Ruth remembering Kate's stories

(Also: Ruth's search for Haygood School)

Ruth Guyton Smith as a child

When I cuddled up to my Mother at night and asked for her to "tell me another", frequently her tale would be about her experiences in China where she was a Methodist Missionary at the Laura Haygood School for Girls in Soochow. She taught mathematics, physics, and astronomy for five years, from 1908 to 1913, arriving as a young woman of 21 years. These were the shining years of her life, for she was excited and dedicated, and she felt as if her dreams were being fulfilled. Her marriage, even though a highly successful one, was anticlimactic to her earlier experience, and she continually relived her experiences by sharing them not only with me, but with all of her friends. She made frequent talks and gave papers at her study clubs or at church, invariably about some topic associated with China.

Mama had wanted to be a physician, but her finances would not permit her to follow her desired vocation. In that day and time women did not have the option to work their way through medical school, as did men. By becoming a missionary her higher education beyond college was paid by the Methodist Church to Scarritt Bible and Training School in Kansas City, Missouri. She and Daddy had been truly in love for a number of years throughout their college years, and possibly before. Mama persuaded Daddy to pursue her dreams to become a physician -- he was more inclined toward banking and had been offered a good position upon receiving his Bachelor's degree. He enjoyed buying and trading real estate, and he was an avid follower of the stock market. But love will move mountains.

Billy Guyton In medical school (light suit)

They reasoned that if they stayed close together during Daddy's medical years that they would get married, and there would go their plans, for Daddy was going to have to work his way through school as he had through undergraduate studies. Thus they decided to separate for the years required for Daddy to go through medical school, and Mama joined the ranks of young women going into mission work.

An indication of the intensity of their attraction for one another slipped out one day when Mama confided to me that she and Daddy stayed up together the entire night before they were to part. Daddy gave me another hint at another time. He told me that buggies were wonderful for dating, for he could loosen the reins and let the horse go, thus leaving his hands free for more earnest courting. Daddy later in life disliked kissing, thinking that it was unsanitary, as did his father and then my brother Arthur followed suit. But during the dating years he was a passionate man, according to Mama.

Though they lived only 15 miles apart they had not met until Mama was 12 years old and Daddy 15 years. She saw him at a public function, a handsome young man sitting tall in the saddle. She, an impressionable young girl, had an instant crush upon him, however no doubt with their age differences he did not even notice her. But when they met a second time three years later there was magic in the air and they were immediately attracted together for life even though they dated others. Aunt Lilybelle laughingly told me about one of their dates. In those days often romance was pursued at picnics where the girls packed baskets brimming with delicacies and the suitors bid upon the girls with whom to eat by seeing their shadows cast upon a sheet. Aunt Lilybelle discovered that Mama had planned to carry a rose so that Daddy could recognize her. Being younger and full of fun Aunt Lilybelle managed to go before Mama and she held a rose. Of course she was mistakenly “purchased” by Daddy for his dinner companion. Mama was furious!!

Billy Guyton as a teenager

Speaking of their other romantic interests I remember one time when I was helping Daddy at his office when one of Mama’s old suitors came as a patient. I heard him reminiscing about Mama’s youthful beauty, her brilliant blue eyes, dark abundant silky hair, and cheeks as red as roses. As for him, many years later after Daddy was a widower he asked me to drive him all the way across the state of West Virginia from Charleston to Bluefield to visit one of his old flames who was a widow. She was a gentle little woman who was equally pleased to see him again, but they did not pursue a new romance.

Kate Smallwood in college

Mama and Daddy’s long engagement was seriously imperiled only once during her long sojourn in China. Daddy’s first cousin, David Guyton, was at the University of Mississippi at the same time that Daddy was. The two of them had grown up together and were more like brothers than cousins, thus we called him “Uncle” David. In his childhood he accidentally stabbed himself in one eye, blinding it. The other eye also became blinded through what they called sympathetic reaction. Uncle David was fond of history, literature, and journalism and was the editor of the University Newspaper in spite of his blindness. He later became a well known poet and historian. He and Daddy were always playing practical jokes on one another and Uncle David decided to tease Daddy by putting a comment in the gossip column of the paper alleging that Daddy was frequently seen with a particular coed, implying that the relationship was warming up. To make matters worse, he sent a copy of the paper to Mama in China—in those days it required about three or four weeks for mail to traverse the continent, across the Pacific and then through China.

When Daddy read the article a day or so later and heard about David sending it to Mama he was livid. He immediately sent Mama a letter of explanation denying the affair and reaffirming his love to Mama. But she had received the Ole Miss paper earlier and had become so upset that she had written a seething letter to Daddy calling off their engagement. Fortunately she showed it to one of her close friends before posting it and the friend wisely advised her to wait to hear Billy’s side of the story before making a rash judgment. When she received Daddy’s letter she believed him and remained engaged, thank heavens; otherwise my brothers and I would not have been. But Mama was extremely popular overseas and had many suitors. We have snapshots of her with them on numerous outings.

Kate and friends in China

The innocent young missionaries were starry eyed with dreams of helping the "heathens," unaware that the US government was using them to help open up the Chinese markets. I do not think that my Mother was ever aware of this. When she was once in China she realized that the Chinese had a culture in many ways superior to ours -- she was the one converted rather than otherwise, and became a lifelong admirer of the Chinese.

While they were apart Mama wrote all of her experiences in letters to Daddy, but also included love messages, and words of endearment. She had kept them carefully tied up and hidden in the cellar of our house. Unfortunately my brother Jack and our first cousin Richard Allen Liddell (about eight years old) found them and were having a field day guffawing over the love passages. Mama was mortified when she discovered them in the act. She grabbed the letters and in her anger threw the letters into the fire. Her memories of the most exciting years of her life went up in flames, an act for which she had remorse the rest of her rather prosaic life. We have a slight glimpse of Mama and Daddy’s activities during those five years from their postcards, but in those days it was not proper for a young woman and man to mention love on a postcard which could be read by anyone. Apparently they had chosen a code word for such an expression, for their cards are full of the word "sandance", which I cannot find in any dictionary. I often wonder the source of their choice.

Postcard sent from Kate to Billy from Tokyo, 1911

One of my favorite Chinese tales was about the uprising to overthrow the emperor, about 10 years after the Boxer Rebellion, for that was the period when Mama was resident. The city of Soochow was under siege, and in many of the provinces the missionaries were slaughtered. In this province, however, the leaders were not antagonistic toward the mission and the school, and had until this time protected them. The members of the mission had contingency plans should the city fall into the hands of the more violent factions of the rebellion. They had a bell tower at the school, which was to ring once to warn the missionaries to be alert. Two tolls was more serious -- they were to get dressed and be ready to evacuate. Three rings meant to flee immediately.

One early morning Mama awakened to an eerie silence, no-one was stirring. She went to the next room and found it empty, then to the next with the same results. The building was empty. Mama was horrified, for she believed that she had slept through the three bells and had been left behind to be a victim of the insurgents. As she was quickly pulling on her clothes to run and hide, she heard a movement on the roof of the building. She crept up the stairs to find its source, perchance some of her group were hiding up there. To her utmost relief and surprise she found everyone from the mission looking off into the distance at a white flag -- the city had surrendered without a shot, but one of the conditions of the surrender was the safety of the missionaries. Mama was really more fortunate than she realized, for many of these agreements were not kept in other provinces where the missionaries were slaughtered.

Trueheart House, where Kate had her room

Mama became very close to her students and had an active correspondence with them when they were on vacation from the school and later when she returned to the USA. On one such vacation she received a sad and desperate letter from one of her favorite students who lived in the vicinity of Shanghai. The student's father had been disgraced by some business action, and was planning suicide, not only for himself, but for all of his family as was the custom in those days. Mama was distraught, and immediately sent a dispatch to the girl to do nothing until Mama arrived to talk with her. Remember that there were no telephones in those days, and no telegraph service in China.

Without hesitation Mama took the first canal boat she could hire to take her to Shanghai via the Grand Canal. There she went to the student's house to talk with her, to try to persuade her that her father's problem was not of her making, and that there was no valid requirement for her suicide. Mama probably also explained the Christian concept of suicide, and about the love and forgiveness of God. Before Mama left Shanghai she became ill, probably because of the polluted water en route. In fact, by the time she arrived back at Laura Haygood she was desperately ill, and near death at one point. The student , upon learning how seriously ill Mama was because of the trip, sent her a message that she would not commit suicide, for she felt responsible for the illness, and wanted to help Mama in her recovery. Whatever the reason, Mama did live, and the girl did not commit suicide, even though her father and other members of her family did so. The girl went on to become an honor student and teacher. Mama carried with her the rest of her life the effects of the illness, which was the Oriental disease called "sprue". From that point forth this formerly healthy young woman suffered from pernicious anemia and serious bouts of illness.

Speaking of suicide reminds me of another experience that Mama had. As I mentioned before, she taught astronomy at the school, as well as physics and mathematics. Mama was aware that Halley's Comet would soon make its appearance again, and would be visible in China. Seventy-five years earlier when it had arrived there was tremendous hysteria throughout China, having been interpreted as an omen of the end of the world. As a result there were mass suicides throughout the countryside. She and the other missionaries and their students spent weeks going throughout the city and into the rural areas to advise the populace of the impending comet, explaining to them the nature of the phenomenon to allay their fears and superstitions. They were moderately successful, though there still were some suicides in the more rural regions. Because of this tale I had a lifelong desire to see Halley's Comet, and was elated when it was to make its appearance again.


Ruth also told of Kate's ongoing friendships dating from her years in China:

Mama maintained correspondence with several of her students from China throughout her life. When I was about 4 years old one of Mama’s favorite students, Tsi Tsung Yang [in Kate's notations on photographs,the name is spelled Sih Tsung Yang], came to visit us. How proud I was to have a friend all the way from China who brought me a green bead necklace and who went outside to walk with me. I promptly broke the necklace and it spilled all over the sidewalk as did my tears, but I still have one or two loose beads. Among Mama’s pictures from her days in China there is one of a wealthy Yang family from Shanghai, I presume to be hers. We also have a portrait of Tsi Tsung as a young woman, and a snapshot of her with me during that early visit.

Tsi Tsung Yang holding Ruth, 1927. Billy and Ruth's brothers also shown.

She paid us another visit when I was about 12 years of age with a missionary friend named Miss Olive, a hefty person the size of two ordinary women who was a voice teacher at Laura Haygood, the school in Soochow at which Mama had been a teacher. One morning we heard a loud crash coming from her bedroom—her weight had broken the slats in the guest room bed, much to her embarrassment. Mama was concerned, but the rest of us thought it was hilarious. After that Mama instructed us to sit in her favorite antique love seat before Miss Olive could get to it any time she came into the living room. Otherwise it was usually Miss Olive’s choice because it was the only chair that really fit her bulk. The love seat survived and was given to Susan Guyton Reuter after Mama’s and Daddy’s deaths.

Tsi Tsung Yang as a young woman

Miss Olive was the reason that I never studied voice. She and Mama insisted that I sing for her to judge whether I should have lessons. She had an overwhelming personality that intimidated me thoroughly resulting in a weak thin rendition of some song. Her edict was that I must mature more, but it was obvious that she was not impressed. If my memory serves me correctly Tsi Tsung returned to China after that visit, but sometime later she escaped to the USA and lived in New York City as a refugee from the repressive Chinese regime. I never saw her again, though Mama continued to write to her.

Photo from a Christmas card sent by Dr. and Mrs. W.H. Yang. Tsi Tsung Yang appears to be the woman in the center with the patterned tunic.