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Collection 298 Papers of Howard E. Thomas

Identifier: CN 298

Scope and Contents

Oral history interview with Howard E. Thomas in which he describes his family background, Christian life and growth, education at Stony Brook School and Wheaton College, missionary work with the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions among lepers of the Tai-Lu people along the Burmese border in southwestern China, internment by the Japanese in Thailand, contextualization of the gospel, expulsion from the area by the Chinese army involved in opium trade. Description of Stony Brook School covers the influence of Pierson Curtis and Frank Gaebelein. Also see Collection 299, a similar interview with Thomas's wife. The time period covered by the interviews is 1946 to 1985.

Howard Thomas was interviewed by Paul A. Ericksen on March 6, 1985, at the Thomases home in Swannanoa, NC.

The collection also includes a 9-page proposal that Thomas prepared for a conference in 1946 (?), recommending the expansion of mission work among the Tai-Lu or Lu people in Kiulungkiang, China. The document outlines the historical, cultural, and spiritual dynamics in the area, the status of the indigenous church, education and medical care. Thomas refers several times during his interview to this document.


  • Created: 1946-1985

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on the use of this collection.

Biographical Information

Howard Elsworth Robert Thomas was born September 11, 1906 in Dryndale, PA, to Mr. & Mrs. John R. Thomas. He left school in the eighth grade to work in a coal mine. He later attended the Missionary Training Institute in Nyack, NY, then went to Stony Brook School (1928-1930) in Long Island, NY, before coming to Wheaton College in 1930. Thomas married Ruth Margaret Hatcher in 1933; the Thomases were the first Wheaton couple allowed to marry while still students. They graduated from Wheaton in 1934, both having majored in History. Thomas also received a Bachelor of Divinity degree from Mc Cormick Theological Seminary (1937), and Masters degree in Sociology (1942) and Doctoral degree in Sociology-Anthropology (1945) from Cornell University in Sociology with minors in Rural Education and Social Anthropology.

In 1937, Thomas and his wife went to Yunnan Province in the Golden Triangle along the Burmese border in southwestern China as missionaries with the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions. Thomas was appointed supervisor of the South China leper colonies along with Marie Park. Immediately following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, the Thomases were interned by the Japanese in Thailand until mid-1942, after which they returned to the United States. They returned to Asia in 1946, where he served as field administrator for United Church Relief in South China and Northern Siam until 1947. After returning to the United States, Thomas taught at Cornell (1947-1962); conducted research on the educational status of migrant children; worked as a consultant to the U.S. Office of Education (1952) and with the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Mission to evaluate rural extension project in India and Pakistan (1955); and authored a number of studies. In 1962, Thomas was appointed Community Development Advisor to the Laos Mission with the U.S. Agency for International Development. The Thomases returned to the United States, working at Montreat College in Swannanoa, NC.

Thomas died in 1991.


0.10 Cubic Feet

1 Box (DC), Audio Tape

Language of Materials


Accruals and Additions

The materials in this collection were received by the Billy Graham Center Archives in March and September 1985 from Howard E. Thomas.

Accession 85-36

March 25, 1993

Paul A. Ericksen

C. Easley

Collection 298 Papers of Howard E. Thomas
Paul Ericksen
Description rules
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