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Collection 232 Papers of Esther Hess

Identifier: CN 232-232

Scope and Contents

Correspondence, photographs, and articles relating to Esther Hess's missionary work as a nurse in China with China Inland Mission from 1931 to 1945. The materials not only document Hess's missionary career, but also the Sino-Japanese war and her confinement to a Japanese internment camp from 1942-1945.


  • Created: 1931-1959
  • Majority of material found in 1931-1941

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on the use of this collection.

Biographical Information

Esther Nowack Hess was born July 9, 1906, in China to missionary parents, William Henry and Katherine Plantz Nowack. Accepted by China Inland Mission (CIM; see CN 215), she began her language training in 1931 and served as a nurse and teacher of nurses in Kansu Province (new spelling, Gansu) from 1932 to 1934 and in Honan Province (new spelling, Henan) from 1935 to 1941. In May, 1941, she married Lawrence Hess, who died several months later. Soon after, she was interned, first at the Temple Hill Concentration Camp and then at Weihsien Camp, a Japanese internment camp in China, from 1942 to 1945. Her furloughs during her term of service took place in 1938-1938 and l 945-1946. Mrs. Hess had two sisters, Helen Nowack Frame (see CN 255) and Ruth Nowack, who also served with CIM in China.


1 Box

7 Photograph Files

Language of Materials


Arrangement of Material

Series 1: Photographs

The photographs in this collection are arranged topically into the following Photo Files:

CONCENTRATION CAMPS - CHINA. Weihsien, China, and nearby internment camp, 1945. Aerial photographs of a food supplies drop, surrounding locale, and Weihsien Internment Camp. 14 b&w.

FRAME, HELEN NOWACK. Frame being transported in a "Bible woman's barrow" and her marriage to Raymond William Frame in 1936. 2 b&w.

HESS, ESTHER MARGUERITE NOWACK. Includes a portrait of Mrs. Hess and one of her with her husband, Lawrence; family pictures from 1918 with her father and mother and her sisters Helen and Ruth and in 1935 with her father and stepmother, Alice Broughton Nowack, as well as her sisters, including Mary Pearl. 4 b&w.

NOWACK, RUTH LOUISE. Includes Miss Nowack with Mrs. J. O. Fraser and A. K. Heath. 2 b&w.

OVERSEAS MISSIONARY FELLOWSHIP (China Inland Mission). Missionaries in Tsingdao, China (new spelling, Qingdao), after their release from an internment camp in 1945. 1 b&w.

OMF (CIM): CHINA - CONFERENCES. Missionary Conference, Kansu, China (new spelling, Gansu), ca. 1935. Includes George Gibb, Esther Hess, Faith Leeuwenburg, Ruth Nowack, and Nettie Waldner. 1 b&w.

OMF (CIM): CHINA - LANGUAGE SCHOOLS. Women's Language School in Yangchow, China (new spelling, Yangzhow), 1931. Photo includes A. B. Bissett, Teresa Bush, Ruth Elliott, Helen Nowack Frame, Esther Nowack Hess, Sara Reid Kelley, Estella Hayes Kirkman, Faith Elizabeth Leeuwenburg, Amy Weir Moore, Ruth Whitney Prentice, Marjorie Rattray, Jean Sinclair Spence Rowe, Katharine Dodd Schoerner, Bertha May Silversides, Elizabeth Stair Small, Julia Stunkard Snow, Elisabeth Alden Scott Stam, Eileen Aida Vorley Stewart, Laura Grasley Street, Doris Trefren, Velma Booth Wagner, Nettie Waldner, Marion Carleson Whipple (complete list identifying women accompanies the photograph). 1 b&w.


Series 2: Paper Records

Correspondence, photographs, and two articles make up the documents in this collection. The correspondence consists of a complete set of Esther Hess's consecutive news/prayer letters from 1932 to 1945; her letters of 1941 were written jointly by her and her husband. The correspondence begins with accounts of her language training, assignment by the mission, and travel in China. They also give accounts of her work at Borden Memorial Hospital and the mission hospital at Kaifeng, including numerous illustrations of illnesses the staff treated and evangelistic opportunities available in the hospital, among them a case of demon possession.

In addition, the letters tell of the effects of the Sino-Japanese War, evacuation due to fighting, and treatment of wounded soldiers and refugees. The final letter, written after her release from Weihsien Camp, describes conditions and everyday life at the camp as well as the occasion of release from it. One article in the collection, a photocopy from the December 1945 issue of China's Millions, further elaborates on the conditions in Weihsien and on the events surrounding the liberation of the camp and other internment camps in China. The other article, written by Mrs. Hess, tells of a confrontation with and near execution by the Communists in 1948. As her parents and sisters were all in China, the letters also note the whereabouts of all the family members and give accounts of family reunions, the wedding of her sister, Helen, to Raymond Frame, and her marriage to Dr. Hess. She also frequently refers to some of her co-workers, including Dr. D. V. Rees, Dr. Robert A. H. Pearce, Dr. Jessie McDonald (see CN 246), and Paul E. Adolph.

The collection also includes a number of photographs, the most notable of which are fourteen aerial photos of Weihsien, taken by a photographer on a B-29 bomber dropping food shipments to POW's after the Japanese surrender. Mrs. Hess, along with students from Chefoo School, were interned in the camp.

Accruals and Additions

The materials in this collection were received by the Billy Graham Center in April 1982 from Esther Nowack Hess through the United States branch of the Overseas Missionary Fellowship.

Accession 82-60

June 10, 1983

Paul A. Ericksen

J. Nasgowitz

Collection 232 Papers of Esther Hess
Paul Ericksen
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Roman Script

Repository Details

Part of the Evangelism & Missions Archives Repository

501 College Avenue
Wheaton IL 60187 US