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Sarah Refo Mason Papers

Call Number: RG 175

Scope and Contents

This collection contains valuable primary source materials collected by Sarah Refo Mason in the course of her research projects, as well as her own writings and notes, and documentation of the work of her parents in China.

Series I, Missionary Children Research Materials, contains documentation gathered by Sarah Refo Mason while preparing her 1978 dissertation: "Missionary Conscience and the Comprehension of Imperialism: A Study of the Children of American Missionaries to China 1900-1949." Mason sent out questionnaires, conducted interviews, and did extensive archival research while preparing her thesis. The bulk of these files are organized under the individual names of persons, with many of the folders including correspondence with the person since 1978. There is also a sequence of interview tapes, also arranged by individual name and sections of background material related to missions in China and U.S. Foreign Service relations with China. Mason's research skills and her shared China "mish-kid" experience gained her the confidence of those she was working with, and in some cases the missionary children gave her correspondence and writings related to their work or the work of their parents. The materials in this Series provide a valuable complement to other papers held at the Yale Divinity Library, particularly the Ady, Barnett, Bates, Bright, Cross, Fenn, Foster, Goodrich, Lobenstine, McCracken, Mills, Nasmith, Pickens, Roberts, Smythe, and Thomson materials.

Series II, Canton YMCA Research Materials, contains correspondence, notes, and collected materials related to Mason's research interest in the YMCA in China and a paper on the Guangzhou (Canton) YMCA that she wrote in 1991. They include her interview notes and an extensive correspondence from 1982 to 1998 with two leading officials in the Guangzhou YMCA, George Wong (Wong Yidun), executive secretary, and Samuel Shao (Shao Mingyao), program secretary, as well as files of papers pertaining to Edward Lockwood, W.W. Lockwood, Orrin Magill, Harry Brunger, and other individuals related to the YMCA in China. Some of these papers are original; others are copies of papers in family archives or from the YMCA archives in Minneapolis. There is a file of photographs of Guangzhou (Canton) YMCA buildings, staff, and members, as well as copies of numerous documents such as annual reports and periodicals.

Series III, True Light Middle School Research Materials, represents the beginning of Mason's research in preparation for a book on women in China missions, focusing on the experiences of both staff and students at True Light Middle School. Mason began making contact with former students during a trip to China in 1982. She made further contacts with alumnae living in China in the late 1980s and spent several weeks interview former students in San Francison in 1990. Mason's research and interview notes are contained in this series as well as tapes of interviews with former students and photographs. Some material in Series VI, Henry and Sarah F. Refo Family Papers, also pertains to True Light Middle School. Mason's mother went to China in 1919 under the auspices of the Women's Presbyterian Board of Missions and served as a teacher of English, geography, and nutrition at True Light Middle School for Girls in Guangzhou (Canton) from 1919 to 1924. Mason's parents were both employed by True Light Middle School, which had relocated to Hong Kong during the Sino-Japanese War, from 1939 to 1942, and again beginning in 1946 when the school had returned to Guangzhou (Canton). Documents related to True Light teaching staff also include copies of corresponence Jean McPherson (Pomerenke) from the early 1920s and letters and research notes of Dorothy Fisher.

Series IV, Women in China Missions Research Materials, complements the True Light Middle School files. This material focuses on other mission schools for girls as well as containing general background material on women in China missions. There is a substantial section of material related to Mei Wa School in Guangzhou (Canton). This material includes copies of papers and letters given to Mason by Mary Nelson Denison, daughter of the school's founders.

Series V, Lingnan University Research Materials, contains notes and documents relating to the school's history, photographs, and papers of some of the individuals affiliated with the university during the 1920s and 1930s. One file contains materials given to Mason by Jesse Angell Weekes, who came to Guangzhou (Canton) in 1915 with the YWCA, but whose husband, Ernest taught earlier at Lingnan. Other materials were contributed by Ingeborg Stolle, who taught at Lingnan in the 1930s. Mason also had correspondence with former Lingnan faculty members Franklin Wallace and William Augur. Material contributed by Augur includes a book of long, detailed letters, with accompanying news clippings, written by Augur to his family in 1925-1926. These letters provide the perspective of a former Lingnan University faculty member and current employee of the Canton Hospital, on the political events in Guangzhou (Canton) during that period, which led to the closing of the hospital and changes in Lingnan's management. The materials in this series complement other YDSL holdings in the Archives of the Trustees of Lingnan University, Record Group No. 14 and the Archives of the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia, Record Group No. 11.

Series VI, Hmong (Miao) People Research Materials, includes research notes, correspondence, tapes, photos, and other materials relating to Mason's field visits in 1987. The tapes include recordings of Miao music. This series also contains background materials collected by Mason, relating to the Hmong (Miao) people.

Series VII, Presbyterian Mission Home, San Francisco Research Materials, contains materials related to Mason's research on the Mission Home, which was later known as the Donaldina Cameron House. According to the web site for the Cameron House, which still exists in San Francisco, it was founded by the Presbyterian Church as the Occidental Mission Home for Girls in 1874, with the goal of intervening on behalf of young, Asian, immigrant females who had become vulnerable and disenfranchised upon arrival into the United States. "These women and girls were smuggled into the United States thereby circumventing immigration laws that excluded them. Asian women were commodities that were bought and sold (by their own families in many cases) as property in a system that became known as the 'yellow slave trade.' Bogus 'contracts' were created to enforce this system of slavery in which Asian women became domestics or prostitutes. The contractual conditions specified insurmountable recourse for women to purchase their own freedom. The number of Asian immigrant women who died in enslaved conditions in San Francisco was in the thousands. Miss Donaldina Cameron came to the Occidental Mission Home as a sewing teacher; she stayed forty years devoting her life as a missionary creating a foundation and tradition of competency assisting Asian women who were victimized by violence and racial discrimination." The materials gathered by Mason include annual reports of the Occidental Board of the Women's Foreign Missionary Society of the Presbyterian Church of the Pacific Coast, copies of legal documents from the National Archives pertaining to the illegal importation of Chinese women for "immoral purposes," material related to Lorna Logan, a former director of Cameron House, other documents related to the history and current activities of Cameron House, and background material about the Chinese in America.

Series VIII, Henry and Sarah F. Refo Family Papers, is comprised of letters, family histories, personal documents, photographs, and other papers of Henry Refo (1898-1993), his first wife, Sarah Alice (Sally) Flaniken (1895-1956), and his second wife, Muriel Lockwood (1899-1991). Henry taught at Lingnan University from 1920-1937 and at True Light Middle School from 1939-1941 and 1945-1951. Sarah Alice taught at True Light Middle School beginning in 1919. Muriel first went to China under the Methodist Board in 1919. Her second husband was Edward Lockwood (1887-1957), who served with the Guangzhou (Canton) YMCA. Henry and Muriel were married in 1960. Sarah Mason gathered together many letters that her mother had written to her sisters and other relatives; the originals letters (1919-1948) plus a transcription and compilation of the letters into a book, completed in 1998, are available. Of note are a long letter that Sarah Alice Refo wrote while on board the Gripsholm describing their family life in Hong Kong during the first months of the war, and numerous documents related to the family's internment at Stanley Prison. This series also includes research notes, interviews, and correspondence of Sarah Refo Mason with her parents. Correspondence between Sarah Mason and Henry and Muriel Refo during the 1980s includes lengthy discussion of meetings with former students and staff of Lingnan and True Light Middle School, YMCA officials, retired missionaries and their children, and sharing of reminiscences of Guangzhou (Canton) during the 1920s-1940s. Also of interest in this series are materials related to holiday vacation places frequented by the Refos and other missionaries - Loh fau, located northeast of Guangzhou (Canton), and Laan tau Island, Hong Kong, and files on the two Chinese women who worked for the Refo family, Ah Laan and Ah Tuen.

Series IX, Re. the Life and Work of Sarah Refo Mason, includes biographical information about Mason, writings and presentations by her, correspondence with colleagues and organizations, and some additional collected research materials that not relate specifically to Series I - VII, or were received separately. The handwritten diary of Margaret Lewis McCalla, a missionary daughter, provides an account of her journey from Tennessee to Hunan Province, China.


  • 1866-1999


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of James Mason, 2003-2004


  1. I. Missionary Children Research Materials
  2. II. Canton YMCA Research Materials
  3. III. True Light Middle School Research Materials
  4. IV. Women in China Missions Research Materials
  5. V. Lingnan University Research Materials
  6. VI. Hmong (Miao) People Research Materials
  7. VII. Presbyterian Mission Home, San Francisco Research Materials
  8. VIII. Henry and Sarah F. Refo Family Papers
  9. IX. Re. life and work of Sarah Refo Mason


17 Linear Feet (43 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


This collection provides valuable collected research files on a variety of subjects, including: missionary children, the Canton (Guangzhou) YMCA, True Light Middle School, women in China, Lingnan University, the Hmong (Miao) people, and the Presbyterian Mission Home (Cameron House) in San Francisco. The collection also contains documentation related to the life and work of Sarah Refo Mason and her parents, Henry and Sarah F. Refo. Sarah Refo Mason (1930-2002), the child of missionaries to China, graduated from the Shanghai American School and the College of Wooster. She received a doctorate in history from Northern Illinois University in 1978. Her dissertation research related to the children of missionaries and she also engaged in research projects related to Chinese history, women's history, Asian American history, and oral history. She taught at U.S. schools and at Zhongshan University in Guangzhou, PRC.

Biographical / Historical

1930 Nov 3
Sarah Margaret Refo was born in Memphis, Tennessee, second daughter of Henry Barron Refo (1898-1993) and Sarah Alice Flaniken (1895-1956). Her parents were educational missionaries in China who were on furlough in the U.S. at the time of Sarah's birth.
Refos returned to Guangzhou, where Henry was head of the science department of the secondary school of Lingnan University and instructor in the university's education department and Sarah Alice served as a counselor to graduates of the True Light Middle School attending Lingnan University.
Refos returned to Tennesee where Henry was teacher and administrator in public schools
Refos went to Hong Kong, serving at True Light Middle School under auspices of Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. True Light Middle School had relocated from Guangzhou to Hong Kong during the Sino-Japanese war. Sarah and her three sisters attended British Diocesan School in Hong Kong.
During the occupation of Hong Kong by the Japanese, the Refo family was placed in Stanley Prison with other American missionaries, business persons, etc. Later in 1942, they were repatriated to the U.S. on the Swedish ship Gripsholm and settled in Kentucky where Henry taught chemistry at Berea College.
Refos returned to China to teach at True Light Middle School, which had reopened in Guangzhou. Sarah attended Shanghai American School
Sarah graduated from Shanghai American School and entered College of Wooster, Wooster, Ohio.
Sarah graduated from College of Wooster and married James Mason. The Masons worked at Camp Reinberg, near Chicago, during the summer and then settled in New York City, where Jim attended Union Theological Seminary.
Mason family based in Illinois as Jim Mason served in various positions. Children born: Rachel (1954); Joseph (1957); Roald (1960); Sarah Alice (1966).
Sarah began graduate studies in history at Northern Illinois University and taught at McHenry County College.
Sarah received M.A. in history from Northern Illinois University and began studies for doctorate in history at NIU.
Mason family moved to Minnesota.
Sarah employed as oral history interviewer for Midwest China Center at Luther Theological Seminary, St. Paul, MN.
Sarah received Ph.D. from Northern Illinois University
Sarah employed as researcher and writer in Ethnic History Project of Minnesota Historical Society, including interviews and research in Asian communities throughout the state. Contributed four chapters on Chinese, Filipinos, Koreans, and Southeast Asians in Minnesota to the book, They Chose Minnesota: A Survey of Minnesota's Ethnic Groups, edited by June D. Holmquist (St. Paul, 1981).
Sarah assisted the Women's Association of Hmong and Lao, St. Paul as coordinator of the English language project for elderly Hmong women, and as consultant and proposal writer.
Sarah traveled to China and contacted students of her parents at True Light School, former colleagues at Lingnan University, and former staff members of the Canton YMCA.
Sarah worked as researcher, interviewer, and writer for the Southeast Asian Refugee Studies Project of the University of Minnesota.
Sarah received grant from Rockefeller Foundation for a national survey of employment training programs for Southeast Asian women in the United State. Results of this survey published in the book Training Southeast Asian Women for Employment: Public Policies and Community Programs, 1975-1985, by Sarah R. Mason (Minneapolis, 1986).
Sarah served as professor of U.S. history, comparative cultures, and advanced writing (English) in the Department of Foreign Languages, Zhongshan University, Guangzhou, China.
Sarah traveled in southwest China, visiting and conducting preliminary research in Miao communities.
Sarah served as assistant professor of history at the University of Minnesota, Morris.
Sarah conducted independent research, primarily in the field of China missions history, with a focus on the Miao people, True Light School for Women and other mission schools for women, and the Canton YMCA.
Sarah's paper on the Presbyterian Mission Home, Cameron House, in San Francisco, published in Women and Chinese Patriarchy, Jaschok and Miers, eds. (Hong Kong, 1994).
Sarah's paper on a former resident of Cameron House, San Francisco, published in Minnesota History (Spring, 1995). Sarah treated for breast cancer.
Sarah presented paper at Association for Asian Studies conference in Honolulu. Diagnosed with signs of early Alzheimer's disease.
Sarah's illness progressed. She died on June 27, 2002. For full chronology and list of positions and publications, see Biographical Documentation in Box 40, Folder 444.

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 Sarah Refo Mason Papers
Compiled by Lucas L. Schulte and 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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