Brief History

Grinnell-in-China began in 1916 after a graduate working in China noticed similar programs sponsored by other colleges. Grinnell-in-China was forged when Grinnell College established a formal relationship with the Porter-Wyckoff high schools in Dezhou1 in Shandong2 Province. Grinnell provided monetary support, along with teachers and administrative staff. Grinnell also established a relationship with Shandong Christian University in Jinan3. Grinnell severed all official relationships with Chinese institutions after 1930, due primarily to financial difficulties associated with the Depression. Despite this, Grinnellians working with the Porter-Wyckoff schools stayed in their positions and were still there when America declared war on Japan (who then had control of the province) in 1941. The Communists razed the compound in 1946. Grinnell reestablished a connection in China by its association with Nanjing4 University in 1987.

Not-so-Brief History

In 1909, A.B. De Haan worked as a missionary teacher in China's Shandong Province. He saw an opportunity for Grinnell College to be involved in China, and wrote to the president of the college, J.H.T. Main, about the programs initiated by Carleton and Yale. In 1913, funding was secured and in 1916 the first Grinnell-sponsored missionaries went to China.

Grinnell was in charge of the Porter-Wyckoff schools in Dezhou, Shandong. The American Board founded the Porter School for boys in 1885 and the Grace Wyckoff Memorial School for girls in 1892 (the two schools would become one co-educational school in 1929). Grinnell provided a principal and teachers for these schools as well as financial support. The college also helped with the hospital in Dezhou. After a few years of operation under Grinnell's sponsorship, the Porter-Wyckoff schools earned a reputation of quality education and its graduates were accepted into many universities, including Beijing University, without examination. Grinnell sent several "short-term" (one-year) English teachers to the Porter-Wyckoff schools. These teachers were usually Grinnell College students who would take a year between their junior and senior years to teach in China.

Grinnell College also established a relationship with Shandong Christian University in Jinan, providing the financial backing for new buildings, and sending teachers there.

The last short-term teacher went to Dezhou in 1930. After he returned home, Grinnell College's relationship with the Chinese schools was effectively severed. There were several reasons why this occurred: the failure of the Iowa State Banking Department in 1925 caused major financial problems for the college; there was a backlash on the Grinnell College campus from those wanting to keep the money at home saying the college should be funding Grinnell-in-Grinnell, not Grinnell-in-China; and by that time Chinese students' tuition was covering a higher and higher percentage of Grinnell-in-China's operating costs. Interest in missionary work was dying out among college students and anti-foreign sentiment was rising in China. Shandong Province was also rife with skirmishes and political upheaval during this period. The American Board was ultimately responsible for the Porter-Wyckoff schools, not Grinnell College, and when college president J.H.T. Main died in 1931, the program lost its biggest supporter.

Even though Grinnell College was no longer officially affiliated with any Chinese school after 1930, many Grinnellians, most notably Alice Reed, who had been in Dezhou since 1916, stayed there and continued their work. The Japanese gained control of Shandong in 1937, and when the United States declared war on Japan in 1941, the Americans still in Dezhou were held prisoner in the missionary compound until a diplomat/civilian exchange was reached. (Ms. Reed would return to western China before the end of the war and teach.) When Communist forces gained control of the area in 1946, they razed the school.

In 1987, Grinnell College re-established a connection with China by associating itself with Nanjing University, enabling several faculty exchanges a year and sending two students the year immediately after graduation to teach English at Nanjing University's middle school.

Collection Information:

Our collections include photographs, memoirs, correspondence, and newspaper clippings related to Grinnell-in-China. The Department of Special Collections and Archives is located in the Iowa Room on the lower level of Burling Library. The Iowa Room is open Monday through Friday, 1 p.m. -5 p.m., or by appointment. During the academic year, it is also open one night a week from 7 p.m. - 10 p.m. We welcome researchers and encourage anyone interested in using our collections to call ahead. Please contact Catherine Rod, College Archivist, at or 641-236-3364.


1. I have attempted to write all place names in pinyin. I will include other transliterations used and characters in the footnotes. Techow, Techou, Tehchow
2. Shantung
3. Tsinan, Tsinanfu
4. Nanking

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The American Context of China's Christian Colleges project is based at Wesleyan University.
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