Missionary Correspondence from Wŏnsan, 1934

Old Korea Seals

The cover discussed in the article is from Mrs. C. N. Weems, a Methodist missionary in Wŏnsan, Korea in 1934.

The Cover (front)

The envelope is addressed to the White Sewing Machine Company of Cleveland, Ohio. Founded in 1858 in Massachusetts, the company relocated to Ohio in 1866. It was one of the major competitors to the Singer Sewing Machine Company. The address is given as Main and Elm Streets, which must be the current Main Avenue and Elm Street. Examination of a Google map indicates that the area is now principally a leisure rather than a manufacturing quarter.

Postage to the value of 16 sen is attached. The 10 sen issue (Sakura 215) depicting Nagoya Castle is part of a three-issue series (additional values of 2 and 3 sen) first issued in 1926. The 10 sen issue with the image of Nagoya Castle was reissued in 1937 but in red (Sakura 217). The 3 sen stamp is either Sakura 160 or 169, both of which were part of two definitive sets issued in 1926.

Fig 1: The front of the envelope sent in 1934 from Korea to Cleveland, Ohio, USA.

There are two cancellations. The cancellation between the 10 sen and the first 3 sen stamps is very indistinct. The second cancellation shows that the cover was franked as posted in Gensan (元山, Korean: Wŏnsan) on 9.6.6. Read from left to right, this is the ninth year of the reign of Emperor Hirohito, the sixth month and sixth day, i.e., 6 June, 1934. At the bottom of the circular cancellation there is the phrase 后 8-12, the meaning of which I am uncertain.

The Cover (back)

The flap on the back of the cover gives the details of the sender, Mrs. Weems. This is a printed envelope used by her husband, Clarence Norwood Weems, and amended with the handwritten ‘Mrs.’ to indicate that the letter has been sent by her rather than by her husband.

There is a very faint indication of a ‘cancellation’ on the left-hand side of the flap with the outline of a circle, and a number (9 ?).

Fig 2: The back of the envelope sent by Mrs. C.N. Weems from Wŏnsan , Korea with the 1934 50th Anniversary of Korean Methodism seal.

The top line (read from right to left) is朝鮮元山魏任世 (Chosŏn Wŏnsan Wi Im Se according to the Korean pronunciation of the characters). The first four characters give the name of the nation as used by the Japanese colonial government and the city of residence. In Japanese these would be read as Chōsen Gensan. The next three characters are Mr. Weem’s surname written as a phonetic transcription. This type of transcription for a surname was a common practice amongst missionaries while other missionaries adopted or were given purely Korean sounding names.

The second line simply gives an abbreviation of Mr. Weem’s name, while the bottom line gives the name of the city and the nation. The Weems family was well known and no further designation of their residence was necessary. However, the interesting point here is that the address is given according to the Korean pronunciation of the Chinese characters and the nation was called ‘Korea’. From the late 1920s until the end of the Second World War, the colonial government pursued a policy of the unity of Japan and Korea which meant the exclusive use of the Japanese language, and eventually the replacement of all Korean surnames and individual Korean names by Japanese names. The colonial government in all its external publications about Korea only used the term ‘Chōsen’ as the name for Korea.

At the bottom of the page providing publication details in Japanese of the 1935 edition of the Methodist book of canon law, doctrines and liturgy (Kidokkyo Chosŏn Kamni-hoe Kyori-wa Changjŏng = Book of Doctrines and Discipline of the Korean Methodist Church) there was a phrase in bold Latin letters stating ‘PRINTED IN KOREA’. This happened only once. Mr. Weems’s use of the name ‘Korea’ and referring to his city of residence as ‘Wŏnsan’ and not ‘Gensan’ was a subtle but unambiguous statement of his pro-Korean sentiments.

Across the bottom of the flap a seal was affixed commemorating the ‘50th Anniversary of Korean Methodism. The focus of the seal is a map of the Korean peninsula showing its connection to Manchuria to the north, and the island of Cheju-do to the south. The commemorative phrase is in English at the top, and in columnar form on the right-hand side in Chinese characters as 監理敎會五十周年祈念. In Korean this is reads as ‘Kamni kyohoe osip chunyŏn kinyŏm’. ‘Kamni kyohoe’ is the term for the ‘Methodist Church’. The term ‘Kamni’ which means a ‘superintendent’ or ‘overseer’ refers to the formal name of the Methodist Church in America. It was known as the ‘Methodist Episcopal Church’ because leadership was exercised through ‘bishops’. ‘Osip chunyŏn’ is ‘50th year’ and ‘kinyŏm’ is ‘commemoration’.

On the left is the mission slogan ‘Korea for Christ’ and giving the dates of 1894-1934. There were two American Methodist denominations sending missionaries to Korea – the Methodist Episcopal Church (Northern Methodists) and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South (Southern Methodists). In 1845, at the meeting of the governing body or General Conference of the Methodist Church, the Church split over the issue of slavery leading to the formation of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South in the southern states of the US. The two branches of American Methodism did not reunite until 1939. However, in 1930 the two Methodist mission bodies in Korea merged their two missionary Conferences to form a single and fully independent Korean Methodist Church called ‘Kidokkyo Chosŏn Kamni-hoe’ (基督敎朝鮮監理會). So, the fifty years being commemorated refers not to the beginnings of Southern Methodist Missions in Korea, but to the appointment of the first American Methodist missionary to Korea, Henry Gerhart Appenzeller (1858-1902), who was a Northern Methodist.

The peninsula has at its top a cross, and at its bottom an open Bible, symbolising the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, and the Word of God. In the middle is a kneeling man who appears to hammering or building something in front of him. In the middle of the peninsula are sketches of either churches or cities. Whichever is the case, the location of these sketches corresponds roughly to the territory of the Korean Methodist Church. In 1908, the Presbyterian and Methodist missionaries in Korea had signed a Comity Agreement whereby only one of the missions would operate in a particular region of Korea to avoid unseemly competition amongst them. The two Methodist missions were given areas within the central zone of the peninsula.

This Methodist commemorative seal was designed by Dr. Sherwood Hall (1893-1991) of Kaesŏng. He and his wife Dr. Marian Bottomley Hall (1896-1991) who worked in the tuberculosis sanatorium in that city created the TB seal movement in Korea to support the work of the clinic. Dr. Sherwood Hall was responsible for the design of the first Korean Christmas Seal. More details about the seal and Dr. Hall’s design can be found in an article published in 17 August 2019 on the Korea Stamp Society website.

The Sender

The sender, Mrs. C. N. Weems, is Nancy Ellen Askew Weems (1879-1944). She was born in Magnolia, Columbia County, Arkansas and married Clarence Norwood Weems (1875-1952) in 1902. They were appointed to serve as Southern Methodist missionaries to Korea in 1909 and arrived there with their two sons David Askew (1904-1987) and Clarence Norwood Jr. (1907-1996). They had two further sons – William Rupert Weems (1911-2002) and Benjamin Burch Weems (1914-1986). Son David initially became a Methodist missionary to Korea (1930-1933) and then a Methodist minister in upstate New York. Clarence Jr. edited the history of Korea written by Homer Hulbert in 1905, and which was published in 1962. William lived and worked in Korea at different times, while Benjamin lived and worked largely as an educator in south Korea until his death in 1986. Clarence and Nancy Weems worked principally in Songdo (松都), modern Kaesŏng (開城). Following a brief sabbatical leave, the Weemses returned to Korea in 1933, but were assigned to Wŏnsan rather that to Songdo. They remained there until 1940 when most missionaries were expelled from Korea by the Japanese. Nancy Weems died in the United States in 1944; Clarence remarried in 1947 but died five years later.[/su_members]


1 thought on “Missionary Correspondence from Wŏnsan, 1934

  1. Hello James,
    后 8-12 means “PM 8-12” and is a time sequence in japanese native style postmarks (for domestic mails) used January 1906- June 1965. After that, the AM/PM characters were dropped and the “24 hours” types introduced: e.g. PM 6-12 was replaced by 18-24.
    The earliest recorded postmarks of the 24-hours type is Tokyo 40.7.1 (1 July 1965).

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