters detail their daily life, and Hanson often writes about his work with China's Ministry of Food, and later the Shanghai Power Company. However, he lost his job in the early 1950s during a period of upheaval in China. Both Ruth and Hanson finally found work as teachers in 1956. Their letters describe the difficult economic situation with details about inflation, fluctuating currency values, and food rationing.

Chingen's letters were less frequent and her life was quite different from Ruth's. Chingen taught dancing and physical education when she returned to China in 1940. She married a customs officer who was often away from home, leaving Chingen to run the household. She writes about her various duties, her efforts to find a job after her marriage, and her problems with her husband's family. Chingen and her children were required to work on the government farms, and she tries to explain to government's rational for this system of forced labor.

There is a gap in letters from China from 1966 to 1979, but Maude's annual Christmas letters give some evidence about what was happening in these years. During the Cultural Revolution, all mail between China and America was cut off. Ruth and Hanson were separated, and they were persecuted for their involvement both with Americans and with the old Chinese government. Hanson did not learn of Ruth's suicide until 1973. He and the Powells apparently corresponded between 1973 and 1979, but their letters do not appear in the collection.

Correspondence from China after 1979 includes letters from Ruth's brother, Yeh-k'o; from Chingen, who was almost 70 years old by this time; and from Hanson. Letters from Chingen continue until 1987, the year of Maude Powell's death.

The remainder of the collection contains Ralph Powell's college scrapbook (1907-1913); documents related to his death in 1976; materials concerning the publication and sales of Eternally Yours; and materials from Susan McAlpine, who was writing a book about women, using letters between Maude Powell and her sister-in-law.


  • Creation: 1908 - 1987


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to publish material from this collection must be obtained from University Archives & Historical Collections, Michigan State University.

Biographical Note

Maude Nason Powell (1889-1987) was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She attended Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State University), graduating in 1913 with a degree in Home Economics, the only degree then offered to women. At M.A.C. she met Ralph W. Powell (1889-1976), an engineering student from Ionia, Michigan, who graduated in 1911. Following their marriage in 1914, Ralph enrolled in Yale Theological Seminary. Women were not allowed to take classes, but Maude sat in on those she found interesting.

While at Yale, the Powells signed on as missionaries for the Yale-in-China program. They left for China in the fall of 1916. There Ralph taught engineering classes and worked as a civil engineer, building roads and water systems. Maude spent her first year learning Chinese, then worked in an office and took classes. She received her B.S. from Yale in China in 1925, and eventually she taught physiological chemistry to pre-med students.

Maude and Ralph spent much of their time in China separated from each other. They both worked, sometimes at the American Red Cross, other times at Yale-in-China. During this time they established a foster-parent relationship with two Chinese girls, Chingen Tseng and YuYing Tu (later known as "Ruth").

In the 1920s, fearing the outbreak of revolution in China, Ralph resigned from Yale. The school was operating with only a skeleton staff when he and Maude left China in 1927. Chingen and YuYing were unable to accompany the Powells to America because the American Exclusion Act prohibited Chinese immigration to the U.S., and because the Powells had not legally adopted them. The Powells kept in touch with their foster daughters, however, exchanging letters and sending food parcels.

After returning to America the Powells settled in Columbus, Ohio, where Ralph joined the Engineering Department at The Ohio State University. Maude continued her studies and received a Ph.D. in Nutrition from OSU in June, 1930. During the Depression, she published Cookbook for Hardtimes, which contained recipes for low cost meals. In 1936 Chingen and YuYing were able to join the Powells when they came to study at Ohio State University, and both stayed until 1940, when they graduated.

In 1938, the Powells joined the Society of Friends and became very active members. They hosted weekly lunches, as well as living in Quaker houses for periods of time. In the last years of her life, Maude lived in a Quaker nursing home.

Ralph Powell continued to teach engineering at The Ohio State University until 1957, when he accepted a position at Kansas State University. In the summers, he conducted research in field mechanics. Ralph wrote over 100 articles on civil engineering and hydraulics, while Maude continued her research in nutrition.

Throughout their lives Maude and Ralph Powell maintained their interest in China. They continued to exchange letters and parcels with their two foster daughters, who eventually married and had families. During this time Chingen and YuYing, like millions of others Chinese citizens, were subject to the difficulties of China's revolution: they worked on farms, struggled to feed their families on limited rations, and tried to maintain a sense of normalcy. Both suffered during the "Cultural Revolution" of the late 1960s, particularly YuYing. She was subjected to torture by the Chinese government and later committed suicide.

The Powells moved to Berkeley, California, in 1960, and were active with the Quakers there until Ralph's death in 1976. A collection of their early letters was published in 1979 under the title Eternally Yours, edited by Rose Lewis. Shortly afterward Maude began writing a novel about their experiences in China, but she was unable to complete it before her death in 1987.


1 Cubic Feet

Language of Materials


Related Materials

See also Powell family papers (c.00059).

Legal Status

Copyright: Donor(s) have transferred any applicable copyright to Michigan State University but the collection may contain third-party materials for which copyright was not transferred.

Property Rights: Michigan State University.

Maude Nason Powell Papers
4 Published And Cataloged
K. Meissner
December 1988
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the University Archives and Historical Collections Repository

Conrad Hall
943 Conrad Road, Room 101
East Lansing MI 48824 US