Papers of Gladys Aylward

Scope and Content

Papers relating to Gladys Aylward and her service as an independent missionary in China. The collection provides a vivid portrait of Gladys Aylward, including her life in China, and the impact of World War Two. It comprises: personal correspondence with friends and/or family (1936-1969); press cuttings (1936-1996); publications (1950-1970); memorabilia (1930s-1970); Chinese texts for children; calendars (1936-1970); photographs (May 1936); Memories of Gladys Aylward (as recorded by other individuals) (1914-2001); and Objects (artefacts) including Chinese costume and doll accessories. Note that the Archive is also a unique resource in that it appears to be the only Gladys Aylward collection extant in the United Kingdom.

Administrative / Biographical History

Gladys Aylward was born on 24 February 1902 in Edmonton, North London. Following service as a housemaid, and rejection by the China Inland Mission, she went to China as an independent missionary [in 1932?]. Travelling on the Trans-Siberian Railway to Tientsin she then continued to the province of Shansi in North-West China. She became a Chinese citizen in 1936. In 1940, against the background of civil war between Nationalist government troops and the Communists, Japanese invasion, and the threat of bandits, she led a group of orphans on a perilous journey to Sian. She returned to England during the Second World War, but returned to work with children at the Gladys Aylward Children's Home in Taiwan from the late 1940s until near her death on the 3rd January 1970.

Her life was the basis of the 1959 film 'The Inn of the Sixth Happiness' starring Ingrid Bergman. A number of books have also been written about her life including: Gladys Aylward, One of the Undefeated by R O Latham (1950); The Small Woman by Alan Burgess (1957); London Sparrow by Phyllis Thompson (1989); and Gladys Aylward: the Courageous English Missionary by Catherine Swift (1989).


The collection is arranged into 9 sections: Personal correspondence; Press cuttings; Publications; Memorabilia; Chinese texts for children; Calendars; Photographs; Objects [restricted access], and Memories of Gladys Aylward (as recorded by others). Within each section, material is arranged chronologically.

Access Information

Available with some exceptions. Please note that there are a number of artefacts held with this collection, but that due to their fragile condition, they are not available for consultation without the prior permission of the Archivist.


Acquisition Information

The bulk of the collection was donated by the Archivist of the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham in 1973. Additional donations were made by private individuals in 2009, 2004 and 2011.

Other Finding Aids

Unpublished handlist [NB: Handlist currently under review to reflect new additions. See online catalogue for most up-to-date details].

Alternative Form Available

Digital surrogates for some select items are available.

Archivist's Note


Conditions Governing Use

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

Custodial History

Note that while many records were personally authored or directly accumulated by Gladys Aylward, a number of items were also generated and transferred by other individuals (most of whom had close association with her). This collection is therefore consolidated from a number of different creators and custodians, yet united by its content which predominantly reflects the life and times of Gladys Aylward.

Related Material

A letter from Gladys Aylward is held externally at Oldham Local Studies and Archives (Reference: C-AAL 11/5/1).

Family Names