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Henry Winters Luce Family Papers

Call Number: RG 203

Scope and Contents

This collection of Henry Winters Luce Family papers consists mainly of manuscript and typescript correspondence, (family, general and professional) as well as journals, original compositions, printed matter, clippings and a few photos. The papers trace Henry Winters Luce's work as a missionary in China and also follow the lives of his wife, his children and other family members. The collection provides a valuable resource for research related to Protestant higher education in China and the Luce family.

The papers were originally organized by archivists hired by the Luce family. The order in which the papers were received has been altered somewhat to meet Yale standards. The family's archivists compiled an index to correspondents, which is available in Box 1, Folder 1.

These papers should be consulted in conjunction with two other collections at the Yale Divinity Library:Record Group No. 11, Archives of the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia, contains extensive complementary documentation related to Henry Winters Luce's work at Shantung Christian University and Peking (Yenching) University. Also of interest is Microfilm Ms43, which includes Henry Winters Luce letters held by the Hartford Seminary Foundation. This microfilm includes 14 items from the period 1914-1916 and circa 136 items from 1928-1941, chiefly correspondence re. Kennedy School of Missions and Silver Bay seminars.

Series I, Family Correspondence, is divided into three subseries. The first subseries includes correspondence of Henry Winters Luce and his wife Elizabeth Root Luce to their parents, with each other, with their children, and with Mary Wood, cousin of Elizabeth Root Luce. Henry Winters Luce would often correspond with his son Henry's secretary, Corrine Thrasher, to confer about certain matters before taking up Henry's time. The second part of Series I includes correspondence of family members that is neither to nor from Henry Winters Luce or Elizabeth Root Luce. This section includes extensive thank you letters to HRL for the HWL Memorial volume that he had sent to many people.

Series II, General Correspondence, is divided into two subseries: correspondence of Henry Winters Luce with others, arranged chronologically, and correspondence of Elizabeth Root Luce.

Series III, Writings and Notes, includes writings by Henry Winters Luce and his son, Henry R. Luce. The Collected Materials of Series IV primarily relate to China, including documentation of Shantung Christian University and Peking (Yenching) University. Of particular note in Series V, Biographical Documentation, are a compilation of letters tracing the activities of the Luces from 1897 to 1904 and the tributes gathered for the memorial booklet published after HWL's death.


  • 1877-1951 1910-1941
  • Majority of material found within 1910 - 1941


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright has been transferred to Yale University

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Peter Paul Luce, 2006.


  1. I. Family Correspondence, 1887-1951
  2. II. General Correspondence, 1877-1948
  3. III. Writings and Notes, 1897-1948
  4. IV. Collected Materials, 1894-1941, no date
  5. V. Biographical Documentation, 1897-1948


5 Linear Feet (9 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


Correspondence, journals, diaries, writings, and printed material document the life and work of Henry Winters Luce, who served as a missionary in China, as well as the lives of his wife, children, and other family members.

Biographical / Historical

Henry Winters Luce (HWL) was born on September 24, 1868, son of Van Rensselaer William and Adelia (Tedrick) Luce. He received a B.A. from Yale in 1892. Luce gave up his original plan for a career in law and enrolled in Union Theological Seminary in New York City in order to train for the parish ministry. There he came under the influence of the Student Volunteer Movement and decided to offer himself as a missionary to China. In 1894 he interrupted his theological education for a year of service as one of three traveling agents of the Student Volunteer Movement, visiting colleges in the South and Southwest while two fellow Yale alumni and Union classmates--Sherwood Eddy, who had volunteered for India, and Horace T. Pitkin, another China volunteer--toured the East and Midwest. At the conclusion of this mission Luce transferred to Princeton Theological Seminary with his friend Eddy for the final year of ministerial training and was granted the B.D. degree in 1896. He married Elizabeth Middleton Root in 1896, and in 1897 they went to China under the Presbyterian Foreign Mission Board, sponsored by the Lackawanna Presbytery in Scranton, PA. Luce occupied various key roles in the management and establishment of Shantung Christian University (ca. 1897-1917), Peking University (ca. 1921-1925, later known as Yenching University), and the China Christian Educational Association. He corresponded with hundreds of people in regards to support, cooperation, and fundraising for university buildings and programs, and for relief programs in China. Following his return from China, Luce served as Professor in the Chinese Department at Kennedy School of Missions, Hartford, Connecticut.

All of the Luces' children were born in China. They were: Henry Robinson Luce (1898-1967), Emmavail Luce (Severinghaus) (1899-1985), Elisabeth Middleton Luce (Moore) (1903-2002), and Sheldon Root Luce (1911-1985). Henry Robinson Luce (HRL), was founder and editor of TIME, Fortune, LIFE, and Sports Illustrated magazines.

Henry Winters Luce had a close relationship with his children, often offering advice to them, especially his sons. For example, he prepared a long list of reading material (The Koran, The World's Living Religions, A Short History of China, etc.) for Sheldon's 6-week passage from Genoa to the U.S., even suggesting specific reading materials for specific points on the journey.

A perpetual student, Luce studied Chinese in the early years, apparently taking even a course in Physics as part of his language study. He was an avid reader throughout his life. In his letters, he sometimes wrote in Chinese characters, "E loo ping-ahn" (all the way, peace), to speed a parting guest. Luce lived simply, "like a ‘Quaker', with rigor and a strong sense of purpose. He died at age 73 on December 8, 1941. His wife Elizabeth died in 1948.

Henry Winters Luce Family Papers
Under Revision
Martha Lund Smalley and Robin Ashmore
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

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