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Whitener Family Papers

Call Number: RG 151

Scope and Contents

These papers provide valuable documentation of the issues, events, and transactions surrounding two areas: 1) the transfer of power from a Western mission agency to the Church of Christ in China and 2) the Church and Communism in China from 1948 to 1952. They also provide information about rural work in Hunan Province and church social service work in Hong Kong.


  • 1945-2000


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of the Whitener family.


  1. I. Correspondence, 1946-1995
  2. II. Notes and Writings of SHW, 1945-1972, n.d.
  3. III. Collected Material, 1946-1995, n.d.
  4. IV. Biographical Documentation, 1947-2000,n.d.


3 Linear Feet (6 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


Letters, photographs, and collected material, primarily from the late 1940s and early 1950s document the work of the Whiteners and the history of Christianity in Hunan Province, China and in Hong Kong. The elder Whiteners, Sterling W. and Marie, were missionaries in Yueyang (Yochow), Hunan Province, China from 1919 to 1948, serving under the Reformed Church in the United States and the Evangelical and Reformed Church. Their son, Sterling H. Whitener, and his wife Barbara were missionaries in Hunan Province from 1946 to 1950 and in Hong Kong from the early 1950s to 1967.

Biographical / Historical

Sterling Wilfong Whitener was born in 1894 in North Carolina. He married Marie Hegnauer in 1919 and they left for China that year, serving as missionaries first under the Reformed Church in the U.S. and later under the Evangelical and Reformed Church. Following language study in Nanjing (Nanking), the Whiteners were stationed in Yueyang (Yochow), Hunan Province. Sterling was assigned to evangelistic work and Marie worked with a women's Bible school. Following their furlough in 1924 the Whiteners returned to Yueyang (Yochow) but in 1927 political disturbances forced their evacuation to Shanghai and then to the United States. where Sterling served three churches in Thomasville, NC. From 1928 to 1934 the Whiteners again served in Yochow. Due to the political situation, Sterling worked with famine relief during the floods of 1930 while the family was evacuated to Shanghai for six months. Sterling also organized relief programs for refugees fleeing fighting. Following furlough in 1934, the Whiteners returned to Yueyang (Yochow). During 1939 to 1941 the Whiteners were evacuated to Yuanling in western Hunan Province due to air raids. Marie was in Shanghai during 1940 so that the children could attend Shanghai American School. From 1941 to 1946 the Whiteners were on an extended furlough in North Carolina, unable to return to China because of war conditions. They returned to Yueyang (Yoyang, Yochow) in 1946 and Marie died in Hankou (Hankow) in 1947. Sterling returned to the United States in 1948 and died in North Carolina in 1950.

Sterling Hegnauer Whitener was born in China in 1921, son of Sterling and Marie. After receiving a B.A. from Catawba College and a M.Div. from Yale Divinity School, Sterling H. and his wife, Barbara Brown Whitener, joined his parents in Yueyang (Yoyang), Hunan Province in 1946, serving under the Evangelical and Reformed Church. After one year of educational work, Sterling H. was involved in evangelistic work and acted as treasurer for the mission. SHW and BBW stayed in Hunan until September 1950. Following Sterling H.'s study for an S.T.M. degree at Yale Divinity School, they returned to mission work in Hong Kong. Sterling H. assisted refugees at the Rennie's Mill Camp and worked with the Hong Kong Council, Church of Christ in China, organizing a Social Welfare Department for the Church. He also served as an interim director of Church World Service and helped found Chung Chi College. After taking his MSW degree while on furlough in 1965, he taught at the University of Hong Kong until 1967.

Processing Information

Place names were modernized in the description, with the name originally used in the collection material or in an older version of the finding aid in parenthesis: e.g. “Beijing (Peking)” or “Benin (Dahomey)”.

Guide to the Whitener Family Papers
Compiled by Martha Lund Smalley
Description rules
Finding Aid Prepared According To Local Divinity Library Descriptive Practices
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

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