Catherine Parham Papers

Manuscript Collection #224
Parham, Catherine, b. 1901
Physical description
0.65 Cubic Feet, 550 items , consisting of correspondence, newsletters, mission reports, travel narratives, clippings, pamphlets, magazine articles, a thesis, and miscellaneous.
Preferred Citation
Catherine Parham Papers (#224), East Carolina Manuscript Collection, J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina, USA.
ECU Manuscript Collection
No restrictions

Papers (1920-1973) consisting of correspondence, newsletters, letters, Congolese Civil War, biographical notes, pamphlets, magazine articles, travel narratives, etc.

Biographical/historical information

Catherine Parham was born January 3, 1901, in Stinson, (now Durand) Georgia. She attended Creighton-Shumaker Business College in Atlanta and worked as a secretary-bookkeeper in Atlanta (1918-1923). In 1923 Miss Parham volunteered for life service as a missionary under the Methodist Board of Missions. She then attended Scarrit College in Nashville, Tennessee (1923-1925), at which time she was commissioned a missionary.

Appointed to do church-centered social work in the West Virginia coal-fields, Miss Parham was stationed at Hemphill, West Virginia from 1925-1931. While there she was accepted as a missionary to the Belgian Congo, and in June, 1931, she sailed for Africa. Miss Parham was assigned to Tunda Station in the Central Congo and placed in charge of the Tunda Girls Home, a boarding school for Congolese girls. In 1944, the Women's School was also placed under her supervision. In 1945, Miss Parham was transferred to Elisabethville, where she was placed in charge of kindergartens, other teachers and women's education in general. Miss Parham returned to the U.S. in 1958. Due to her mother's ill health, she did not complete her last term of duty. Miss Parham remained in close touch with the Congo and returned to Lubumbashi, Congo in 1968-1969 to translate a children's Bible into Congo Swahili.

Scope and arrangement

Personal correspondence consists primarily of letters from Miss Parham in the to her family and friends in Georgia. There are a few letters written by other missionaries and church officials to Miss Parham and several letters (some in Swahili) written to Miss Parham from her Congolese students. The majority of the personal correspondence falls between 1920 and 1958. After 1958 the bulk of the correspondence is made up of newsletters and reports.

Correspondence between 1920 and 1958 offers an excellent overview of the Central and Southern Congo during this period. Stressed are native dress, customs, appearance, traditions, health, and language. Detailed descriptions and information are given on native superstition, covering death and burial (January, 1935), marriage (January, 1932, August, 1933, August and November, 1934), and children (January, 1932). In contrast to this are the lengthy descriptions of native participation in Christian celebrations (March, 1932).

Miss Parham's trips to neighboring villages afford the reader with a look at life in the rural areas, such as Lubalin (1932), Diumbu (1933), and Minga (1934). Such correspondence describes the methods of transportation used in the Congo (1931-1958). A progression should be noted from walking or bicycling to driving cars and trucks and traveling by train. Advances in communication are also reflected through the shortened time required for letters and packages, the larger variety of mail order goods available, and the use of radios (1938). To keep up with these advances, the Congolese had to make certain changes. This encompassed changing some native traditions (education for women and use of medical doctors) and the native economy (the building of roads capable of supporting cars and moving to the city and mining jobs there). In her letters, Miss Parham deals with both of these aspects of progress. Women's education was of special concern to her and is dealt with at length (March, 1946). Also of interest is an excellent description of Elisabethville (March, 1946).

Detailed information is given as the climate (rainy and dry seasons) of the Central Congo area. Included are descriptions of how native agriculture is built around the climate and the varieties of fruits, vegetables, and flowering plants that were grown by the Tunda Village natives.

The work of the Tunda Girls School students is described at length. The subjects taught; length of school term; levels of education; clothing, food, and housing problems; and the reactions of both the students and their parents to the mission school itself are discussed. Other school and mission related correspondence is concerned with the lack of enough doctors throughout the area, the hold that the village witch doctors had on the people, and the need for educational programs on every level in both Central and Southern Congo. A letter of March, 1951, gives a Black-American minister's views of the Congo and the missionary work being done there.

Noted are two letters dealing with the educational programs for women in Elisabethville, the progress that had been made, and how the programs were operated (November, 1954) and a general progress report on education in Elisabethville (July, 1957).

Correspondence from 1960-1965 reflects the growing unrest and violence brought on by the Congolese Civil War. There are several excellent eye witness reports of the fighting and the airlift of missionaries from the more dangerous areas (July-September, 1960). Of special interest is a day-by-day report (October 7 - November 6, 1961) of the happenings, results of fighting, attitudes of Congolese, and missionaries' views of the revolution written by Bishop Newell S. Booth as he traveled through the Central Congo. Many newsletters deal with the place of the church and the missionaries in the Congo during and after the revolution.

Throughout the Civil War period there are accounts of Congolese being elected to important church offices. Noted is a change in church leadership from the missionaries to the Congolese. The election of the first Congolese Methodist Bishop (John Wesley Shangu) is mentioned in a letter of January, 1964. The remainder of Miss Parham's papers, 1965-1973, are primarily concerned with the translation of religious or church centered material into Congo Swahili.

Miscellaneous files include biographical material and correspondence on Bishop John Wesley Shangu, Luhahi Emile, and Moise Tshombe; diary entries (1933); reports, pamphlets and a Master's thesis "Christian Education for the Central African Community." The oversize file contains two maps. One map (1946) shows the location of Protestant missions in the Belgian Congo and the other map illustrates maritime trade (ca. 1954), routes to Africa from New York and from Antwerp Belgium.

Administrative information
Custodial History

April 3, 1973, ca. 550 items; Papers (1920-1973) including correspondence, reports, newsletters, clippings, etc. pertaining to missionary work in the Congo. Gift of Miss Catherine Parham, Asheville, N.C.

Source of acquisition

Gift of Miss Catherine Parham

Processing information

Processed by S. Street, November 1975

Encoded by Apex Data Services

Copyright notice

Literary rights to specific documents are retained by the authors or their descendants in accordance with U.S. copyright law.

Key terms
Personal Names
Parham, Catherine, 1901-1976
Education--Congo (Democratic Republic)
Methodist Church--Missions--Congo (Democratic Republic)
Missionaries--Congo (Democratic Republic)
Missions--Educational work--Congo (Democratic Republic)
Transportation--Congo (Democratic Republic)
Women--Education--Congo (Democratic Republic)
Congo (Democratic Republic)--Description and travel
Congo (Democratic Republic)--History--Civil War, 1960-1965
Congo (Democratic Republic)--Social life and customs

Container list
Box 1 Correspondence 1920-1953
Box 2 Correspondence 1954-1973
Box 3 V.I.P. file, pamphlets, miscellaneous
Folder os1 Maps