Maude Nason Powell Papers

Summary Information

Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections
Creator - Correspondent
Liu, Hanson
Creator - Correspondent
Liu, YuYing Tu
Creator - Correspondent
McAlpine, Susan
Creator - Donor
Powell, Maude Nason, 1889-1987
Powell, Ralph Waterbury, 1889-1976
Creator - Correspondent
Tseng, Chingen
Maude Nason Powell papers
Date [inclusive]
1.0 Cubic feet

Preferred Citation

Researchers wishing to cite this collection should include the following information: "Item title, Collection title, Collection Identifier, Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan."

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Biographical Note

Maude Nason Powell (1889-1987) was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She attended Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State University), graduating in 1913 with a degree in Home Economics, the only degree then offered to women. At M.A.C. she met Ralph W. Powell (1889-1976), an engineering student from Ionia, Michigan, who graduated in 1911. Following their marriage in 1914, Ralph enrolled in Yale Theological Seminary. Women were not allowed to take classes, but Maude sat in on those she found interesting.

While at Yale, the Powells signed on as missionaries for the Yale-in-China program. They left for China in the fall of 1916. There Ralph taught engineering classes and worked as a civil engineer, building roads and water systems. Maude spent her first year learning Chinese, then worked in an office and took classes. She received her B.S. from Yale in China in 1925, and eventually she taught physiological chemistry to pre-med students.

Maude and Ralph spent much of their time in China separated from each other. They both worked, sometimes at the American Red Cross, other times at Yale-in-China. During this time they established a foster-parent relationship with two Chinese girls, Chingen Tseng and YuYing Tu (later known as "Ruth").

In the 1920s, fearing the outbreak of revolution in China, Ralph resigned from Yale. The school was operating with only a skeleton staff when he and Maude left China in 1927. Chingen and YuYing were unable to accompany the Powells to America because the American Exclusion Act prohibited Chinese immigration to the U.S., and because the Powells had not legally adopted them. The Powells kept in touch with their foster daughters, however, exchanging letters and sending food parcels.

After returning to America the Powells settled in Columbus, Ohio, where Ralph joined the Engineering Department at The Ohio State University. Maude continued her studies and received a Ph.D. in Nutrition from OSU in June, 1930. During the Depression, she published Cookbook for Hardtimes, which contained recipes for low cost meals. In 1936 Chingen and YuYing were able to join the Powells when they came to study at Ohio State University, and both stayed until 1940, when they graduated.

In 1938, the Powells joined the Society of Friends and became very active members. They hosted weekly lunches, as well as living in Quaker houses for periods of time. In the last years of her life, Maude lived in a Quaker nursing home.

Ralph Powell continued to teach engineering at The Ohio State University until 1957, when he accepted a position at Kansas State University. In the summers, he conducted research in field mechanics. Ralph wrote over 100 articles on civil engineering and hydraulics, while Maude continued her research in nutrition.

Throughout their lives Maude and Ralph Powell maintained their interest in China. They continued to exchange letters and parcels with their two foster daughters, who eventually married and had families. During this time Chingen and YuYing, like millions of others Chinese citizens, were subject to the difficulties of China's revolution: they worked on farms, struggled to feed their families on limited rations, and tried to maintain a sense of normalcy. Both suffered during the "Cultural Revolution" of the late 1960s, particularly YuYing. She was subjected to torture by the Chinese government and later committed suicide.

The Powells moved to Berkeley, California, in 1960, and were active with the Quakers there until Ralph's death in 1976. A collection of their early letters was published in 1979 under the title Eternally Yours, edited by Rose Lewis. Shortly afterward Maude began writing a novel about their experiences in China, but she was unable to complete it before her death in 1987.

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Scope and Contents note

The Maude Powell papers consist of correspondence, financial records, scrapbooks, publications, a journal, and legal documents. The bulk of the correspondence relates to life in China between 1917 and 1987, beginning with letters between Maude and Ralph in 1916 as they prepared to go to China. From 1917 to 1927 their letters to friends and relatives back home describe and comment on their life in China as missionaries. Letters between Maude and Ralph during their separations discuss their daily triumphs and struggles while working for the American Red Cross or for the Yale University mission school. Maude's unfinished book, written when she was in her seventies, includes recollections of this time, and gives more narrative descriptions of the Powells' daily life.

The collection also includes correspondence and other documents related to their two foster daughters, Chingen Tseng and YuYing Tu. One item of particular interest is the original letter from Chingen's mother to the Powells in 1920 allowing Chingen to live with them.

After the Powells returned to America in 1927, they kept in touch with the girls whose letters during this time contain references to their daily lives, but little mention of the political situation. They frequently mention their progress in school and include copies of report cards. This correspondence ceased while Chingen and YuYing were attending The Ohio State University from 1936 to 1940, but references to these years are made in other letters.

Following the girls' return to China in 1940, their letters resume, continuing until 1965. YuYing, now known as Ruth, married Hanson Liu, also a student at OSU, soon after she returned to China. Her letters detail their daily life, and Hanson often writes about his work with China's Ministry of Food, and later the Shanghai Power Company. However, he lost his job in the early 1950s during a period of upheaval in China. Both Ruth and Hanson finally found work as teachers in 1956. Their letters describe the difficult economic situation with details about inflation, fluctuating currency values, and food rationing.

Chingen's letters were less frequent and her life was quite different from Ruth's. Chingen taught dancing and physical education when she returned to China in 1940. She married a customs officer who was often away from home, leaving Chingen to run the household. She writes about her various duties, her efforts to find a job after her marriage, and her problems with her husband's family. Chingen and her children were required to work on the government farms, and she tries to explain to government's rational for this system of forced labor.

There is a gap in letters from China from 1966 to 1979, but Maude's annual Christmas letters give some evidence about what was happening in these years. During the Cultural Revolution, all mail between China and America was cut off. Ruth and Hanson were separated, and they were persecuted for their involvement both with Americans and with the old Chinese government. Hanson did not learn of Ruth's suicide until 1973. He and the Powells apparently corresponded between 1973 and 1979, but their letters do not appear in the collection.

Correspondence from China after 1979 includes letters from Ruth's brother, Yeh-k'o; from Chingen, who was almost 70 years old by this time; and from Hanson. Letters from Chingen continue until 1987, the year of Maude Powell's death.

The remainder of the collection contains Ralph Powell's college scrapbook (1907-1913); documents related to his death in 1976; materials concerning the publication and sales of Eternally Yours; and materials from Susan McAlpine, who was writing a book about women, using letters between Maude Powell and her sister-in-law.

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections December 1988

Conrad Hall
888 Wilson Road, Room 101
East Lansing , MI, 48824

Revision Description

 Revised October 2004 by A. Brown October 2004

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Legal Status note

Copyright: Michigan State University. Property Rights: Michigan State University.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to publish material from this collection must be obtained from University Archives & Historical Collections, Michigan State University.

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Related Materials

Related Archival Materials note

See also Powell family papers (c.00059).

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Controlled Access Headings

Corporate Name(s)

  • American Red Cross.
  • Michigan Agricultural College.
  • Michigan State University. Class of 1913.
  • Yale-in-China Association.


  • Account books
  • Diaries
  • Legal instruments
  • Letters (correspondence)
  • Manuscripts
  • Photographs
  • Postcards
  • Scrapbooks
  • Theses

Geographic Name(s)

  • China -- History

Personal Name(s)

  • Upholt, Jerry


  • College students
  • Engineering
  • Missionaries -- China
  • Nutrition -- Study and teaching
  • Society of Friends

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Collection Inventory


Box Folder


1045 1


1045 2


1045 3


1045 4


1045 5

 January 1921 

1045 6

 February 1921 

1045 7

 March 1921 

1045 8

 April 1921 

1045 9

 May 1921 

1045 10

 June 1921 

1045 11

 July 1921 

1045 12

 August - December 1921 

1045 13

 January - June 1922 

1045 14


1045 15


1045 16


1045 17


1045 18


1045 19


1045 20


1045 21


1045 22


1045 23


1045 24

 January - June 1941 

1045 25

 July - November 1941 

1045 26


1045 27


1045 28

 January - June 1946 

1045 29

 July - December 1946 

1045 30

 January - June 1947 

1045 31

 July - December 1947 

1045 32

 January - June 1948 

1045 33

 July - December 1948 

1045 34


1045 35


1045 36


1045 37


1045 38


1045 39


1045 40


1045 41


1045 42


1045 43


1045 44


1045 67
Box Folder

Records 1980 

1045 45

Correspondence 1980-1982 

1045 46

Correspondence 1983-1987 

1045 47

Yale-in-China Mission - Minutes 1921 

1045 48

Annual Christmas letters 1956-1984 

1045 49

Ralph Powell. Notebook, Report cards 1908-1975 

1045 50

Journal (Maude Powell) 

1045 51

Memoirs, Notes 1889-1913 

1045 52

Memoirs, Notes 1889-1916, undated 

1045 53

Manuscript, Memoirs 1916-1917, undated 

1045 54

Manuscript, Memoirs 1920-1940, undated 

1045 55

Susan McAlpine Papers 1985 

1045 56

Memorials 1976, 1987 

1045 57

Legal Documents 1976-1987 

1045 58

"A Study of the Diet of Coolies ...". Thesis. Maude Powell 1925 

1045 59

Poetry Undated 

1045 60

Miscellaneous Correspondence 1973-1982 

1045 61

Book Correspondence 1975-1987 

1045 62

Accounts 1980, 1983 - 1984 

1045 63

Bookkeeping Records 1975-1987 

1045 64

Miscellaneous Undated 

1045 65

"Eternally Yours", by Rose Lewis 1979 

1045 66

Photographs from China 

Box Folder


1045 68

 1933, Undated 

1045 69

 1921, 1933, Undated 

1045 70
Box Folder

Postcards from Japan 

1045 71

Oversize Materials In Drawer 


Chinese Letter 1921 


Passport, Chingen Tseng 1936 


Report Card, Yuying Undated 


Blueprint, House in China Undated 


Scrapbook #327- Powell, Ralph. Student Scrapbook, Michigan Agricultural College 1907-1913 

SB 327