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Esther Tappert Mortensen Papers

Call Number: RG 21

Scope and Contents

Esther Tappert Mortensen's twenty years in China are well documented in regular and detailed letters to her family. These letters report on Esther's activities, reflections, and emotions in her daily work and recreation. They also document wartime conditions in China and special events such as the visit of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh to the Ginling campus in 1931. Esther's correspondence with colleagues at Ginling shows her to be a strong-minded individual who became increasingly discontent with her status at Ginling. Additional correspondence and documentation of Esther's Ginling years is available in YDSL Record Group No. 11, the Archives of the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia.

The letters from the period after Esther's marriage to Ralph Mortensen tend to be more domestic in nature and reflect a more contented frame of mind. These letters from Shanghai do provide valuable information about the situation in the city after the Communist takeover.


  • 1903-1972


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Ralph Mortensen


  1. I. Family Correspondence, 1929-1953
  2. II. General Correspondence, 1929-1955
  3. III. Writings and Collected Material, 1924-1951
  4. IV. Personal Items and Memorabilia, 1916-1972


3 Linear Feet (8 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


The papers provide documentation of a missionary who served in varied roles in China during the turbulent period of 1929 to 1953. The later letters from Shanghai provide information about the situation in the city after the Communist takeover. Esther Tappert taught English at Ginling College, a mission-sponsored women's college in Nanking, China from 1929 to 1931 and 1933 to1937. From 1937 to 1939 she taught English at Chungking University, a Chinese government university. She returned to the U.S. in 1940 and completed her doctorate at Yale. In 1945 she returned to China, married Ralph Mortensen and lived in Shanghai until January, 1953.

Biographical / Historical

Arriving in China as a single woman, thirty years of age, Esther Tappert taught English at Ginling College, a Christian women's college in Nanking, for three years before returning to the United States. Esther described her role at Ginling as "trying to make good women who can read and write English and save China."

Returning to Ginling in 1933 after receiving an M.A. in Education from Yale, Esther continued teaching English there until the summer of 1937. When the Japanese invasion of Nanking prevented her return from a vacation excursion to western China, she spent the next two academic years teaching English at Chungking University, a Chinese provincial government university. This proved to be a positive and liberating experience for Esther. The only Westerner on the faculty at Chungking University, she felt useful and respected. Reflecting during this period on her years at Ginling, Esther wrote to her family: "no wonder I am death on women's institutions with their petty spites and trivial concerns..."

After leaving Chongqing (Chungking) in 1940 to return to the United States, Esther became engaged to Ralph Mortensen, a widowed Lutheran missionary who was working for the American Bible Society in China. She completed work for her doctorate at Yale and sailed for Shanghai in November 1945. Esther was married to Ralph Mortensen in January, 1946 and her primary role for the next several years was that of missionary wife. Following the Communist takeover, the Mortensens were held in Shanghai until January, 1953 because of suspicion regarding Ralph Mortensen's activities.

Guide to the Esther Tappert Mortensen Papers
Compiled by 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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