Ola V. Lea Papers

Manuscript Collection #351
Lea, Ola V., 1892-1979
Physical description
5.43 Cubic Feet, 1600 items, consisting of correspondence, notebooks, pamphlets, books, photographs, and miscellaneous materials.
Preferred Citation
Ola V. Lea Papers (#351), East Carolina Manuscript Collection, J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina, USA.
ECU Manuscript Collection
Access to audiovisual and digital media is restricted. Please contact Special Collections for more information.

Papers (1893-1973) including of correspondence, notebooks, pamphlets, books, photographs, newsletters, family letters, photographs, slides, maps.

Biographical/historical information

Ola V. Lea (b. 1892), a Baptist missionary to Southern China and Taiwan for thirty-seven years, was born in Ringgold, Va., and educated at Radford Normal School and Virginia Intermont College, Bristol, Va. Beginning in 1912 she spent seven years teaching in public schools before entering the Women's Missionary Training School. Following graduation in 1925 she accepted her first assignment teaching in Soochow, China, until 1939, when she became principal of the Women's Missionary Union Training School in Shanghai. Later she served as Dean of Women at China Baptist Theological Seminary in Kaifeng, remaining in China through the Japanese invasion (1939-40) and the Chinese civil war (1947-1949). The World War II years (1941-1945), however, were spent stateside.

The Communist takeover in 1949 forced her removal to Taipei, Taiwan, where she continued her missionary work as an assistant professor at the National Taiwan University Hospital until her retirement in 1962. During regular furloughs and after retirement, Miss Lea continued her studies and lectured about her work at various churches and church camps throughout the U.S. Following retirement she made her home with her sister in Greensboro, N.C.

Scope and arrangement

The bulk of the correspondence in the collection consists of newsletters sent to Miss Lea by missionaries stationed throughout the world. These newsletters contain information about local political, social, and economic conditions, as well as discussions of progress made in the missionary field- including accounts of particularly touching conversions.

Early correspondence (1925-1932) reflects activities at Soochow Station, including the operation of Yates School, legal efforts to close the school, and church services at the mission. Several letters refer to the Japanese occupation of China (1939-1945) and the subsequent civil war (1947-49). They describe conditions in Japanese-occupied Canton (June 3, 1939) and the evacuation of approximately one-fourth of the Foreign Mission Board missionaries in the Orient; the daily raids on Shiuchow (April 13, 1941); difficulties between missionaries and government authorities, such as the "Freezing," or the seizure of the Christian's property by Japanese (Feb. 22, 1944); the evacuation of missionaries due to the Japanese occupation (September 26, 1944); wartime inflation, Baptist activities in China, and the evacuation of Kwelin (Oct. 24, 1944); liaison positions between Chinese and American forces which were held by a number of missionaries in Chungking (Jan. 17, 1945); impressions of the effects of war on Shanghai (April 29, 1946); the evacuation process (Oct., 1950); the difficulty of obtaining exit permits and the imprisonment of missionaries (Jan. 22, 1951); incidents of torture and execution in northwestern China (Jun 4, 1951); the trial of three pastors and the imprisonment of others (Sept. 5, 1951); a radio appeal for aid to mainland China made by President and Madame Chiang (April 4, 1952); and daily bombings of Quemoy (Fall, 1963).

Other letters describe a Chinese pastor's opinion on the positive effects of communism on the Christian movement (Dec., 1966); Indonesian attitudes toward religion and religious tolerance (Dec., 1966); the Hindu Diwali or Festival of Lights (Dec., 1965); the effects of a drought in Jordan (Mar., 1959); the political and economic situation in Indonesia (Mar. 31, 1967); and National Taiwan University's religious policy of "benevolent neutrality" (Nov. 3, 1950).

Additional correspondence from Miss Lea's friends, family, and church groups reflects their interest in and support of her missionary work. Family letters deal primarily with the illness of one of Miss Lea's sisters, while friends write of their travels and missionary experiences and of the esteem in which they hold missionaries who travel to foreign countries to spread Christianity. Of interest is a series of letters (1940s) which discuss various people's horror at the prospects of the institution of a drinking water fluoridation program in North Carolina.

Among Miss Lea's notebooks (1930-1962) are volumes containing notes pertaining to Bible and Sunday school classes, chapel talks, Southern Baptist Convention sessions, Chinese vocabulary, and a variety of other topics.

The collection includes a large number of photographs and slides. The photographs are mostly of churches, schools, and groups of teachers and students. Many of the slides in the collection were produced by the Foreign Mission Board and depict the life and scenery in several southeastern Asian countries. Notable among the slides of Japan are view of ground zero at the Hiroshima City Hall, the National Diet Building in Tokyo, and Kin Kakuii in Kyoto, possibly just after it was rebuilt. Slides of Hong Kong include depictions of refugee shacks, the Dragon Festival, warships and a Buddhist temple. Many photographs of Buddhas are present, including good examples from Taiwan and Thailand. The Taiwan/Formosa slide series is particularly interesting in that it includes Taiwanese street scenes, a farmer plowing rice fields with a water buffalo, agricultural terracing, and several views of a Confucian temple which shows the amalgamation of the Confucian, Buddhist, and Taoist religions.

The one filmstrip in the collection is a promotional aid for the China Baptist Seminary in Kaifeng. A cassette tape (1975), distributed by the World Literature Crusade, mentions that organization's methods of raising money for missionary programs.

An oversized folder contains photographs of wedding parties, and a student group.

The map file contains a street map of Taipei, a colorful map of Taiwan annotated in Chinese, and a map (1932) of mission locations in China.

Administrative information
Custodial History

January 16, 1978, ca. 1,600 items [not including almost 1,700 slides and photos]; Papers (1914-1973) of Baptist missionary to China and Taiwan, including correspondence, reports, photographs, pamphlets and miscellaneous. Gift of Mr. Fred Hyatt, Greensboro, N.C.

Source of acquisition

Gift of Mr. Fred Hyatt

Processing information

Processed by C. Cook; J Smith, December 1983

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
Lea, Ola V., 1892-1979
Sino-Japanese War, 1937-1945
Water--Fluoridation--North Carolina
Women missionaries--China
China--History--Civil War, 1945-1949
Southeast Asia--Description and travel
Southeast Asia--Social life and customs--20th century
Taipei (Taiwan)--Maps

Container list
Box 2 Correspondence, June, 1951-Dec., 1958
Box 3 Correspondence, 1959-Oct., 1973, undated
Box 4 Notebooks, class notes, lesson plans, minutes of meetings, passport, financial records
Box 6 Financial and medical papers, church bulletins, newsletters and pamphlets, mission meeting minutes, newspapers and clippings
Box 11 Assorted notebooks
Box 12 Slides, filmstrips, and cassette of speech for World Literature Crusade, "One Hour Watch"
Box m1 Maps