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Lawrence and Eleanor Mead Papers

Call Number: RG 155

Scope and Contents

The Lawrence and Eleanor Mead papers shed light on three notable aspects of their lives. Letters and reports describe Lawrence Mead's work with the YMCA in China and at Yenching University. Further documentation of their time at Yenching University is available in the archives of the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia (YDSL RG11). Extensive family correspondence reveals the importance of the Meads' families in fostering their desire to do missionary service and in providing support throughout years of changing positions and furloughs. Lawrence Mead's avocation as an expert photographer is also well documented in the collection.

Series I, Family Correspondence, provides a very complete series of letters between Lawrence and Eleanor and their families, both before and during their time in China. The Meads came from privileged, educated families who provided strong support for their work. A sheet describing familial relationships is located in the first folder of this series.

The General Correspondence of Series II is less extensive but it provides a good chronological overview of the Meads' involvements from 1900 to 1950.

The Memorabilia and Artifacts of Series III include biographical documentation as well as collected materials related to Yenching University, music, missions, and Chinese life. Also of note are collected documents related to the evangelistic campaign for Chinese students led by John R. Mott and Sherwood Eddy in 1913.

Series IV, Photographs, contains primarily photos taken by Lawrence Mead in China. A large section relates to Yenching University but there are also many images of Chinese life, buildings, and scenery, including a notable sequence related to famine conditions in 1921.


  • 1886-1994
  • Majority of material found within 1911 - 1939


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of the Mead family


  1. Series I: Family Correspondence
  2. Series II: General Correspondence
  3. Series III: Memorabilia and Artifacts
  4. Series IV: Photographs


15 Linear Feet (29 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


This collection documents the lives and work of Lawrence and Eleanor Mead. Lawrence Mead served in China under the YMCA from 1913-16, and 1919-1926. He taught English at Yenching University in Beijing from 1928-1939, and was unofficial "official" photographer for the University. Extensive correspondence and memorabilia shed light on the early lives and family interactions of the Meads. The photograph collection documenting Yenching University, and scenes and events in China is noteworthy.

Biographical / Historical

Lawrence Mead was born in Plainfield, New Jersey on September 21, 1888. He attended The Hill School and graduated from Princeton University in 1911, with a BA, majoring in English. He entered Union Theological Seminary in 1911, but dropped out midyear with a severe infection. In 1912 he joined the International YMCA, and in 1913 was sent to China to become a teacher of English in the YMCA schools there, serving in Shanghai and Hangzhou (Hangchow). In the summer of 1916 he returned to the US for additional graduate study. He married Eleanor Machado of Ottawa, Canada in 1917. During World War I, he enlisted in the US Army medical corps and was stationed at the base hospital at Camp Shelby, Miss.

Eleanor Machado was born in New York City in 1894 and spent her early years in Plainfield, New Jersey before her family moved to Ottawa in 1902. She entered Vassar College in 1913 and decided to become a missionary to China following attendance at conferences in Northfield and Silver Bay. Following her engagement to Lawrence Mead in the summer of 1916, she left Vassar to spend a year at home prior to their marriage and expected departure to China in 1917.

In the fall of 1919 Mead returned to Beijing, China as a member of Princeton-in-Peking and secretary of the Peking YMCA, together with his wife and first born child. In Beijing he taught English language, composition, and phonetics in the YMCA's Commercial School from 1920 until he came home furlough in 1926. During his two years in Canada and the US he received an MA in English from Columbia University, which included special training in Phonetics at London University in England.

In the summer of 1928 he returned to Beijing with his family (wife and now five children) to join the faculty of Yenching University, where he taught English, with the emphasis on spoken English. All entering Freshmen had to take his course in spoken English. While at Yenching, Mead became the unofficial "official" photographer for the University.

The Meads returned to the US in the summer of 1939. In 1940 Lawrence and Eleanor, became co-directors of the International Student Association of Greater Boston, located in Cambridge, MA. This organization, supported by the schools and colleges in the area, served the 2000 plus foreign students caught by World War II in the Boston area. Lawrence and Eleanor Mead retired to Cornwall, CT in 1952. Mead died in Cambridge, MA on September 28, 1954.

Frederica Rutherford Mead, sister of Lawrence Mead, was also a missionary in China, serving at Ginling College in Nanjing.

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 Lawrence and Eleanor Mead Papers
Compiled by Divinity Library Staff
1999, 2014
Description rules
Finding Aid Prepared According To Local Divinity Library Descriptive Practices
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Yale Divinity Library Repository

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