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Shanghai American School Records, including the Phoebe White Wentworth Collection of Shanghai American School History and Memorabilia

Call Number: RG 132

Scope and Contents

The collection provides valuable insight into the American community in Shanghai as it went through nearly four decades of tremendous change. It complements the records of other American schools in China found in YDSL Record Group No. 209, China American Schools.

The collections is divided into two series: I. Records related to Shanghai American School and II. Records related to the Shanghai American School Alumni Assocation.

The Administrative/ Promotional Material within Series I documents how an American school overseas was organized and operated. This material also illustrates the school's and the community's commitment to living an "American" way of life in a foreign culture.

The extensive Publications of Series I, mostly produced by the SAS students, provide valuable insight into the daily life the young people in this community and their reactions to events that changed the face of China and the world.

The Collected Material of Series I includes recollections and scrapbooks that document not only the life of young Americans, but also of the missionary, business, and professional communities in the pre-Communist China. This series also includes materials collected by Phoebe White Wentworth and Angie Mills in the preparation of their history of SAS, Fair is the Name.

The Alumni/ae Records of Series II show how the SAS community maintained contact and remained vibrant after the dissolution of the school. Years spent at Shanghai American School were clearly a formative highlight in the lives of its graduates.

Materials added in 2010, 2011, and 2015 update documentation related to the Shanghai American School Association and include additional publications and correspondence related to the Shanghai American School, primarily relating to Shanghai American School in its post-World War II period, 1946-1950.


  • 1911-2016


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of the Shanghai American School Alumni Association and others associated with the school.


  1. I. Shanghai American School
  2. II. Shanghai American School Alumni Association


15.5 Linear Feet (38 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


During the WWII years 1941-1945, however, various spin-offs of SAS were organized by former teachers that kept the school going (under different names), including a school established in a Japanese internment camp. A final spin-off, the Private America School, continued the basic SAS curriculum until 1950 when the Communist government forced the school's closure. The Shanghai American School (SAS) was founded in 1912 for the purpose of educating the children of American missionaries, businessmen, and professionals. It was the culmination of years of work by the American community to create a school in Shanghai that would prepare its children to enter American colleges and universities. The school maintained operations until 1941 when most members of the American community were evacuated due to political tensions between Japan and the United States prior to Pearl Harbor. In 1946, after World War II, SAS was reorganized and maintained operations through commencement 1949 when the Chinese Communist army occupied Shanghai. A period of volatile political and economic conditions ensued, causing the school to close once again.

Biographical / Historical

The Shanghai American School, a day and boarding school from kindergarten through senior high, was founded in 1912, primarily to educate the children of American missionaries. The school was open to the children of all American citizens living in China, however, and from its inception attracted students from the business and professional communities. Children of Europeans, able to handle instruction in English, also attended. SAS opened with 38 students. The school quickly outgrew its original site on North Szechuen Road and by 1918 a committee was established to purchase land and build a permanent school. Eventually land was secured at 10 Avenue Petain where the school opened on a new campus in 1923. By 1925, during the tenure of Charles L. Boynton, principal, enrollment reached 417.

SAS was incorporated in the District of Columbia in 1921. The Board of Trustees, based in New York, held the title to the property. The school was locally controlled by a Board of Managers in Shanghai, appointed by the Board in New York.

In 1926, Mr. Elam J. Anderson, Ph.D. was appointed as principal. The school continued to grow in size and stature under his direction and in 1931-1932, the final year of his tenure, enrolment stood at 595 with a staff of 43. In 1932, Henry H. Welles, Ph.D. was appointed as the new principal. Enrolment continued to rise under his direction and in 1934 it went above 600. During his five-year tenure, Welles focused on improving the school's academic standards to the level of the best American prep schools.

Life in China changed greatly in 1937 because of the Sino-Japanese War. Nevertheless, SAS remained open until 1941 when most Americans were evacuated from China due to the ongoing war and the mounting tensions between Japan and the United States. Reduced to 20 percent of its former size, the Shanghai American School officially closed after commencement 1941.

Though SAS officially closed after commencement in April 1941, a spin-off, organized by Frank W. Cheney and other former faculty, managed to keep the school going through 1942-1942 under the name of the American Private School, and through 1943 on the premises of the Community Church, under the name of the Community Private School.

Vestiges of the Shanghai American School even continued during 1943-1945 in a Japanese internment camp where hundreds of Americans remaining in Shanghai after the 1941 evacuations, plus many Britons and Dutch, were interned following Pearl Harbor. This school, known as the Chapei Civilian Assembly Camp School, under the leadership of R. J. McMullen, Frank Cheney, and Eric Schmidt, graduated classes in 1943, 1944, and 1945.

In September 1945 Cheney organized the Shanghai American Private School at the Community Church, which, in the spring of 1946, reoccuped the SAS campus. In September 1946, Thomas C. Gibb, a former SAS teacher, was appointed principal of the postwar SAS by the reconstituted Board of Managers of the Shanghai American School. The postwar school grew to an enrolment of about 500 in 1948, but closed after graduation in 1949 when Communist armies occupied Shanghai.

The final spin-off of SAS, the Private American School, located at the Community Church, and under the leadership of Val Sundt, former SAS vice-principal and teacher, continued the SAS curricula until commencement 1950, when pressures from the Communist government made it impossible for an American institution to continue.

Guide to the Shanghai American School Records
Including the Phoebe White Wentworth Collection of Shanghai American School History and Memorabilia
Compiled by Benjamin F. Moss, Dionis Macy Gauvin, 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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