About Kate Smallwood Guyton

(Also: Kate's daughter Ruth remembering her stories)

Mary Katherine (Kate) Smallwood Guyton was born on February 8, 1887, in New Albany, Mississippi. Her father was a teacher who died when she was young. Nevertheless, Kate managed to acquire a college degree and additional training for missionary work.


As a young woman she worked for 5 years in Soochow (Suzhou) China, as a teaching missionary, teaching mathematics, astronomy, and physics to girls at the Laura Haygood School. After her return from China, she married Dr. Billy Sylvester Guyton and they ultimately settled in Oxford, Mississippi. Billy was a well-respected eye, ear, nose, and throat specialist and was also for a time the Dean of the Medical School at the University of Mississippi.

Kate and Billy had four children, Jack, Bill, Arthur, and Ruth. After her marriage Kate played the role of the genteel lady from a prominent family. She devoted herself to raising her children, doing church and charitable work, and participating in the civic and social life of her small town.


Her daughter Ruth recalled that Kate was frustrated that she could not apply her sharp intellect to anything more challenging than trouncing the other ladies at bridge. However, the qualities she developed as a young woman in China included deep empathy for people of all stations. She was in the end remembered for her many quiet acts of generosity benefiting people who were in trouble or at the end of their resources.

Kate Smallwood Guyton died in 1961. A large amount of material survives from her years in China. In addition to the photographs reproduced here, there are many letters, several hundred postcards, a journal, notes, and an unfinished book manuscript. She also brought back many souvenirs, including her own custom-made silk wedding dress and silver coffee service.

In a memoir, Kate's daughter Ruth retold her mother's experiences as a young woman both in Mississippi and China as told to her in bedtime stories when she was small.