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Collection 088 Papers of Paul and Catharine Gieser

Identifier: CN 088

Scope and Contents

Oral history interview with Kenneth Gieser and letters reporting to the Southern Presbyterian Mission Board in Nashville, TN on the Gieser’s work in China, written between October 19, 1934, and November 1, 1936. Also contains audio tapes and transcripts of autobiographical statements.


  • Created: 1934-1979

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on the use of this collection.

Biographical or Historical Information

Paul Kenneth Gieser was born September 9, 1908, in Highland Park, IL, to German immigrant parents, Paul and Berthe Gieser. His father came to this country at the age of fifteen in 1880, married, and moved to Highland Park in 1884. The Gieser family also included a brother, Elmer, and three sisters, Kathryn, Berthe, and Hedwig. At seventeen, Gieser experienced adult conversion in Waukegan, IL, through the preaching of Von Brook, an evangelist.

His father died in October of 1926, the year he entered Wheaton College, but he was able to continue in school, with the help of his mother, brother, sisters, and a biology laboratory assistantship. During the years at Wheaton, a"spiritual oasis," his desire to become a medical missionary was awakened, partly as a result of hearing Dr. Kellersberger, medical missionary to Africa under the Southern Presbyterian Mission Board. Also during his years at Wheaton, he and Catharine ("Kay") Kirk, daughter of a vice president of the College, became engaged. They were married on September 4, 1933, at the beginning of his senior year in medical school at Northwestern University. While at Northwestern, Gieser initiated the formation of a Bible study and devotion group which ultimately became the Christian Medical Society.

Eventually the couple responded to a cable sent to the Southern Presbyterian Mission Board from Dr. L. Nelson Bell in China requesting the services of an intern with a strong Christian motivation to be supported under the Clayton Foundation, Houston, TX. The Foundation continued to support the internship for three years, after which support was transferred to the Southern Presbyterian Mission Board.

The Giesers set sail for Shanghai from San Francisco on the Japanese ship Tilemaroo on September 6, 1934. In Shanghai, they were met by Dr. Bell and his daughter Rosa and taken to the installation at Tsing Kiang Pu, a Southern Presbyterian hospital since 1894. With a staff of six doctors, it was serving 100,000 patients a year in the 1930's. Dr. Gieser assumed administrative duties at the hospital within nine months when Dr. Bell returned to the States on furlough. Here the Giesers remained until the Japanese invasion in 1935, when they left to serve at the hospital in Taichow until word came to return to Tsing Kiang Pu. The summer of 1935 was spent in Korea visiting mission hospitals and leprosariums to observe procedures and administration. Included in that visit was Pyeng Yank Mission Station, then the largest of its kind in the world, and Severance Medical Hospital.

Subsequent Japanese occupation forced evacuation on July 5, 1937, to Kuling and the return to America of the Gieser family, which now included Richard George, born at Kuling in 1937. While in Wheaton, IL, Dr. Gieser practiced medicine for ten months with Dr. Jack Welsh pending their return to China. On October 17, 1938, they were again in Shanghai and returned to the hospital at Taichow during the period of bombing raids and Japanese occupation in the spring of 1939. In November of 1939, after their return to Tsing Kiang Pu, Charles Kenneth, a second son, was born. In the spring of 1940, Gieser became ill with malaria, pneumonia, and heart complications from which he recuperated in Japan at Lake Nojiri. On May 23, 1940, the Giesers moved to Chinkiang Hospital, where they remained until returning permanently to the United States before the beginning of the Japanese war with America on December 7, 1941. The Giesers were to have two more children, a third son, David, and a daughter, Patricia (Cooper).

Except for the six years served in China, 1934 to 1940, the Giesers lived in Wheaton, IL, where Dr. Gieser opened his medical office in 1942. In 1950, the Wheaton Eye Clinic was founded as a result of his interest in working with the eyes which developed during his medical work in China. In 1961, he purchased property on South President Street in Wheaton and started the Missionary Furlough Homes Foundation, which provides fully-furnished living quarters for missionary families during furlough years. He served as a short-term missionary in Nigeria in 1947 and in West Pakistan in 1956 and 1963. He also served as chairman of the board of trustees of Wheaton College, president of the board of directors of Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, and member of the board of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

In 1981, Kay Gieser died, and a year later Dr. Gieser married Ruby Free. Dr. Gieser died in 1987.


0.18 Cubic Feet

1 Box (DC), Audio Tapes

Language of Materials


Arrangement of Materials

Series 1: Audio Tapes

One ninety-minute oral history interview with Kenneth Gieser, in which he describes his conversion to Christianity, education at Wheaton College and elsewhere, training as a doctor, the origins of the Christian Medical Society, his and Catherine's work in China as Presbyterian missionaries as Tsing Kiang Pu Hospital in Kiangsu Province, their observations of Chinese culture and the Sino-Japanese War, and various mission-related subjects.  Persons featured include Wheaton College figures and fellow missionaries (L. Nelson Bell, James Baker Woods, John and Betty Stam, etc.)  The time period covered by the interview is roughly 1910 to 1940.

Kenneth Gieser was interviewed by Robert Shuster on August 2, 1979 in Kenneth Gieser’s office at the Wheaton Eye Clinic.

Series 2: Paper Records (Box List)

The Gieser’s correspondence to relatives cover the period between 1934 and 1940. There are descriptions of Chinese customs, holidays and festivals, Gospel meetings held in prisons, the worship services at the hospital compound, the physical facilities of the hospital and living quarters, language studies and difficulties. The scope of the hospital activities includes descriptions of obstetrical cases, dental needs, Dr. Bell's medical and administrative abilities, and women's roles in missionary life. Also discussed are Bible classes and Sunday schools for Chinese nationals, problems with bandits, Japanese occupation, air raids, and refugees. Contacts with hospitals and mission stations in Korea at Seoul and Mokpo, Severance Medical Hospital, Pyeng Yank Mission Station, and the Korean churches and previous religious beliefs are also described.

The letters sent to Nashville to the Southern Presbyterian Mission Board from Tsing Kiang Puy describe the initial arrival at Shanghai in 1934, living in the home of Dr. L. Nelson Bell and his family while learning the language, beginning work in the clinic and surgery, an evangelistic meeting in a Chinese jail, Chinese festivals and city life. Other subjects covered are trips on canals, clinical experiences and language study, moving into their own home, language classes with the nurses and staff, and illness.

Pages 1-29 of an uncompleted autobiographical manuscript from about 1978 cover Dr. Gieser's reminiscence of boyhood days in Highland Park, experiences in school, and his conversion under the preaching of Von Brook in Waukegan, IL. Other topics include life at Wheaton College beginning in the fall of 1926, family adjustments after his father's death, meeting his future wife, entering Northwestern Medical School, fraternity life, and his job as camp doctor in Speculator, NY, work with slum boys, and the foundation of the Christian Medical Society. The search for the right mission field repeats material found on the taped interview, including further details of the aspects of culture shock in China, the period of Japanese bombings, problems and care of refugees in the hospital compound when occupation threatened, and life at the 400-bed hospital in Tsing Kiang Pu.

Pages 1-25, no date given, are an expanded and re-written account of incidents and cases in the hospital at Taichow; experiences during a buying trip to Shanghai; travel on the Yangtze River and canals during the Sino-Japanese War; contacts with Lit and Agnes Hansburger, itinerant evangelists; the return to Tsing Kiang Pu; obstetrical and dental cases; the retirement of Dr. and Mrs. Woods after forty years of service which began in 1894; Chinese finances; advice and experience of James R. Graham; coolie Bible classes; contacts with the head of the Japanese police and a Japanese doctor's visit; and the search of a Chinese officer in the obstetrics ward.

A brief autobiographical introduction given by Dr. Gieser to a zoning board hearing, Wheaton, IL, on an unspecified date, concerns the Missionary Furlough Homes sites in the city, located on South President Street. These were purchased in 1961 under the direction of the Missionary Furlough Homes Foundation. Mentioned as residents are Dr. Benjamin Kietzman, chief eye surgeon at Kano, Nigeria, and Dr. Norvell Christie, who worked with cataracts and plastic implants at the Presbyterian Mission of West Pakistan.

Accruals and Additions

Materials in this collection were given to the Billy Graham Center Archives by Dr. Paul Kenneth Gieser on January 4, 1979. Xerox copies of written materials were made and the originals returned to Dr. Gieser. The taped interview was conducted on August 2, 1979, by Bob Shuster at the Wheaton Eye Clinic office of Dr. Gieser. Tapes T2 and T3 were give to the BGC Archives on January 19, 1981.

Accession 79-7, 79-90, 81-8

October 8, 1980

Frances L. Brocker

R. Shuster

S. Kouns

Revised, December 7, 1981

Frances L. Brocker

J. Nasgowitz

Collection 088 Papers of Paul and Catharine Gieser
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the Evangelism & Missions Archives Repository

501 College Avenue
Wheaton IL 60187 US