Papers of Eva Dykes Spicer

Scope and Content

Letters from Spicer to her parents, other family members and friends 1923-1958; circular letters, printed or mimeographed, to friends in Britain and North America 1923-1973; correspondence with staff, students and alumnae of Ginling College 1927-56; papers and photographs relating to Ginling College; personal and family papers and photographs; subject files; texts of talks, lectures and sermons given by Spicer; copies of reports to the LMS and related papers; offprints of articles written by Spicer; miscellaneous items comprising China- related newsletters, journals and other printed and published materials.

Administrative / Biographical History

Eva Dykes Spicer was born on 29th May 1898 at 10, Lancaster Gate, London W2, one of eight daughters of Sir Albert Spicer (1847-1934) and of Jessie Spicer, née Jessie Stewart Dykes. There were in all eleven children: (Albert) Dykes, Marion, Bertha, Grace, Stewart, Janet, Lancelot, Gwendolen, Eva, Olga and Ursula. Her father, Albert Spicer, created a baronet in 1906, was a Liberal Member of Parliament for many years and a driving force in promoting nonconformist, and particularly Congregationalist, causes. He was one of the founders of Mansfield College, Oxford (intended to provide training for nonconformist clergymen) and a director, and treasurer for twenty-five years, of the London Missionary Society (LMS), largely a Congregationalist body.

In her early childhood Eva Spicer attended Norland Place School, Holland Park. She later went as a boarder to St Leonard's School, then an all-girls' school in St Andrews, Scotland. Between 1917 and 1920 she read history at Somerville College, Oxford, obtaining a 2nd Class Honours Degree. At University she was an active member of the Student Christian Movement and, in her final year, was elected Senior Student of her college. Almost immediately after graduating in 1920 she wrote to the Secretary of the LMS, enquiring about opportunities for missionary service. She said later that she had been attracted as a child "by the romance of the appeal" and all that she had learnt had, "on the whole, tended to strengthen rather than weaken" that "early desire." After teacher training at the London Day Training College, later the Institute of Education, and a spell at Mansfield College, where she followed courses in pastoral and teaching work, she left for China in August 1923.

She had been appointed to teach Religious Studies and to assist in directing religious activities at a new women's college in Nanking [Nanjing]. Ginling [Jinling] College had been founded in 1913 with the support of a number of American mission boards. In April 1923 the LMS had agreed to support the college by contributing the services "of a self-supporting lady missionary". Spicer was the first and for much of the time the only British member of staff. Her arrival, at the start of the academic year 1923-24, co-incided with the move of the college to a spacious, almost palatial, new campus greatly enhancing the college's reputation and standing.

Most of Spicer's first year was spent in learning Chinese at Nanking University's language school and in getting used to a college very much run on American lines. By the following year she was teaching Old Testament studies; the life of Christ, and Christian social and ethical teachings for fourteen hours a week, as well as advising the College branch of the Young Women's Christian Association. Most of the teaching at Ginling was in English yet Spicer continued her Chinese language studies for a number of years. Whilst bemoaning her lack of knowledge of her students' backgrounds she became aware of the pressures on them arising out of the May 30th incident of 1925 which precipitated a widespread patriotic movement. Despite students absenting themselves from classes to engage in rallies and marches, Spicer felt that "the inner fellowship of the college [was] strengthened rather than weakened" by these events. Two years later Ginling College experienced even greater turbulence. On March 24th 1927 troops of the Northern Expedition army of Chiang Kai-shek entered Nanking. As the army entered Nanking on 23rd March militant elements began seeking out foreign residents. A number were killed, including the American Dean of Nanking University. There was also widespread looting and rioting. American and British gunboats on the Yangtze attempted to restore order by firing on the rioters. At Ginling, Chinese faculty, with support from an army officer, a brother of one of the students, took foreign members of staff to a safe hiding place. The next day the Ginling party and other foreign residents, mainly from the University, were escorted to the river and the waiting gunboats, which took them to the safety of the International Settlement at Shanghai. From there Spicer decided to anticipate her furlough, due later that year, and journeyed to the UK via the USA. She returned to Ginling in September 1928 to find an increased number of Chinese colleagues while Thurston had been replaced as President by a graduate of Ginling, Dr Wu Yi-fang. It now fell to Dr Wu to guide the College through to registration with the ministry of education, a thorny task involving negotiations not only with Government but also with the Ginling College Committee in New York. The new regulations called for the disbanding of the department of religion which meant that Spicer had to teach her courses within the department of philosophy nor could these constitute a major element of the B.A. course.

The following years were relatively peaceful although the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931 led to consular calls for foreign staff to leave. Spicer was one of the few to remain. Staff and student numbers were almost back to normal a few months later. When the Sino-Japanese War broke out in July 1937 it was judged too dangerous to begin the new session at Ginling in September and alternative arrangements were made. Spicer, who had been on holiday in Kuling, travelled to Hankow [Wuhan] where a group of Ginling students were based at Hwa Chung Christian University. Another unit was housed in Shanghai and a third in Chengtu [Chengdu]. In 1938 the decision was taken to migrate the College as a whole to the safety of western China where the West China Union University (WCUU) at Chengtu hosted Ginling faculty and students as well as those of a number of other migrated institutions. After a short spell in Shanghai, with at least one visit to Nanking, Spicer arrived in Chengtu in September 1938. (A skeleton staff of three, two Chinese colleagues and Minnie Vautrin, Ginling's dean of studies were left in charge of the College campus in Nanking. That city fell to the Japanese in December and the campus was soon harbouring several thousand women and children, as part of the agreed Safety Zone.) In December 1938 Spicer attended the conference organised by the International Missionary Council at Madras [Chennai], India as one of the delegates from China. Her trip back to west China included an adventurous journey, by road from Rangoon to Kunming, in January 1939.

Spicer postponed her furlough, due in 1939, until 1940 spending the second half of that year, first in the US, before going on to Britain where she remained until September 1941. Her return journey to West China travelling via South Africa and India coincided with the outbreak of war in the Pacific and took several months. In February 1942 after an absence of 18 months she reached Chengtu, where she noticed both a huge rise in the cost of living as well as a widespread lowering of morale. At Ginling she now found herself teaching history, since the College had been forced to close its department of philosophy. She was allowed to teach one course in the sociology of religion and also taught a course in comparative religion at Nanking Theological Seminary, also accommodated at WCUU. Throughout her time in Chengtu Spicer took an active role in University affairs chairing both the Advisory Committee for Joint Religious Activities of the different institutions at WCUU and the Committee for Student Evangelism in Isolated Universities. She also served as Chairman of the Sino-British Cultural Association hosting occasional visits by notable visitors to Chengtu such as Professor E.R. Dodds and Dr Joseph Needham.

Ginling College was one of the first colleges to return to Nanking after the conclusion of the war against Japan in the summer of 1946. Viewed from the exterior the College buildings seemed more or less intact. But inside it was a different story - radiators and furnaces had been removed; most of the furniture was missing; the library was empty and all laboratory equipment had been removed. Despite all this the new session started on time while a fundraising campaign was launched to replace books and equipment. Spicer was out of China, on furlough during 1947 and 1948. In London she found her two oldest sisters, Marion and Bertha so much in need of support that she thought she should extend her stay. But Dr Wu urgently requested her return and her help in ordering replacement equipment and library materials. For Spicer, Ginling's need was the deciding factor and she flew back to China (her first flight) in August 1948 for what turned out to the last brief chapter of her time in China.

Life at Ginling proceeded reasonably for a while after the Communist takeover of Nanjing in April 1949 but conditions for Westerners became progressively more difficult and in November 1950 Spicer took the decision to leave. In early January 1951 she began her journey home via Shanghai and Hong Kong. On returning to the United Kingdom she began to consider her options for further missionary service. After rejecting possibilities in Hong Kong and Singapore partly because she thought this might harm Dr Wu's position in Nanking, she decided to accept the position of Principal of the Women's Training College at Umuahia, Southern Nigeria. This meant being seconded to the Church Missionary Society although she remained a member of the LMS. She sailed for Nigeria in April 1952 and remained in post, at Umuahia, except for a period of ill-health in 1953, until she retired in 1958. Her retirement was an active one. She was Chairman of the London Congregational Union from 1972 to 1973 and was also involved in the Society for the Ministry of Women in the Church. She kept closely in touch with the Ginling "family" visiting Ginling groups in the USA and Canada and sending out an annual letter at Christmas each year. She died suddenly in 1974 at the age of 76.


The collection has been arranged into 5 series: letters (originals, drafts and copies) written by Spicer mainly to members of her family; personal and family papers and correspondence; correspondence and papers relating to Ginling College, its faculty, students and alumnae; subject files; China-related miscellaneous materials.

Access Information


Acquisition Information

Donated to SOAS Library in 2006.


Collection listed by Rosemary Seton.

Conditions Governing Use

For permission to publish, please contact Archives & Special Collections, SOAS Library in the first instance

Copyright held by SOAS, University of London

Related Material

The School of Oriental and African Studies holds the records of the London Missionary Society (Ref: CWM/LMS). These include Spicer's application papers, her official letters and reports.

Files relating to Ginling College are held in the archive of the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia at Yale Divinity Library and in the Second Historical Archives of China at Nanjing.