Skip to main content

Collection 173 Papers of Judson Smith

Identifier: CN 173

Scope and Contents

Correspondence, reports, newspaper clippings relating to the ministry of Judson Smith. Letters between Smith and his family describe his trips abroad, among them to Great Britain and Paris in 1882 (which included visits to hear Charles Spurgeon), Turkey and the World Missionary Conference (1888), and Japan and China (1898); reports to ABCFM board members also describe Smith's observations of missionary work; included among Smith's descriptions of China are those of other missions including China Inland Mission.  The collection also includes: a reference to Dwight L. Moody's impact on a Massachusetts congregation is included; comments on a visit to a service conducted by Salvation Army founder William Booth in 1888; references to Oberlin College events.  Other topics reflected include the impact of cultural and personality conflicts on missionary practice and the missionary's interaction with indigenous culture.


  • Created: 1878-1913

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on the use of this collection.

Biographical Information

Judson Smith was born in Middlefield, Massachusetts, on June 28, 1837, son of Samuel and Lucina Metcalf Smith. In 1859 he completed a degree at Amherst College, where he organized a Shansi Band to support mission work in China. For two years, 1862-1864, he tutored Greek and Latin at Oberlin College, receiving a Doctor of Divinity degree from Oberlin Theological Seminary in 1863. His marriage to J. Augusta Bushnell took place August 1, 1865. They had four children, a son, Maurice B. Smith, and three daughters, Gertrude, Mary, and Margaret. Between the years 1864 and 1866, Smith was employed by Williston Seminary in Massachusetts as an instructor of mathematics and physics. His ordination as a Congregational minister took place in 1866.

In the same year, Smith returned to Oberlin Theological Seminary, as one of nine instructors, to teach Latin until 1870, and subsequently to teach ecclesiastical and modern history until 1884. The years at Oberlin were an important and appropriate preparation for his succeeding career of twenty-two years in the field of Christian missions. While at Oberlin Smith was a member of a local temperance organization which successfully prohibited liquor retailing through legal interaction of university and town council members.

In 1889, Smith was supported as a candidate for President of the College by the group hoping to perpetuate the "real Oberlin" which had laid more stress on democratic admission policies and evangelical spirit as opposed to seeking an aristocracy of intellect and wealth. The school remained without a head for two periods, 1889-1891 and 1896-1898, a fact which gave rise to concerns for the College reflected in some of Smith's correspondence from these years.

In 1884, Smith and his family moved to Roxbury, Massachusetts, to accept an appointment as Corresponding Secretary to the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. He later became its Foreign Secretary and remained with the Board until his death in 1906. The American Board had for a time been the only foreign mission society in the United States, serving a number of denominations until it became representative of the Congregational churches, which experienced a doubling of growth and benevolence giving between 1876 and 1913. The Board was distinguished by its emphasis on providing education at all age levels for the training of Christian leaders, an emphasis for which Smith's years at Oberlin had prepared him. In 1876, eighty-three churches were supporting the instruction of 8700 on mission fields. The Board also emphasized a concept of the gospel which considered all elements promoting human welfare as relevant to Christian mission. Smith's address in 1885 to the Assembly of the Board, "The Future Work of the American Board," proved a turning point in establishing medical missions as second only to the work of the missionary as a means of opening hearts and consciences to conversion. He also urged a larger role for women on the mission field.

The Board's activities were concentrated in India, Turkey, China, and Japan, and concerned with a Protestant witness in Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Muslim areas. Work with the Muslims was initiated in Turkey by the Prudential Committee in 1829, and two years later a mission was established in Constantinople. Smith was sent with a deputation to visit the stations in Turkey in the spring of 1888, where he spent forty-seven days touring, mediating, and gathering first-hand observations for the Committee's administrative needs and policies. Emphasis of the Board was on evangelists, but there was concern at this point that so few native pastors had been trained after fifty years of service. Part of this trip included duties as a delegate to the World Missionary Conference held in London that year.

Smith's second extended trip abroad as Foreign Secretary was to visit missions in Japan and China between January and June of 1898. He was accompanied by Rev. and Mrs. Edward D. Eaton, President of Beloit College, and Col. and Mrs. Charles A. Hopkins, member of the Prudential Committee and supervisor of these areas. At this period, the Board was operating autonomously from its supporting churches.

In 1900, Smith was delegate to the Ecumenical Missionary Conference held in New York and chairman of its General Committee. He was a lecturer on foreign missions at Hartford Theological Seminary during his term with the American Board, and a trustee of Mt. Holyoke, Oberlin, and Williston Seminary. Smith was also an associate editor of Bibliotheca Sacra, and contributed to such magazines as the Missionary Herald and the Congregationalist. His reports to the annual meetings of the American Board appeared in pamphlet form.

Smith died June 29, 1906. He was praised in the Prudential Committee's eulogy as representing the best traditions of the Board, "in association of zeal for evangelistic work with the perception that the permanent missionary influence and the building up of native Christian institutions depend upon the slow process of enlightened training."


2 Boxes

Language of Materials


Arrangement of Material

The correspondence in this collection groups itself into three series of letters written by Smith and his family to each other during trips abroad. Included also are a few reports to members of the American Board, miscellaneous papers relating to paid-up loans, his will, bills received at the time of his death, and newspaper clippings.

The first group of letters is written during a trip to the British Isles and Paris in the summer of 1882, undertaken with a group of colleagues primarily for rest and recreation from his teaching duties at Oberlin College. The detailing of places and historical events reflects his thorough knowledge of history, particularly of the church. There are descriptions of sites important to British church history like Canterbury, Westminster Abbey, and Glasgow Cathedral. Folder 1-3 contains a letter written August 19, 1882, movingly recreating on location the events of the Battle of Hastings. Reports of several visits to hear Charles Spurgeon preach in the London Tabernacle are found in the following letters: July 29, 1882 (folder 1-2), August 13, 1882 (folder 1-3), April 9, 1888 (folder 1-7), and June 18, 1888 (folder 2-3). A reference is made to Dwight L. Moody's effect on a Massachusetts congregation in a letter dated September 18, 1882 (folder 1-5). Comments on conditions, preaching, and a service in steerage on shipboard are found in folders 1-2 and 1-5.

A second group of letters was exchanged during his trip to Turkey between March and June, 1888. As head of a delegation, his itinerary included mission stations, schools, Robert College, and hospitals in Constantinople, Scutari, Bardesag, Marsovan, Pera, and Smyrna. He concluded this excursion in London as a delegate to the World Missionary Conference in June. Material on conditions and personnel in Turkey is found in folders 2-1 to 2-3. Comments on the Conference are in folder 2-3. In the same folder are comments on a visit to City Temple when William Booth was conducting a Salvation Army service, letter dated June 14, 1888.

Folders 2-5 to 2-12 contain letters exchanged between January and June, 1898, during Smith's extended trip to Japan and China, accompanied by Rev. and Mrs. Eaton and Col. and Mrs. Hopkins. His itinerary to the west Coast included a stop at Oberlin, Board conferences in Chicago, and disembarkation from Vancouver. Descriptions of missions and personnel, scenery and history of Japan are in folders 2-7 and 2-12. While in China, Smith and the deputation visited Shanghai, Hong Kong, and cities along the coast to Tientsin, as well as inland Peking. Visits were made not only to missions supported by the American Board, but also those of the Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist Missionary Union, Reformed Board, London Missionary Society, Anglican Mission, North China Mission, and China Inland Mission. Folders 2-10 to 2-12 contain letters with details of missions and personnel in China; folders 2-9 and 2-10 include typed reports to Board members. Folder 2-8 contains a particularly detailed letter dated March 4, 1898, written with candor and insight about problems, personalities, activities, and successes of American mission work in China of this period. Also discussed are the strengths of the Chinese people in contrast to other western nations.

Scattered references are made in these letters to personnel and events at Oberlin College (folders 1-3, 1-5, 2-5, 2-10). A newspaper clipping, folder 2-2, describes the disputed ordination of D. T. Torrey, Congregational minister, on doctrinal grounds, and a clipping, folder 1-5, describes the installation service of a Congregational minister.

This collection is of interest for its insight into mission administration of the late nineteenth century, and cultural and personality conflicts as they affected the implementation of missions. Smith's devotion to his family reveals a picture of the home life of the highly-educated Christian leadership of the period, concerned both for church nurture and mission and growth of individual spirituality. Smith's extensive knowledge of history enlightens his descriptions of the countries he visits. He describes conditions of travel of this period, and reveals an understanding of interaction of the missionary on the field with indigenous culture.

Some of the letters are water-stained, but most are legible to the researcher.

Accruals and Additions

The materials in this collection were purchased by the Billy Graham Center Archives from a book dealer in 1980.

Accession 81-141, 80-148

April 13, 1981

Frances L. Brocker

R. Shuster

M. Arnold

Collection 173 Papers of Judson Smith
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