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William Winston Pettus papers

Call Number: MS 786

Scope and Contents


Series I, CORRESPONDENCE OF WILLIAM WINSTON PETTUS, is divided into four sections: 1. Correspondence with Parents, 1928-1945; 2. Correspondence with Maude Miller Pettus, 1936-1945; 3. General Corresondence: Incoming, 1932-1945; and 4. General Correspondence: Outgoing, 1929-1945.

Section 1, "Correspondence with Parents," contains weekly, and later monthly, summaries of Pettus' activities from the time he left Peking to attend Yale College to his death in 1945. Subjects discussed by Pettus include: undergraduate life at Yale; medical school; his decision to return to China as a surgeon; and his day-to-day activities as a doctor in wartime China.

Section 2, "Correspondence with Maude Pettus," contains the letters Pettus wrote to his wife during their courtship (1936-1937) and during the period 1944-1945 when he returned to China without his family. Subjects discussed include family business and Pettus' day-to-day activities as a surgeon.

Section 3, "General Correspondence: Incoming, 1932-1945," and section 4, "General correspondence: Outgoing, 1929-1945," contain letters between Pettus and Yale-in-China Association staff members, primarily Executive Director Robert Ashton Smith and Recording Secretary Rachel Dowd. Subjects discussed include Yale-in-China finances; travel plans; hospital movements during the war; and Pettus' efforts to set up a regional blood bank and to re-open the Hsiang-Ya facilities in Changsha after the war.

Series II, CORRESPONDENCE OF THE PETTUS FAMILY AND OTHERS, is divided into four sections: 1. Correspondence of Maude Miller Pettus, 1944-1958; 2. Correspondence of William and Sarah Pettus, 1942-1955; 3. Correspondence of John DeForest Pettus, 1945-1952; and 4. Correspondence of Others, 1943-1954.

Series II contains correspondence of Maude Miller Pettus (Pettus' wife), William and Sarah Pettus (Pettus' parents), and John DeForest Pettus (Pettus' brother) with Yale-in-China Association staff members. Also included is a small quantity of correspondence between Yale-in-China staff members. Subjects discussed include Pettus' death, the Pettus memorial fund, and Edward H. Hume's biography of Pettus, Dauntless Adventurer.

Series III, WRITINGS, contains several of Pettus' diaries, drafts of several unpublished articles, and a copy of a published article. With one exception the diaries are from Pettus' college years and contain brief comments on his social activities and spiritual life. The one exception is a mimeographed fragment of a 1940 diary describing a portion of the Pettus family's trip to China. The original copy of this diary, as well as others kept by Pettus during the war years in China, were apparently lost in the war. The unpublished mauscripts include the following: "Report on the Effect of the Third Battle of Changsha (Jan. 1942) on the Work and Property of Yale-in-China;" "The Case of the Stolen Clock or How Our House Was Looted on Aug. 21, 1940," describing a theft by a servant; "The Five Day Occupation of Changsha by the Japanese;" and "Air Raids in Changsha," written in 1941. The one copy of a published article is "Dental Surgeon on the China Front," a description of the work of Russian dentist Dimitri Afonsky.

Series IV, MISCELLANY, contains obituary notices and memorials to Pettus including a transcript of a sermon on Pettus by his brother John DeForest Pettus; "A Life for China," a brief biographical sketch of Pettus by his mother; several financial documents; and sixteen photographs of Pettus and his family.

The William Winston Pettus Papers came to Yale University Library as part of the Records of the Yale-China Association.


  • 1928-1945


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by the creator(s) of this collection are in the public domain. There are no restrictions on use. Copyright status for other collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Given to Yale University as part of the Yale-in-China Association Records.


Arranged in four series: I. Correspondence of W. W. Pettus. II. Correspondence of Family and Others. III. Writings. IV. Miscellany.


1 Linear Feet (3 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


Correspondence, diaries, writings, and memorabilia of William Winston Pettus, surgeon at the Hsiang-Ya Hospital of the Yale-China Association in Changsha, China. His letters to his parents, beginning in 1928, report on his undergraduate life at Yale and later on medical school. After 1940, when he returned to China, his letters discuss his day-to-day activities as a doctor in wartime at the hospital in Changsha. The writings include diaries and drafts of unpublished articles. Also in the papers is correspondence among family members after his death about a biography, a memorial fund, and related matters.

Biographical / Historical

William Winston Pettus, missionary-surgeon, was born in Shanghai, China, on February 25, 1912. He entered Yale College in 1929 after attending the American School in Peking where his father, William Bacon Pettus, was President of the College of Chinese Studies. After completing his undergraduate work in 1933, he enrolled at the Yale Medical School where he received the M.D. degree in 1937. During the same year he married Maude Miller of Inwood, West Virginia, and began a residency in surgery at the Presbyterian Hospital in New York City.

In 1940, after completing his residency, Pettus received a Yale-in-China Association appointment as Professor of Surgery at Hsiang-Ya Hospital in Changsha, Hunan. He worked at Changsha until January 1942, when the Japanese Army captured the city. After a brief occupation the Japanese retreated, and Pettus was among the first to return to Changsha. It was largely due to his efforts that medical work was begun again in the seriously damaged hospital.

During the spring of 1943, Pettus returned to the United States for advanced study in surgery. In October 1944 he resumed his work at Hsiang-Ya, then located at Kweiyang, Kweichow, and later at Chungking.

In September 1945 Pettus flew into Changsha before the Japanese relinquished control of the city and began working to re-open the Yale-in-China medical facilities. He was killed when the airplane he was piloting crashed at Hwangping, Kweichow, on November 18, 1945.

For further information see the biography of Pettus, Dauntless Adventurer, by Edward H. Hume (New Haven, 1952).

Guide to the William Winston Pettus Papers
Under Revision
compiled by John Dojka
October 1977
Description rules
Finding Aid Created In Accordance With Manuscripts And Archives Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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