From Secor, Illinois, to Hofei, China
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On the vast central Illinois prairie is a village named Secor. The village, amid cornfields, is so small that one may have a difficult time finding it on an ordinary map; it is located about twenty-two miles northwest of Bloomington and twenty-eight miles east of Peoria, Illinois. Its population has never exceeded seven hundred since it was founded in 1857, when the eastern extension of the Peoria and Oquawka railroad was constructed. With the completion of the extension, Secor was in its heyday of growth: stores selling general merchandise, lumber, hardware, building supplies, and sewing materials were opened for business. Blacksmithing became a leading trade. Grain elevators, brickyards, and a plant manufacturing drainage tiles were established.
The village even experienced a sudden "Gold Rush" in 1880. A newcomer, Steve Taylor, and his friend discovered gold while they were fishing on the bank of nearby Panther Creek, and their "secret" soon leaked out. It immediately attracted incoming speculators to offer a large amount of money to buy shares in Taylor's venture. Before long, a heavy rain washed out all the work being done to locate the gold vein; Taylor disappeared with the speculators' money. So went with him the dream of instant riches.
In 1887, the New Home Hotel was built to provide first-class accommodations to travelers, and in the following year the village even made plans for opening a coal mine, but it never materialized. Fires cost Secor deafly,especially the one on December 28, 1905, which consumed half of the stores on the main business block. Later, when the highway bypassed the village, more businesses were closed. Secor remained a small farming community, and most of its residents were hard-working farmers, leading a simple and quiet life.
Although for years the village had only one short business street, there were several churches: the Christian Church and the Church of the Brethren, in the 1960s, led St. John's Lutheran Church, the Methodist Church, and the Centennial Chapel to open their doors for services. The founding fathers believed so strongly in the importance of education that they even built a small frame schoolhouse from their own pockets as soon as the village was born. The frame house served as the village's educational center, housing both elementary and high school classes until 1906, when it was replaced by a safer and larger brick building.
In 1883, Edmund L. Vautrin came to Secor. The young man, at age seventeen, immigrated alone to the United States from Lorraine, France, to seek a better life. Upon arrival he was penniless and spoke no English. He stayed with his blacksmith uncle in Peoria, Illinois, and learned the trade from the elder. Several years later, after working as a blacksmith at various locations and saving some money, he heard that nearby Secor needed blacksmiths and that the land there was cheap. He moved to the small village, bought two pieces of land, and built a small frame house with his own hands. He opened a blacksmith shop, repairing carriages. Although at the time he could only speak some broken English, he quickly managed to win the heart of a local young lady, Pauline Lehr, and they got married. The young couple, besides operating the blacksmith shop, cultivated vegetables and fruit trees and raised horses, cows, and poultry to supplement their income.
Edmund and his wife gave birth to two boys and one girl; the oldest one died in infancy. Their middle child was a girl named Minnie, born on September 27, 1886. The little girl learned hard work at a tender age. When she was only six years old, her mother suddenly died, so Minnie had to shoulder most of the household chores and take care of her younger brother. Despite these large responsibilities, she also excelled at school. Her beloved first teacher commended the hardworking girl, saying, "She could excel in most anything she tried, and was a genuinely Christian girl."
Minnie was a born student. She admired the teaching profession, dreaming of being a good teacher herself when she grew up. However, her family could not financially afford to educate her, nor would her father support her schooling. She realized that if she wanted to be educated, she must earn her own way. She started to save money at a young age and worked hard at numerous jobs. After her father remarried and her stepmother relieved her of some of the household chores, Minnie had more time to work for others. In the meantime, she often did volunteer work and taught Sunday school at the churches in the village.
In 1903, at age seventeen, Minnie graduated from high school and formally became a member of the Christian Church in Secor. She then enrolled at Illinois State University, fifteen miles east of the village. Although the university was then a two-year teachers' college, it took Minnie four years to graduate because she had to leave school several times and work to earn money for tuition and other expenses for the following quarter. Her grades were excellent; she received ninety points (of one hundred) or above on courses such as algebra, geometry, spelling, accounting, orthography, economics, and bookkeeping.
After graduating from the university on June 6, 1907, Minnie taught at a high school in LeRoy, Illinois, for several years. Then she matriculated at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana to pursue a Bachelor of Arts degree in education. She still earned her own way, working at various jobs, even selling the Encyclopedia Britannica door to door.
At the same time, Minnie became interested in foreign missions. During this period, the missionary movement in the United States became a crusade and the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions generated unprecedented enthusiasm on campuses across the country. At the close of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, America became an industrial giant, experiencing an amazing increase in wealth. It also became an Asiatic power following the Spanish-American War of 1898, with the annexation of Hawaii and Guam as well the acquisition of the Philippines. Humanitarianism, nationalism, and imperialism were the temper of the nation; the younger generation of Americans were looking outward. Religious leaders conducted vigorous revival movements to save people decaying from excessive materialism and generated fervent popular responses. These leaders found foreign missions were the most appropriate means to perpetuate this stirred-up ardor for religion. As Professor Henry Van Dyke of Princeton University wrote in 1896, "Missions are an absolute necessity, not only for the conversion of the heathen, but also, and much more, for the preservation of the Church, and Christianity is a religion that will not keep."
Thus, the missionary movement gained unprecedented support in the United States. It became a lifetime fulfillment of idealism for the young people, who intended to save the world. Many new organizations were established; among them, the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions was most successful in arousing enthusiasm and in recruiting new missionaries on college campuses. The Movement, closely associated with the Young Men's Christian Association and the Young Women's Christian Association, was founded in July 1888, two years after Minnie Vautrin was born. It did not send missionaries to the field but helped to make prospective missionaries available to various established societies and boards. Under its ambitious slogan, "The evangelism of the world in this generation," the Movement soon held regular monthly missionary meetings and weekly indoctrination classes on college campuses in forty-eight states. It also sent representatives to churches and boards to win the young people over to the missionary cause, providing low-cost missionary textbooks and literature.
Consequently, by the time Minnie Vautrin was entering the University of Illinois in 1910, 25,208 students were enrolled in 2,084 of the Movement's indoctrination classes, compared to 136 such classes in 1893. The enthusiasm aroused by the Movement on the college campuses soon spread into the local churches so that many of them set up their own missionary committees and held mission study groups. It also stirred businessmen to promote foreign missions and provide financial support; donations for missionary causes poured in.
The Student Volunteer Movement achieved its greatest success in the Midwest; Illinois was one of the top five states in terms of membership. By 1914, about six thousand young Americans went to foreign countries as missionaries, over one-third of them to China.
During that period of time, a strong interest in missions to China was developing. One missionary cried at the convention of the Movement in 1894, "Why should I go to China? ... One reason is because a million a month in that great land are dying without God. Can you picture what it is to die without God?" Another one echoed the same sentiment: "Oh, brothers and sisters, can you picture what it is to live without God? Have you ever thought of it, to have no hope for the future and none for the present?" There was no doubt the missionaries wanted to help the Chinese people because of humanitarianism. They believed that Christianity, as the supreme force to elevate the Western world to power and wealth, could save a struggling China from superstition, social injustice, and evils. In the meantime, American nationalism and imperialism played significant roles in the development of interest in missions to China. Both missionaries and secular leaders shared the view that an awakening China would be a future threat to the world and that the "yellow peril" could be avoided if China could be brought into Christianity and become a democracy in the image of the United States. It would be beneficial to America's self-interest and to the expansion of American trade. These leaders believed that America had a moral duty to guide the collapsing China to peace and righteousness and that missionaries were the agents for the task.
As the enthusiasm for missions to China was revitalized in the United States, the Chinese became more receptive to Western ideology and missionary activities. For centuries, China had regarded itself as the Middle Kingdom, superior to all other nations. It treated foreigners as barbarians. Under the exclusive policy of the Manchu dynasty (1644-1911), only one southern port, Canton, was open to foreign trade. Any attempt to propagate Christianity was prohibited, and violators were strangulated to death. In the 1830s, because the importation of opium, largely by British merchants, drained the hard currency of the Chinese government and brought detrimental moral and physical effects on the opium addicts, China became determined to put an end to the opium trade. Yet, this trade produced the most profits for the British merchants. There was no diplomatic channel for a peaceful settlement of this conflict or others generated by trade restrictions imposed by the Chinese. Finally, in 1839, the "Opium War" between the two countries broke out. After the defeat of the Chinese and the signing of the Treaty of Nanking, five more ports were opened to foreign trade and the traders' families.
The Americans and the French soon acquired from the Chinese the same treaty privileges won by the British guns (with the exceptions of indemnity and the cession of Hong Kong) by signing respective treaties. In addition, the French and the American treaties included the most favored nation treatment, the tolerance of Christianity, and the extraterritoriality clause, which permitted foreigners on Chinese soil to be above the Chinese law. From then on, over the next ninety-some years, China was eventually humbled to semi-colonial status by more wars and a series of unequal treaties dictated by the victorious former barbarians.
Although in the 1860s, China was forced to open its interior to missionary activities by various treaties, the Chinese people and especially the officials continued to resist the intrusion of foreign religion. Confucianism had been deeply rooted in the Chinese family and society for more than two thousand years, and Christianity was regarded detrimental to the basics of Chinese institutions, particularly by the gentry class. It was in this kind of anti-Christianity environment that the missionaries converted Chinese followers and established churches, schools, and hospitals; their efforts primarily appealed to the poor and the lowest echelon of society.
Nevertheless, in the 1850s, the Taiping Rebellion, superficially based on Christian doctrines, swept the Yangtze valley and most of the southern provinces of China. The leader of the rebellion, Hung Shiu-chuan, was a Confucian scholar who was reportedly handed some pamphlets by the first Chinese Christian convert, Liang Au-fa, on the streets of Canton after the Opium War of 1839-42. When Hung failed the traditional civil service exam (the only ladder to officialdom) for the third time, he became disoriented, dreaming that he was the younger brother of Jesus Christ destined to save his people from the yoke of the incapable Manchu Court. However, it was not until he failed the civil service exam for the fourth time that he was determined to revolt.
Hung organized the "God Worshipping" secret societies in various places as the nucleus of the movement, and followers swarmed in. He and his chief adviser studied briefly under the American Baptist missionary Rev. Issachar J. Roberts. Within a few years, the rebellion threatened the existence of the Manchu Court. In 1851, Hung proclaimed the establishment of the Taiping Tien Kuo (Heavenly Kingdom of the Great Peace) with Nanking as its capital. The success of the rebellion was mainly attributed to the weakening of the Manchu Court, a series of severe failures of harvests and subsequent famines, and the inability of peasants to pay the heavy taxes and high rents imposed on them.
Although the rebellion was eventually crushed in 1864 by the Manchu government with the help of the Ever-Victorious Army organized by the Western mercenaries in Shanghai, Chinese officials were even more convinced that Christianity would threaten the political and social structure of the empire. People in the areas devastated by the Taipings became more antiforeigner because they saw similarities between the foreigners and the rebels who had destroyed their temples, homes, and tradition. From then on, numerous incidents occurred in which church properties were destroyed and missionaries were killed.
It was not until after two more defeats by the British and the French in 1858 and 1860 and China's sovereignty was further encroached upon by powerful foreign nations that some enlightened Chinese officials began to recognize the superiority of the Western weapons. They advocated reform within the rigid framework of the Confucian system. Under the concept that "Chinese learning is the theme, Western learning is for practical use," students were sent abroad to learn Western technology. Modern weaponry was purchased, and institutions that handled foreign affairs and translated Western books into Chinese were established. No social or economic changes were attempted; the introduction of Western thought was kept as minimal as possible. Yet, the reform movement met the stubborn opposition of a powerful faction at the Manchu Court: funding by the reformers for building a modern navy was used to construct a new summer palace for the Empress Dowager, the de facto ruler of China.
In 1894, the Sino-Japanese War broke out and the infant Chinese fleet was crushed by the much superior Japanese navy. The Japanese army immediately took Korea, Chinas tributary state, and swiftly moved into China proper without much resistance. This defeat at the hands of the Japanese shocked the Chinese. China not only had to pay an astronomical amount of indemnity, relinquish its suzerainty over Korea, and cede Taiwan and the Pescadores as well as the Liaotung Peninsula to the Japanese, but it also faced imminent partition by the foreign powers, who were scrambling for more concessions such as leaseholds, sphere of interest, and mining and railway development privileges. Only then did many of the Chinese realize that if China wanted to survive, a wholesome reform must be carried out and that the Western ways, which had provided Japan the power to defeat China, must be adopted.
The leaders of the reform movement, Kang Yu-wei and Liang Chichao, and some high government officials sought recommendations from missionaries. They asked British missionary Timothy Richard to pen outlines of the programs and invited American missionary Gilbert Reid as their close adviser. Soon, the reformers won the confidence of the young emperor, who saw the urgency of reform and vowed, "I do not want to be the ruler of a dead nation." In the summer of 1898, the emperor issued a series of decrees to commence the sweeping reform programs, which would abolish the old civil service exam; establish a Western-style school system; build a modern army and navy; introduce freedom of the press and publication; open special branches to promote mining, industry, and agriculture; and encourage capable men to enter government service.
Sadly, the reform lasted only about one hundred days and was hence dubbed the Hundred Days Reform. It was aborted by the Empress Dowager and her ultraconservative faction at the Manchu Court, who insisted that they would "rather let the country die than change the theme of tradition." In a swift move, the Empress Dowager had the emperor imprisoned in her palace and ordered the execution of many of the key reformers. However, the reform leaders, Kang and Liang, were able to escape abroad with the assistance of their foreign friends. The Empress Dowager then made a move to get rid of the emperor, but she was stopped by the intervention of the ambassadors of the powers in Peking. This, along with foreigners assisting Kang's and Liang's escape, angered the Empress Dowager, and she believed these barbarians were meddling in Chinas internal affairs. Her hatred for the foreigners was so intense that she wanted revenge.
The Empress Dowager secretly encouraged officials in various provinces to incite the people's antiforeign sentiment and sanctioned the antiforeign movement of the secret society the Boxers, who claimed to have magic powers to shield themselves from bullets. The Boxers were determined to expel the foreigners from China. They joined forces with other secret societies to kill foreigners and destroy their properties. Despite repeated protests by the powers, the Manchu Court remained indifferent.
In June 1900, under the order of the Empress Dowager, the Boxers, with the assistance of the Chinese troops, attacked the foreign legations in Peking. They killed the German ambassador, a Japanese consular official, and hundreds of foreign missionaries and Chinese Christians. Then the Empress Dowager formally declared war on all the powers. Seven Western powers, including the United States, and Japan formed an allied force to crush the Boxers; they relieved the siege of legations and occupied Peking. Peace settlements included heavy indemnities (using Chinese maritime tariffs, major domestic taxes, and the salt monopoly as collateral), the cession of legation quarters in Peking to foreigners (equivalent to making a part of Washington, D.C., foreign territory), and the stationing of foreign troops along the route from Peking to its port, Takou.
While the allied force was on its way to Peking to relieve the siege of the legations, U.S. Secretary of State John Hay saw that China was on the verge of being partitioned by the powers; he sent out a circular note to them, expressing the importance and benefits of preserving China's "territorial and administrative integrity" and protecting "all rights guaranteed to friendly powers by treaty and international law." The note also stressed America's opposition to further partitioning of China. The powers accepted the American "Open Door Policy" mainly because they wanted to wait for a more appropriate time to further their imperialistic ambitions in China. Thus, China's sovereignty was preservedfor the time being.
After the Boxer debacle, even the Empress Dowager herself was convinced that China must reform and that the Western methods must be adopted. Yet, the reforms sanctioned by her were too little, too late. A revolution movement to overthrow the Manchu dynasty had already fermented, led by Dr. Sun Yat-sen, a Christian and a returned student from the United States. The Chinese people overwhelmingly wanted fundamental changes in all aspects of their lives; they turned to missionaries and the West for advice and help, though antiforeignism, especially anti-Japanese riots, was widespread. A large number of the Chinese people, including the rich and the educated, became Christians, and missionary schools as well as hospitals were in great demand. The situation led the missionaries to conclude that China needed their help and that it was a golden opportunity for them to advance their work of evangelization and to help the Chinese to develop their educational, social, and political institutions. American missionaries, such as Rev. J. E. Walker and Rev. John R. Mott, emphasized the importance of training Christian leaders for the new China.
The first American missionaries had arrived in China in the 1830s. These missionaries, like their Western counterparts, were confined to Canton, the only port open to foreign trade, and were prohibited from propagandizing Christianity, so they devoted themselves to learning the Chinese language. They not only published books on China, which led the American public to see China through their eyes, but also authored works in the Chinese language to introduce the United States to the Chinese.
Because of their expertise in the Chinese language and also because of a lack of trained interpreters provided by the United States government, the missionaries either assisted the American representatives in dealing with the Chinese government or actually handled the American official business with China until the end of the nineteenth century. They aggressively sought to force the opening of China to evangelization. Some of them, such as Dr. S. Wells Williams, conducted treaty negotiations with the Chinese officials and drafted stipulations, especially those favorable to the propagating of Christianity and the protection of American missionaries in China. Dr. Peter Park, a medical missionary to China, even became the official secretary and later the commissioner of the American legation in China (1855-56). He proposed that military force should be used to bring the Chinese to their senses while negotiating treaty revisions and also that the United States should permanently occupy Formosa (Taiwan). His proposals were repudiated by the American government because they were contrary to the taproot of American China policy throughout the nineteenth centurythe demand of the most favored nation treatment by diplomacy. The United States was preoccupied with domestic affairs and had no territorial ambitions in China.
Yet, the American missionaries continued to press their government for a more active role in furthering their Christian mission in China, insisting on the policy of firmness while dealing with the Chinese officials. Most of them believed that destruction of the old Chinese society was essential to the success of their mission. They, with a few exceptions (such as W. A. P. Martin, who genuinely admired the Chinese culture), generally felt that they were superior to the Chinese and were there to bring salvation and righteousness to the Chinese with Christian civilization.
In 1895, when China was defeated by the Japanese, the American missionaries were elated because they believed it would bring fundamental reform to China and the old order would die. The Chinese defeat did not bring smooth sailing for Christianity, however; instead it resulted in even more widespread antimissionary movements. American missionaries were among the victims. Although their losses were relatively small, they repeatedly demanded the United States government to adopt a more assertive role in the protection of their lives and the retribution of their properties. Washington, in a new era of expansionism, responded vigorously, claiming that "the United States is an effective factor for securing due rights for American residents in China." Under the threat made by the American minister to China, Charles Denby, to level a Chinese town, the Chinese yielded to demands to pay the damages and protect the lives of the missionaries. The missionaries played an important part in the change of American policy to a more active role in China during the McKinley administration (1897-1901).
When the sweeping Hundred Days Reform of 1898 was proclaimed by the Chinese emperor, the American missionaries supported the efforts, and one of them, Rev. Gilbert Reid, became a close adviser to the reform leaders. Later, during the Boxer Rebellion, when their lives and the lives of the Chinese Christians were threatened, the American missionaries urged the United States government to use military force because they were convinced that only gunboats could stop the slaughtering and torturing. As Rev. William S. Ament of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions said to the New York Sun, "If you deal with the Chinese with a soft hand they will take advantage of it." And Methodist bishop Earl Cranston stated that it was "worth any cost in bloodshed if we can make millions of Chinese true and intelligent Christians." The missionaries hailed Washington for sending several thousand troops to join the allied expedition to relieve the siege of the foreign legations in Peking, and they strongly protested the early withdrawal of the American force from China. They advocated that toughness must be in the future policy of the American government towards the Chinese.
However, the aftermath of the Boxer debacle completely changed the Chinese attitudefrom the Manchu Court downtowards the missionaries; China wholeheartedly sought missionary advice for modernizing the country. So disappeared the main obstacle for missionary work. The American missionaries found there was no need to demand that the United States government use force or threat to bring the Chinese government to terms. In the meantime, in accord with the new humanitarian temper in the United States, the missionaries broadened their evangelical message with the social gospel, emphasizing more help to China to solve its social problems. They subsequently endorsed a more lenient policy, instead of the use of force, while dealing with the Chinese. American government officials openly expressed the importance of missionary work and paid more attention to missionaries' interests.
As the Chinese needed more missionary help and American interest in missions became enthusiastic, the number of American missionaries in China increased dramatically. The zeal generated by the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions on American college campuses resulted in more young graduates going to China, and Minnie Vautrin was one of them.
While enrolled at the University of Illinois, Minnie often attended various local missionaries' activities, such as seminars and recruiting sessions conducted by the Student Volunteers and the Bible study group sponsored by the Young Women's Christian Association. She also went to lectures given by missionaries on furlough. In an era when American fever for foreign missions reached a record high, missionaries, especially the females, were highly regarded in the public eye because they left the comforts of home and courageously ventured to strange places for the service of God. When they returned to the States, they were often invited to local churches to address the congregation on their personal experience in the field. Even pulpits, which generally prohibited females, were open to visiting women missionaries; church publications and the popular press often featured them as heroines. At that time, teaching was a common profession for women, but the pay was low and there were few chances for advancement. Thus, missionary service offered a more fulfilling and respectable career opportunity for young women.
Most of the women missionaries came from rural America with humble backgrounds and had the "pioneer spirit." They had been active in churches and taught country schools or Sunday schools. Their reasons for entering this field included accompanying their missionary husbands, making better use of their lives, answering a noble cause, or, for the single women, accommodating spinsterhood.
Minnie fit into the picture. Being raised on her father's small farm, she was courageous, determined, and devoted to serving the neediest. Although she was attractive, she had no steady boyfriend because she devoted all her leisure time to religious causes, sparing no time for socializing.
In October 1911, the success of the Chinese revolution led by Dr. Sun Yat-sen won greater sympathy from the American public and the missionaries in China than anything before. Bishop James W. Bashford, a former president of Wesleyan University of Ohio, even pressed Washington for immediate recognition of the new republic. Meantime, the leaders of the young Chinese government were very friendly to missionaries and exceptionally receptive of Christian messages. They openly credited the missionaries with implanting the ideas of democracy and the value of the individuals into the Chinese minds, which led to the success of the revolution. They ordered the protection of foreigners, especially the missionaries. Anti-Christian riots temporarily stopped. These new developments in China further intensified the existing American fever for missions to China.
Since education was a top priority for the new republic and the American missionary leaders had long cried the importance of establishing Christian schools to educate the Chinese leaders, many young men and women signed up as education missionaries to China. As an education major, Minnie also felt her academic training could be best used as a missionary to China. However, it was her devotion to serve the neediest, above all other reasons, that led her to reach the final decision. In 1912, when she graduated from the University of Illinois with honors, she immediately joined the Foreign Christian Missionary Society and decided to go to China. At the time, she was twenty-six years old.
The Foreign Christian Missionary Society sent Minnie to Hofei, Anhwei Province, to serve. Hofei had been the seat of Luchow Prefect during the Manchu dynasty and one of the main commercial centers in Anhwei. In 1908, because the newly built Tientsin-Pukou (the port city of Nanking) Railway bypassed Hofei, the city's commerce declined, and so went its booming days. Thereafter, it only served as a distribution center for grains and tung oil for central Anhwei Province. In 1912, after the revolution, the republic government abolished Luchow Fu (Prefect) and established Hofei County. The city of Hofei hence became the seat of the county government.
When Minnie first arrived in Hofei in the fall of 1912, it was an entirely strange country to her. She knew very little about the people or the language, so she spent most of her first two years learning the language and culture. Although Hofei was known as the birthplace of several famous scholars and dignitaries, the society was much more conservative than that in the big cities and treaty ports and still held to the belief that "ignorant women are virtuous women." Women's status was extremely low. Girls were instructed to obey their fathers, husbands, and sons according to the Confucian teachings. Infanticide of girls was prevalent, and footbinding was generally practiced. A pair of small bound feet was still regarded as a girl's best asset to good marriage, even though the Empress Dowager, reportedly due to pressure from "foreign women of various nationalities," had outlawed the crippling practice in 1902.
As to women's education, it was pathetic. Following the Boxer disaster in 1900, the Manchu Court had moved to establish Western-style primary and middle schools nationwide, yet it made no provisions for girls' education. In 1904, the court announced that it was inappropriate to establish female education because of the difference in "etiquettes and customs" between the Chinese and the West. Although in 1907 the Education Commission added primary and normal schools for girls in its national education system, many places, such as rural areas, had no schools for girls. The Chinese made no concrete attempt to establish coeducational primary schools nor to include girls' middle schools in the national education program until after the establishment of the republic in 1912. It was missionaries who filled the vacuum and became the main providers of educating Chinese girls. Nevertheless, Chinese parents, especially in a conservative place like Hofei, generally believed that it was a total waste to educate their daughters. Most of the women and girls were illiterate.
Seeing the situation with her own eyes, Minnie vowed to elevate the status of Chinese women. She became even more determined to devote her life to the promotion of their education. After months of hard work and frustration, she was eventually able to establish San Ching Girls' Middle School in Hofei. The school, under her administration, grew strong and outstanding, becoming well known outside the Hofei area. During this period of time, Minnie acquired a Chinese name, Hua Chuan (a transliteration from the syllables of her surname, Vautrin), and met her future fiancewhose name remains a secretwho was also an American missionary to China.