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Albert and Celia Steward Papers

Call Number: RG 20

Scope and Contents

The missionary work and personal lives of Albert and Celia Steward are well documented in these papers. Based at the University of Nanking, Albert Steward combined devotion to science, Christian outreach to students, and community involvement in his active missionary service in China. Celia Steward's years in China, though defined to a significant degree by her devotion to her six children, were notable for her openness to the Chinese people and her efforts to improve the lives of people, particularly of women, in China. Celia used her skills of cooking, sewing, singing, teaching, typing and entertaining to interact with the Chinese people and with fellow missionaries, and to aid her husband in his work. More so than many missionaries, the Stewards opened their home to the Chinese and developed longstanding relationships with students and colleagues.

The Stewards maintained close ties with their families in the United States and sent regular, detailed letters which describe their daily activities and political and social conditions in China. Albert's experience in the Japanese internment camp of Chapei is well documented, as is the period following the Communist takeover in Nanking. The Stewards also retained in their files many invitations, notes, programs and other ephemeral documents which provide insight into the flow and tone of daily missionary life.

The Steward Papers are complemented by various other collections held at the Yale Divinity School Library. Extensive files documenting the University of Nanking in Record Group No. 11, include additional correspondence and writings of Albert Steward. The Library also holds papers of the Hayes family, Bates family and other close missionary friends of the Stewards. Taken in conjunction, these sources provide excellent insight into the missionary community and modes of mission in Nanking during the 1920s through 1950.

Series I, Correspondence, includes family correspondence, circular letters sent out by the Stewards, correspondence with Western colleagues and with Chinese colleagues and students. The early part of the Stewards' service in China is most thoroughly documented in letters sent to the extended family; by the 1940s the older Steward children were living in the United States and received the most detailed letters. Regular circular letters sent by the Stewards provide a convenient overview of their experiences. Samples of family correspondence from the period after 1950 have been retained in the collection.

The second series, Writings, Talks, includes material ranging from formal reflections on the Stewards' missionary experience to scientific writings by Albert to notes for numerous talks. Both Celia and Albert were clearly popular speakers before churches and civic groups while in the United States. The presentations they made to these groups provide interesting evaluation and anecdotal documentation of their work in China. The documented interaction between the Stewards and the church groups in the U.S. which supported them also provides insight into the impact of the missionary movement upon American religious life.

Series III, Subject File, includes an interesting variety of material, primarily collected in China. Of particular interest are the materials related to the Communist takeover in China, materials related to Nanking, and documentation of the Saturday Evening Group held for Chinese students and colleagues in the Stewards' home.

Series IV, Biographical Material, provides very thorough documentation of the background and lives of the Stewards. A couple of papers written by students about Celia Steward are included, as well as a wealth of documentation prepared at the time of her selection as Oregon Mother-of-the-Year.

Series V, Photographs, includes relatively few items documenting the Steward family. Photographs related to the University of Nanking in Record Group No. 11 would supplement those available in this collection. Four cases of slides used by the Stewards in presentations to churches about mission work in China are also included.

Series V,Addendum-2021, was donated by David Steward, son of Albert and Celia Steward. It includes additional biographical material, subject talks, and correspondence from family, friends, and colleagues. There are several areas of overlap with the original collection, including documentation of Steward's 1951 Guggenheim Fellowship, Celia's nomination for Oregon Mother of the Year in 1967, and Methodist Board correspondence post-1947. New additions include several journals documenting Steward's missionary and agricultural work in Nanjing, as well as confidential publications from the Methodist Board on communism and the Chinese Christian Church.

Series VI, Addendum-2023, consists of correspondence from Leland Steward and his wife Beverly to the Steward family, primarily Celia Steward. The correspondence begins during Leland’s final years of high school in California through his education at Berkeley and later enlistment in the United States Navy, leading to his station on the island of Okinawa at the end of World War II. In the years covered in the correspondence, 1939 – 1950, the Steward family was divided across the world: Newton and Leland served in the Pacific theater at the end of the war, Albert was interned in Shanghai, and Celia and the other children lived in the United States. Letters dating from 1947 – 1950 reflect once more a time of division and uncertainty during Albert and Celia’s return to Nanjing and later evacuation. For Leland Steward’s narration of this time and David Steward’s preface to the letters, see box 22 folder 1.


  • 1908-1979


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of the Steward family.


  1. I. Correspondence, 1908-1979
  2. II. Writings, Talks, 1930-1959
  3. III. Subject File, 1933-1950
  4. IV. Biographical Material, 1913-1977, n.d.
  5. V. Photographs, 1934-1946, n.d.
  6. VI. Addendum-2021
  7. VII. Addendum-2023


8.5 Linear Feet (21 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


The papers document the Steward's missionary work and personal lives, detailing their daily activities and political and social conditions in China. Albert Newton Steward (1897-1959) and Celia Belle Speak Steward (1897-1992) were stationed in Nanking, China as educational missionaries under the Methodist Board of Missions. Albert taught botany at the University of Nanking. During World War II, Albert was interned at Chapei Camp, Shanghai from 1943-1945. In 1951, Albert became curator of the Herbarium and professor at Oregon State College.

Biographical / Historical

Albert Newton Steward born in California
Celia Belle Speak born in Kentucky
ANS and CSS married (Children: Margaret, 1919; Newton, 1920; Leland, 1922; Virginia, 1924; Ruth, 1937; David, 1938)
ANS - B.S. from Oregon Agricultural College
Stationed in Nanking as educational missionaries under the Methodist Board of Missions; ANS taught botany at University of Nanking.
On extended furlough in U.S.; ANS received Ph.D. in Biology from Harvard
Stationed in Nanking
Celia's mother, Sarah Speak, on year long visit to China
1937 Aug
Family evacuated from China
1938 Sep
ANS returned to China; CSS and children remained in California
CSS and three younger children returned to China
1941 Jan
CSS and children returned to U.S.; ANS stayed in Nanking
1942 fall
ANS living in Shanghai
1943 Feb
ANS interned at Chapei Camp, Shanghai
1945 Sep
ANS released from internment camp; remained in China to look after affairs of University of Nanking
1946 Mar
ANS returned to U.S.
1947 Aug
ANS, CSS, Ruth and David to China
1948 Nov
Ruth and David returned to U.S.
1949 Oct
CSS returned to U.S.
1950 Sep
ANS returned to U.S.; family lived in Auburndale, MA while ANS worked on Manual of Vascular Plants of the Lower Yangtze Valley (published 1958) at Harvard's Arnold Arboretum under Guggenheim grant.
ANS became curator of Herbarium and professor at Oregon State College.
1959 Jun
ANS died
CSS chosen Oregon Mother-of-the-Year
CSS entered nursing home in Oregon
CSS died
Guide to the Albert and Celia Steward Papers
Compiled by Divinity Library staff
1991, 1999, 2021
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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