The Alma Mater


Sixty years ago, just four years after China became a republic following the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty, when Chinese women leaders were scarce, there was established in Nanjing this Ginling College for Women, the first of its kind in China. It grew out of the need to provide higher education for increasing numbers of women high school graduates. Its original Chinese name was Ginling Nuzi Daxue changed to Ginling Nuzi Wenli Xueyuan after registration with the government in 1930, to conform to the regulations that an academic institution with fewer than three colleges be named Xueyuan.


The initial sponsors were a group of American Christian women educators, who saw the need of leadership among Chinese women. As early as 1911, the year of the founding of the republic, they began to hold conferences in Shanghai where eight mission boards were represented, to plan for this union college in the Yangtze Valley. In the end, five of the mission boards consented to participate in the enterprise. A board of Control was organized, which elected Mrs. Lawrence Thurston the first president of the college. During the years of preparation, Nanjing was chosen to be the location, the Li mension was rented to house the college for a time, a course of study was adopted, and faculty appointments were made. In a few years, Smith College in Mass. and her alumnae joined in this project, becoming Ginling’s sister-college, donating the Central Building and contributing to current expenses.


The college was formally opened in September 1915, attended by 11 students and 6 teachers. During the first year, 13 students were registered and 9 completed the year. In 1919, 5 seniors graduated; they were the first women to receive the Bachelor’s degree from a woman’s institution of higher learning in the whole of China. At this writing (1974), all five of them, now averaging eighty years of age, are going strong and living actively. The book they published as a class, “The pioneer”, from the Presbyterian Press, Shanghai, 1919, tells of their blazing the trail, exploring the unknown among the thorns, finishing the clearing, making achievements and seeing the vision. It also shows two dozen pictures of Ginling in those early days. In that same year, 1919, the college began to have a seal, a college song, a college color (Purple) and a motto (Abundant Life) officially adopted. Also student organizations came into being, such as Student Government. Y.W.C.A.,  the Glee Club, etc. Traditions of loyalty, abundant living and service began to form.


In a few more years, three new supporting mission groups joined in the growing enterprise, so eventually there were eight mission boards plus Smith College and China Medical Board, making a total of ten.


It took several years for the college to have a campus. First, buying of land, which was usually a long process, started as early as 1916. Then followed the drawing of plans for buildings, campaigning for funds, clearing the land of graves and actual construction. Six buildings of Chinese palace style were ready for use in October 1923.  The Central building was soon completed. Two new ones were added in 1934, completing the quadrangle of nine palace-style buildings. In addition,  the Practice School, the infirmary and the faculty dormitory were finished by 1936. All in all, it seemed to have taken twenty years to get the needed building completed.


Enrollment from 11 in 1915 increased to 52 in 1920, 70 in 1921, 133 in 1925, 152 in 1926, 174 in 1932, 212 in 1933, 259 in 1936, and 480 in the fall of 1948. Every province in China was represented, and there were students from Java and America. From the beginning, it had been the policy of the college to keep it a small institution with a possible maximum enrollment of 400, but this number was exceeded in the 40s due to the ever-increasing demand. The number of graduates increased during the years until in the 40s it was over 600, and in 1948, the total was calculated to have reached 846, including 65 special P.E. students. The number from 1948 to 1951 is not available. As to their occupations after leaving college, the statistics before 1940 show that the majority (58% in one counting) went into educational work, as teachers and principals of schools. Others took up social, medical and health word, and home making. A 1945 count gives 44.3% in the teaching profession, 16.7% as home-makers, 8.9% in social services, and 5.1% as doctors and nurses.


In the fall of 1925, the Y.W.C.A. Physical Education Training School in Shanghai amalgamated with Ginling College and thus moved to Nanjing, bringing its faculty and students who became a part of the Ginling group. From then on, Ginling offered a major in P.E. and also a short course of one –or two –year P.E. to provide teachers of recreation for girls’ schools in China.


An important transition in the history of the college was the transfer to Chinese leadership. In the summer of 1928, the Board chose Dr, Yi-fang Wu president of the college, which Mrs. Waysung New ( Y.T.Zee, Tsu-Ih-djen)was elected  the Chairman of the Board of Control, later called Board of  Directors, both of whom were Ginling’s own graduates of the first class of 1919. The registration with the government, required of all educational institutions in China, was completed in December 1930. At a time when many institutions of higher learning went co-educational, Ginling succeeded in preserving her identity as a woman’s college, but there was cooperation with the University of  Nanjing, located within walking distance. Courses were correlated for the women students of Ginling to take advanced courses at the University of  Nanjing and for their students to come to the Ginling courses.


Student extracurricular activities were not an unimportant part of college life. As the student body grew larger, life became more complicated. The College Activities Committee, elected in 1924, regulated the students’ activities so that individuals would make wise expenditure of their time and energy. A college literary society with drama, debate, etc. became quite active. The G.C. Magazine started as a quarterly. Exhibits, concerts, flower-shows, athletic meets, sports, contests, drama performances, etc. made life colorful through cooperative efforts. Religious life consisted of morning (later changed to noon) chapel for half an hour Bible classes, courses in religion, midweek evening prayer, retreats, fellowship meetings and church attendance on Sundays off the campus.


Social service was an important feature of Ginling life. Students of the first twenty years of the college history cannot forget Miss Minnie Vautrin’s taking small groups of students and teachers on Sundays to call on Ginling’s neighbors living in small houses and invite the women and children to come for meetings, Sunday school and especially for Christmas celebrations. In time, a day school was formed, run by the student Y.W.C.A., with full-time teacher and part-time college-student teachers. A clinic was formed for the women and children, who were taught reading, principles of hygiene, etc., and neighborhood families were helped in other ways, too. As result of a successful campaign among students and faculty on campus, two small buildings came into being as a center for community work, with a clinic and bath-house. With these facilities and added space, clubs were organized for boys and girls, classes for women and meeting for men. In time, the varied activities required the services of social workers from among Ginling’s own sociology department graduates.


The college developed and grew in size and stature during the years of its existence, but it was a life not without difficulties or even dangers. The following is an account of the incidents and trying experiences during that turbulent period of China’s history through war-lord fighting, foreign aggression and party struggle for power. The first memorable incident interrupting classes was the student patriotic movement against Japan’s 21 demands in 1919. Then the fighting between war-lords during 1924-25, followed by patriotic demonstrations as result of May 30 incident which interrupted college work for a time. An event of a more serious nature was the tempest of 1927 when the anti-foreign division of the conquering Southern army allowed killing of foreigners and so endangered the Ginling foreign faculty. College work went on in spite of the strain from the radical rule. Then in the patriotic movement of 1931-32 against Japan, the college again carried on regular work. So she did in the students’ parades in 1935 against Japanese aggression in North China. In many of such activities, Ginling students showed patriotism by serious in getting an education, at the same time shouldering the responsibilities of a citizen.


In the Sino-Japanese War which started in 1937, Ginling College at first had to operate in three separate centers, Shanghai, Wuchang and Chengdu, as students sought for safety away from Nanjing. There they became guest students, and the faculty guest teachers. The Ginling spirit of abundant life was shown everywhere in spite of stresses and inconveniences, rendering services to hospitals, volunteering in Red Cross and other war work, and working for refugees and soldiers. At the end on one year, it was decided to concentrate in one place, and those who could, all moved to Chengdu, where a dormitory had been erected and arrangements made with the host institution, the West China Union University, for loan of classrooms and laboratories. Many problems of academic nature had to be overcome, of physical dangers of bombing avoided, and of monetary inflation solved. Ginling laid emphasis on home economics, child welfare and rural service, as suggested by the physical surroundings. The interchange of students and sharing of faculty among the five, later eight, institution spoke for the adaptability of groups and individuals in times of stress and need.


During the war, the Ginling campus in Nanjing became a refugee center for the protection of the helpless women and children in the city against Japanese looting and slaughtering, the number of people mounting to over ten thousand at one time. Miss Vautrin with her assistants did what she could. Step by step, on top of the work of rendering protection, they started training classes to teach the women who had lost their husbands in the war a trade to support themselves, and conducted a middle school for girls, a home-craft course, a day school and a nursery school.


The war came to a close in August 1945. The campus in Nanjing had to be put in order, books replaced, houses and furniture repaired. The long trek from Chengdu by truck and train through Baoji, Xian, Xuzhou, to Nanjing in April and May of 1946 was a heroic feat by itself, taking 18 days in discomfort and sometimes danger. After a long period of rehabilitation, the college seemed restored and college life made normal. The enrollment increased. To continue the tradition of social service and to give sociology and other students experience in field word, a rural station was started in 1946 at Cun-hua Zhen, a suburb of Nanjing, to work for women and children in improving their health, teaching them reading, writing, hygiene, civics, etc. A nursery school was opened during farming time for working women.


The college had just settled down to normal functioning, with the celebration of a very successful Founders’ day and the 20th anniversary of President Wu’s inauguration in Nov. 1948 when rumors arose of impending political crisis. Many students left for safety. However, at the change of government in Nanjing in April 1949, there were still many students on the campus. According to the record in the book “ Ginling College” by Mrs. Lawrence Thurston and Dr. Ruth Chester, the curriculum, organization and student life underwent changes under the Communist Regime, with students represented on all college committees, including that on curriculum. College work went on as usual for over two years, except for many interruptions for lectures and political functions, discussion groups and other meetings. Religious activities went on too. The 35th anniversary was celebrated in 1950. In that year, the Western faculty mostly left. In June 1951, Ginling College was combined with the University of Nanjing under government control. From 1951, Ginling ceased to exist, but she is living in her alumnae, graduates and non-graduates, who are serving in many lands, brightening the world with the ideals and character they acquired from Ginling College, their Alma Mater.


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 Last revised: 2/19/2003