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Katherine Shapleigh Papers

Call Number: RG 176

Scope and Contents

Series I, Correspondence consists primarily of family correspondence. Letters from Shapleigh to her family and their replies document in detail the changing paths of her life. Brought up in an affluent, traditional Episcopalian household, Katherine may have been headed toward a rather sheltered existence, but her marriage to Alfred Shapleigh and their subsequent work in China exposed her to a vastly different world. The Shapleighs' dissatisfaction during their first period of work in China under the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions led to a return back to the United States where they engaged in a variety of educational, commercial, and missionary activities before being appointed by the China Inland Mission to return to China. The tragic deaths of Katherine's husband and sons shortly after their arrival in China did not deter her from remaining with the mission and finding a new way of life there. While Katherine had been largely preoccupied by her language study and baby son during their first period in China, her subsequent years alone in China were spent at the CIM Yangchow training school and the Foreign Women's Home in Shanghai, which provided shelter to Russian women refugees who came to China following the Bolshevik revolution in Russia. Katherine found fulfillment in her work with her mission colleagues but clearly had continuing strong ties to her family at home. In addition to the correspondence documenting Shapleigh's life, there are also letters of other family members and material related to the John Singer Sargent portrait of Katherine that was painted when she was in her late teen years.

Series II, Writings, includes some early school essays but consists primarily of poetry written by Katherine Shapleigh. Katherine was an accomplished poet who had her work published.

Series III, Personal Items and Memorabilia, includes a variety of materials documenting Katherine Shapleigh's life, from early school report cards to biographical sketches by family members. Of particular note in this section is the application letter submitted by Katherine to the China Inland Mission when she and her husband sought appointment to China by CIM. This autobiographical letter provides explanation of the religious beliefs that significantly influenced the course of the Shapleighs' lives. Series III also includes a number of interesting photographs from the Shapleighs' early years in China, 1896-1897, which show their well-equipped Western-style home in China, their Chinese language teachers, and so forth. Later photographs show Katherine in Yangzhou (Yangchow) and members of the China Inland Mission Kiangsu Conference.


  • 1887-1976


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Stephen D. Pratt and Joan Morgan Anderson.


  1. I. Correspondence
  2. II. Writings
  3. III. Personal Items and Memorabilia


2 Linear Feet (5 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


Letters, writings, photographs, and collected material document the fascinating life of Katherine Shapleigh, including her missionary work in China. Raised as a traditional Episcopalian, Katherine Chase Pratt Shapleigh married Alfred Shapleigh, a graduate of Harvard Medical School, and they served in Tianjin (Tientsin), China under the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) from 1896 to 1897. Apparently experiencing a transformation in their religious beliefs, the Shapleighs divested themselves of many of the wedding gifts and possessions given to them by their affluent families and returned to the U.S. where Alfred attended Bible schools and they engaged in home mission work until able to return to China under the more conservative China Inland Mission (CIM) board. They returned to China in 1904 but Alfred and their two children tragically died of smallpox shortly after arrival. Katherine Shapleigh remained in China under the CIM for several years (1904-1908, 1915-1920, 1926-1927). She served at the training school for future mission workers run by the China Inland Mission in Yangzhou (Yangchow) and in later years worked with Russian refugees at the Foreign Women's Home in Shanghai. Shapleigh later served as Dean of Women at Wheaton College in Illinois.

Biographical / Historical

1875 December 29
Born in Worcester, MA
Attended St. Agnes School, Albany, NY
Met Alfred Shapleigh in Princeton, MA where their families had summer homes
1896 June 2
Married Alfred Shapleigh; they had three children: Samuel Brooks (1897-1905), Gordon (1899-1900), Stephen (1903-1905).
Served in Tianjin (Tientsin), China under the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions
Family returned to Worcester, MA, where Alfred took over practice of physician who was on leave
Moved to Boston, where Alfred was assistant to his father, who was president of the Shapleigh Coffee Co., and engaged in Bible study
Alfred took Bible training courses at Nyack College in New York and Moody Bible Institute in Chicago
Engaged in evangelistic home missionary work in California
Returned to Boston; worked with Salvation Army
Home missionary work in Colorado and California
Returned to China under China Inland Mission
Alfred and two surviving sons died of smallpox shortly after the family's arrival in China. Alfred and the sons had not been vaccinated against smallpox, so did not survive the disease; Katherine suffered a mild case of smallpox but recovered.
Katherine remained in China, engaging in language study and serving at missionary training school in Yangzhou (Yangchow)
Katherine returned to U.S. where she cared for her father and spoke in churches
In Yangzhou (Yangchow), followed by return to U.S.
Working with women Russian refugees at Foreign Women's Home, Shanghai, followed by return to U.S.
Working at Foreign Women's Home, Shanghai
circa 1934
Appointed Dean of Women at Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL
Received B.A.
Following a severe heart attack, Katherine retired from Wheaton position and moved to North Carolina
Died in North Carolina

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 Katherine Shapleigh Papers
Compiled by Kathryn Lund 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.

Part of the Yale Divinity Library Repository

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