Donald Smythe

Donald Decou Smythe

Erma Smythe

Erma Zimmerman Smythe

In 1997 I came into possession of a large box full of old correspondence saved by my grandmother, Erma Z. Smythe, that spans a period of time of over 60 years. As I started to sort through these letters and reading them, I realized I had a rich source of information about my grandparents' life.

I have chosen a small slice of their life to share with you here. These letters were written between the years of 1923 and 1926. My grandfather had accepted a position as Professor of Geology at the Peiyang University in Tientsin, China. This was a Chinese university that employed professors from other countries to teach engineering.

During this time they learned much about China and met a number of people that went on to be quite well known. Their comments about life in China, living in a foreign compound and the continual wars going on at that time are quite enlightening and entertaining. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I have.

These few letters are only a start. There are many more to go and as I continue to research the people and the history of those times, I will be adding more background material to help you.

To help you get to know my grandfather a little bit before you start with the letters, I suggest that you start by reading the section "Donald. D. Smythe - Autobiography" first.

Donald D. Smythe - Autobiography
(Still under construction, but you can still read the letter.)
October 14, 1923Donald Smythe to Erma Smythe At sea on the R.M.S. Empress of Asia
October 14, 1923Donald Smythe to William R. Smythe A letter to his brother while at sea.
December 7, 1923Donald Smythe to Erma Smythe Settling in. All about class schedule, household matters (need more silverware, servant situation), social obligations and complications of money exchange explained.
December 9, 1923Donald Smythe to William Ralph SmytheLab needs to be organized. Getting established. Description of school and faculty.
December 11. 1923Donald Smythe to Erma SmytheComments on Chinese food and Chinese students.
January 13, 1924Donald Smythe to Erma SmythePurchase of the Samovar. Elected a fellow of the Geological Society of China. Comments on an unsavory person, the new class schedule, and thinking about having children.
January 20, 1924Donald Smythe to Don ZimmermanDetailed description of school, school activities, the weather and the area around Tientsin. Mentions going to the meeting of the Geological Society of China and meeting Dr. Grabau. Also comments on learning Chinese. A very descriptive letter.
Donald Zimmerman was Erma's brother. Click here to learn more about him.
March 2, 1924Donald Smythe to Erma SmythePartial letter. Field trip to Shantung cancelled due to bandits. Initial plans for Erma's trip. New house boy. Starting Chinese lessons with an old Manchu.
March 18, 1924Donald Smythe to Erma SmytheThis letter is in two sections. The second one is dated April 7, 1924. Students are on strike. They have issued Proclamations. Progress learning Chinese. Second section has update on strike.
The Student Proclamation
April 10, 1924Evelyn Ball to Erma SmytheWhat to wear when you come to China.
April 16, 1924Donald Smythe to Erma Smythe186 students expelled. Dicey situation at the school. Offer to have Chinese rug made.
May 4, 1924Donald Smythe to Erma Smythe Very detailed instructions for Erma's trip to China. School strike is over.
May 17, 1924Donald Smythe to Erma Smythe Weather very hot. New coolie. School almost over and field trip planned. American Legion barbeque. Duties of a Chinese wife.
June 12, 1924Donald Smythe to Erma Smythe Short letter. Possible change in plans for meeting in Japan. Situation with Japanese worsens.
June 18, 1924Donald Smythe to Erma Smythe Donald is on his field trip to Tang Shan. Some final instructions for the trip. He's counting the days.

The China Years - Part II

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© copyright 1998 by Kathleen Smythe Fetner. All rights reserved.