Skip to main content

Hyla S. Watters Papers

Call Number: RG 328

Scope and Contents

This collection documents the life and work of medical missionary Hyla Stowell Watters (1893-1987). Watters served at Wuhu General Hospital in Anhui Province, China, and then at the Methodist Mission hospital in Ganta, Liberia, before spending her later years in Tupper Lake, New York. The collection also contains materials gathered by author Elsie Hayes Landstrom for the publication of Hyla Doc, two books based on Hyla’s life.

Scope and Contents: The Hyla Watters Papers (RG 328) document the life of medical missionary Hyla Stowell Watters and contain the collected research for the posthumously published Hyla Doc books, edited by Elsie Hayes Landstrom. Substantive letters and writing from Hyla’s years at the Wuhu General Hospital (1925-1941) and her return to China in 1945, provide insight into intercultural and interreligious relations among the greater Wuhu community, her work as a surgeon, her work with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) in the post World War II era, and the political environment in China from the 1920s until Communist rule. The material gathered by Elise Hayes Landstrom, which makes up the second part of this collection (Series VI), consists of transcribed letters and an extensive collection of taped interviews Landstrom conducted with Hyla Watters in her later years. Landstrom’s material provides a nearly exhaustive archive of Hyla Watters’ life—stretching from her early memories, through her work in China and Liberia, and her later years as an active community member and physician in Tupper Lake, New York.

Series I contains the correspondence of Hyla S. Watters, spanning from her early years at the Nanking Language School in 1925 to letters received the year of her death in Tupper Lake, New York, 1987. Within the collection, Hyla’s years at Wuhu General Hospital are well-documented in family circulars written by Hyla alone or jointly with her mother Ada Stowell Watters, who moved to China in 1926, and sister Florence (Sally) Watters Stuntz, a missionary in India. In the letters from 1945-1947, Hyla describes her return to China with the United States army, and journey once more to Wuhu, as well as her work with the UNRRA and CNRRA. Related photographs of UNRRA doctors and famine relief work are in Series V, Photographs. Correspondence dating from 1973-1987 is solely addressed to Hyla Watters from friends and colleagues. Notable within the later correspondence are the letters from Hyla’s former student Enmei Yu, describing her experiences as a physician in the People’s Republic of China. Further correspondence is found within Series VI subseries 1 “Compiled materials and drafts.” To write the text of Hyla Doc, Elsie Hayes Landstrom initially gathered around 1,000 pages of transcribed letters. The resulting 1986 compilation reflects correspondence beyond the scope of Series I, likely provided by family members and the Hyla S. Watters papers at Smith College Special Collections Collection: Hyla S. Watters papers | Smith College Finding Aids.

Series II, Writings and Notes consists of original writings by Hyla S. Watters, primarily vignettes she composed while serving at Wuhu Hospital as well as talk notes she wrote for speeches around Tupper Lake. The writings, dating from the 1920s into the 1930s, describe the Wuhu community, Hyla’s medical work, and Christian themes. The talk notes, dating from 1964-1976, reflect Hyla’s life within the Tupper Lake community, speaking at churches and local events on missions, scripture, and her philosophy of retirement.

Series III, Collected Material, begins with a variety of pamphlets referencing Hyla’s work in both Wuhu and Ganta. Collected publications and newspaper articles show Hyla’s continuing interest in Chinese affairs. The series ends with miscellaneous material and Chinese cutout art gathered during Hyla’s time in Wuhu.

Series IV, Personal Items and Memorabilia, contains materials dating from 1892 to 1989. Materials in the initial folders provide insight into both family genealogy and the broad chronology of Hyla’s life. The bulk of the material relates to Hyla’s time in Tupper Lake from 1961 until her death in 1987. During this time, she was featured regularly in local newspaper articles. Series IV, subseries 2 contains watercolors painted by Hyla during her time in Liberia until the end of her life.

The photographs in Series V, dating from 1895 to 1987, include both family photos and images related to Hyla’s work in China and Africa. The Series begins with family portraits and images from Hyla’s early life and proceeds roughly chronologically. Substantial photos date from Hyla’s years in China, depicting Hyla and Ada in their Wuhu home, scenes from the hospital including the nursing staff and images of patients, and portraits of friends and colleagues. Multiple folders of proofs most likely date from Hyla’s return to China and work with the UNRRA in 1945-1948. Photographs from Hyla’s years in Liberia contain pictures with her housemate and friend Mildred Black, including images from their 1961 trip across the African continent. Later images consist primarily of portraits taken during the years Hyla lived in Tupper Lake.

Series VI, Materials and Drafts Related to Hyla Doc Books, contains research materials and drafts related to the book Hyla Doc, which was published in two volumes. The first volume. Hyla Doc: Surgeon in China Through War and Revolution 1924-1949 (1991) documents Hyla’s experience at Wuhu General Hospital and the second volume, Hyla Doc in Africa 1950-1961 (1994) documents her work at the Ganta Mission in Liberia. Although published posthumously, the books are written entirely in Hyla’s voice. Elsie Hayes Landstrom compiled and edited extensive materials, gathering text for the later books through transcribing Hyla’s correspondence and driving from her own home in Conway, Massachusetts to Hyla’s home in Tupper Lake, New York. The resulting drafts, which provide a nearly comprehensive archive of Hyla’s correspondence from her time at Smith until her later years in Tupper Lake, are held in box 3 of this collection. Landstrom described the community effort of the composition process in the introduction to Hyla Doc: Surgeon in China Through War and Revolution 1924-1949, “Shel Horowitz…undertook the enormous job of retyping these letters. Fortunately, to fill in gaps, Elizabeth Allen (Hyla Doc’s niece) and her husband Daniel and I had taped many stories. But there remained pages of questions to ask Hyla Doc. Many remain mysteries, but some answers were found and spliced into her story from letters from her mother, Ada Stowell Watters, and from other members of the I-chi-san community.” The ironing out of the text into its finished form is reflected in the multiple drafts contained in Series IV: the 1986 draft consists primarily of letters stitched together across stages in Hyla’s life, by the 1988 draft, Landstrom smoothed out the transitions to appear as a single, continuous narration. Series VI also contains cassette tapes of interviews with Hyla, conducted between 1980 and 1987, many of which are transcribed in the 1986 compilation. The series ends with letters from Elsie Landstrom regarding the publication of the books, reviews, and the published monographs.


  • 1892 - 1994


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Kenneth Stuntz Allen, 2022.



  1. Correspondence, 1924-1987
  2. Writings and Notes, 1926-1976
  3. Collected Materials, 1913-1989
  4. Personal Items and Memorabilia, 1982-1989
  5. Photographs, 1895-1986
  6. Materials and Drafts related to Publication of Hyla Doc,


3 Linear Feet (7 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 life and work of medical missionary Hyla Stowell Watters (1893-1987). Watters served at Wuhu General Hospital in Anhui Province, China, and then at the Methodist Mission hospital in Ganta, Liberia, before spending her later years in Tupper Lake, New York. The collection also contains materials gathered by author Elsie Hayes Landstrom for the publication of Hyla Doc, two books based on Hyla’s life.

Biographical / Historical

Hyla Stowell Watters, known to friends as “Hyla Doc,” was born in 1893 to Ada Stowell Watters and the Methodist pastor Philip M. Watters. While regularly moving across New York state for Philip Watters’ career, the family built at cottage in Tupper Lake where they summered annually. Throughout her life, Hyla Watters considered Tupper Lake, New York her enduring home.

Hyla graduated from Smith College in 1915 with a degree in Philosophy. After a brief interim teaching in Atlanta, where her father served as the president of Gammon Theological Seminary, Hyla continued her education at Cornell University Medical School, graduating in 1921. Inspired by the example of Dr. Edward C. Perkins, a close family friend who served as a doctor in Jiujiang (Kiukiang), and an interest in Christian missions in China which began in childhood, Hyla undertook further medical training at the School of Tropical Medicine in London and sailed to China in 1924. Following a year of intensive language study at Nanking University, Hyla served from 1925-1941 at Wuhu General Hospital in Anhui Province, China.

In 1941, when Wuhu was under the Japanese occupation, Hyla Watters wrote, “[we] are planning to stay on as long as possible. One remembers the verse from the wall-builders of Jerusalem, ‘I am doing a great work, and cannot come down.’” Though interned by the Japanese and expatriated to the United States shortly after, Hyla traveled back to China in 1945 with the Red Cross and served in the reopened Wuhu General Hospital until 1948. After nearly a quarter century of living in Wuhu, prompted by the concerns of her colleagues amidst the advancement of communist forces, Hyla S. Watters left China.

In 1950 Hyla announced her commission from the Methodist Board of Foreign Missions to go to Ganta, Liberia, stating, “I am looking forward to working in the Liberian hinterland, and to returning to China later when the way opens.” From 1950 to 1961 Hyla worked aiding the local clinic’s development into a hospital and lived with her companion and friend Mildred Black, who worked in language education. Upon reaching the age of required retirement for the Methodist Board in 1961, Hyla traveled across the continent of Africa with Mildred Black, en route to Tupper Lake.

Reflecting on her years in Ganta relative to her time in China for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise Weekender in 1980, Hyla observed, “we never got closely involved with our co-workers there…in China we had wars and floods and pestilence. The adversity brought us together.”

From 1961 until her death in 1987, Hyla worked in Tupper Lake as a physician until the age of eighty-seven and spoke regularly at community events. In 1980, as the People’s Republic of China opened to American visitors, Hyla travelled back to China with Mildred Black, visiting the hospital and colleagues from her years in Wuhu a half century before. In a 1973 interview, Hyla compared Christian missions¬¬—her life’s labor—to a mountain she saw in Korea standing despite a hole borne through the rock, stating, “nothing that is as beautiful as that can ever be destroyed.”

In the final years of her life, Hyla spoke extensively with Elsie Hayes Landstrom, the child of missionaries in Wuhu, who compiled Hyla’s memories from lifetime of medical and missionary work into two books published posthumously written in Hyla’s voice: Hyla Doc in China and Hyla Doc in Africa.

Further resources and information on Hyla S. Watters are available at Smith College Special Collections, in the Hyla S. Watters papers: Collection: Hyla S. Watters papers | Smith College Finding Aids. Also of interest may be the papers of Hyla’s mentor Edward C. Perkins, which are held at Yale: Perkins, Edward C. (M.D.) Perkins, Georgina | Archives at Yale. Further materials on Elsie Hayes Landstrom, who edited the memoirs of Hyla S. Watters, are available in the Hayes Family Papers: Collection: Hayes Family Papers | Archives at Yale

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 Hyla S. Watters Papers
Abigail Kromminga
Description rules
Finding Aid Prepared According To Describing Archives: A Content Standard (Dacs)

Part of the Yale Divinity Library Repository

409 Prospect Street
New Haven CT 06511 US
(203) 432-5301

Opening Hours