D. G. Tewksbury

You read that title correctly – today I will be profiling Donald George Tewksbury, who was born in Tung Chow (Tongzhou, a district of Beijing), China on 9 April 1894. I found his name in the 1919 Directory of the Chinese Students’ Christian Journal, and at first I thought this may have been an Elizabeth Cornish situation, where this Chinese student had a Western father and a Chinese mother. But D. G. Tewksbury was actually born to two American missionaries, and his story has so much to do with the Boxer Rebellion I thought it would be interesting to profile him here. I do feel a little weird profiling a Westerner here in this blog dedicated to Chinese voices, and I’ll go into that at the end of this post. Hopefully there’s enough of use in D. G. Tewksbury’s life story to make the profile worthwhile.

Donald George Tewksbury, from the Bard College Archives.

D. G. Tewksbury was born to Elwood Gardner Tewksbury and his wife Grace Holbrook, who were doing missionary work in the Beijing area between 1890-1898 and 1899-1906. E. G. Tewksbury also taught physics and chemistry at North China College at this time (Columbia University Archives, Elwood G. and Donald G. Tewksbury Papers, 1872 – 1959). It was during his fathers’ first posting that D. G. Tekwsbury was born.

In June of 1900, the Boxer Rebellion, which had been active in northern China for the past few months, led a march on Beijing with the goal of getting rid of foreigners and foreign influence in the Qing Dynasty court. Many foreigners who were living in the city retreated to the Beijing Legation Quarter, where many embassies and consulates were located. Little D. G. Tewksbury, only 6 years old at the time, along with his parents and brother, were among the foreigners to seek shelter there. In fact, we have his impressions of the siege itself, related to an interviewer 3 years later when he was 8 years old:

“Three years ago I was in the siege of Peking. We left Tungcho by night in Chinese carts, and went to the Methodist Mission. We put all our baggage in the church, and some of us slept there every night, because we were afraid of an attack at any time.

We all went in a crowd to the English Legation. We had to live in the church there. We were very crowded. First we slept on the floor, but later, my papa made a little room in the attic just big enough for us to sleep in.

We ate brown bread, musty rice, horse meat and cracked wheat mush every day. Papa, Gardner [his brother] and I ate some brown, strong smelling Chinese jam on our bread, when we could not get butter.

The Chinese soldiers were around us all the time, shooting with big guns and rifles, trying to kill us. They tried to burn our houses, by burning the houses around us, but they did not succeed. The girls had their dolls to play with, but we boys tried to build a tent, but the wind blew it down several times. Mr. Galt succeeded in building it so it would stay. Every Sunday, Mrs. Arthur Smith had a Sunday School class for the children.

A Boxer shot off one of the little images on the roof of the church, and it fell on Mrs. Smith’s tent.

There were lots of messengers that started for Tientsin with letters to the troops. Some of the messengers had their leters [sic] sewed in their coats, stockings or hats, for fear the Boxers would find them. One, a little boy, went as a beggar. He put his letter in his bowl of porridge and he succeeded in getting to Tientsin and back again.

In the night of the 13th of August we heard some foreign guns, and we knew it must be the troops. On the next day they came into the English Legation.

They were so tired that they dropped right on the ground and we all passed them tea and water.

On Saturday we went to a Prince’s Palace to live. The Prince was nine years old, and had a cart and a little donkey.

I was glad to come out of the siege, and live in a house. We were glad God saved us from being killed.”

-quoted in Mateer, A. H (1903). Siege days: Personal experiences of American women and children during the Peking siege. Beijing: F. H. Revell Company. pp. 358-359

This siege, of course, was what led to the 8-party Western military response and the unequal treaty which forced China to pay the Boxer Indemnity.


The Tewksbury family, at the end of their posting in 1906, were moved to New York City, where father E. G. Tewksbury served as the executive director of the Laymen’s and Young People’s Missionary Movement (Tewksbury Archives). They stayed for several years, which means that D. G. Tewksbury showed up on the 1910 Federal Census where he lived with his family at 3279 Perry Avenue in the Bronx (link to ancestry.com copy). Interestingly, some of the information in this census report is inaccurate. Neither Donald nor his brother Gardner were born in Ohio, and their 10 month old sister was probably not born in Massachusetts. But it does list their parents as missionaries who were actively working.

They returned to China in 1910 as father E. G. Tewksbury became the first secretary for the China Sunday School Union (Tekwsbury Archives). This was located at 120A Szechuen Road in Shanghai. The only records I have of what D. G. Tewksbury was doing at this time are more mysterious than enlightening. He must have attended school, but I don’t know whether he went to one of the missionary colleges, like St. John’s, or whether he attended a private international high school. But in 1913, at the age of 19 years old, he applied for an emergency US passport for the purpose of “travel[ling] through the Russian Dominions”, and he wanted the passport for a year (link to passport application). What in the world he was doing on this trip is unknown.

He applied for another emergency passport in 1917, listing his occupation as “student”, and applying for this passport for the purpose of “travel to the United States via the Pacific”, which seems a little overly specific/snarky to me (link to passport application). The application states that he will return to the US from his travel within one month of applying, but that’s not technically true, as going to the US WAS the travel he wanted to do, so I assume he let his previous passport lapse and then found he needed documentation to enter the United States to study. Illustrating that bureaucracy is the same in all historical time periods, or possibly that people always leave things to the last minute, the passport application was approved on 12 Jan 1917 . . . two days after he left China on his way to the United States. He probably had to carry this application form around to prove that he was a citizen at all…

22-year-old D. G. Tewksbury, from his 1917 passport application.


He left from Hong Kong on 10 January 1917 and arrived in Vancouver on the 31st (link to ship’s manifest). Like many other Christian students from China, he was headed to study at Oberlin College. I’m not exactly sure when he began at Oberlin, whether he started in the spring semester of 1917 or waited until the fall, but he shows up in the 1918 Register as a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. His hometown was listed as Shanghai, and he was living in the Men’s Dormitory (pg. 208). But by 1919, he had already transferred to Columbia, which is where he was when I found him in the Chinese Students’ Christian Journal Directory list. He’s listed as a member of the SATC (Student Army Training Corps), Company F, out of Columbia University (pg. 70).

D. G. Tewksbury earned his AB in 1920 and his AM from the Columbia University Teacher’s College in 1921, according to the 1931 Columbia Alumni Register (pg. 871). At this point, he had already begun what would be a lifelong study: that of international students and the history of colleges and universities. He wrote an article for Christian China, the successor to the Chinese Students’ Christian Journal, titled “The Migration of Students in the World’s History”, evidencing this interest (Vol. 7 No. 7, pg. 356). And not long after graduation, he would put this interest into practice as well as follow in his father’s footsteps by returning to China and taking part in its educational system.


He and his wife, whom he married in 1922, both headed to China and settled in Beijing. Although D. G. Tewksbury was a professor of education at Peking University, he was also the American Board Mission Representative on the Peking University faculty (Annual Report of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, 1922-23, pg. 107). This was probably the Methodist Peking University, and not Beida, because of the references to Yenching College, a school it would later join as Yenching University. He remained at Peking University until 1927, when he left on furlough (The China Press, 10 Feb 1927). By that point he had risen to become the registrar of the men’s college.

D. G. Tewksbury and his wife took their furlough the long way around the globe, because they arrived in New York City from Southampton on 17 August 1927 (link to ship’s manifest). They were headed to New Haven, Connecticut, probably to visit his wife’s family, but they eventually settled in New York City. This is where he and his family show up on the 1930 Census (link). Interestingly, we have another census with slightly incorrect information. D. G. Tewksbury’s race was recorded as Chinese, and he was also recorded as a native Chinese speaker who first arrived to the US in 1906. This was later crossed out, and a W (for white) was written above the Ch originally recorded as his race. It’s fascinating to me how this error in recording could have happened. I’m sure D. G. Tewksbury spoke Chinese from a very young age and probably grew up bilingual, but few people who are bilingual from birth have a “foreign accent” in either of their languages, and the census taker could not have mistaken him for a native Chinese person (except… the census taker apparently DID, based solely on his word that he grew up in China and first came to the US in 1906!). His wife and 1-year-old son are listed as white with no corrections.


They were living at 106 Morningside Drive in 1930, but by 1931 they had moved to 90 Morningside Drive (Columbia Alumni Register, pg.). D. G. Tewksbury was a professor at Columbia University, but he was also studying for his PhD at the Columbia University Teacher’s College, which he earned in 1932 (Donald G. Tewksbury Memorial Fund). His dissertation was most likely at least the beginnings of the book that would make him famous, or at least academia-famous: The Founding of American Colleges and Universities Before the Civil War, which is still considered a foundational work in the discipline today.


He had become an associate professor at Columbia by 1933, according to the New York City Directory, and continued to live at 90 Morningside Drive (link). However, the family would soon move to Annandale-on-Hudson, a village in the Hudson River Valley and the location of Bard College, where D. G. Tewksbury was appointed Dean of the College. “Although Dean for only 4 years,” the Wikipedia article on Bard College states, “Tewksbury had a lasting impact on the school. Tewksbury, an educational philosopher, had extensive ideas regarding higher education. While he was Dean, Tewksbury steered the college into a more secular direction, and changed its name from St. Stephens to Bard. He also placed a heavy academic emphasis on the arts, something atypical of colleges at the time, and set the foundations for Bard’s Moderation and Senior Project requirement… Although Tewksbury never used the term progressive to describe Bard’s curriculum, the school would later be considered an early adopter of progressive education.” 

After his tenure as Dean, D. G. Tewksbury returned to Columbia as a professor of the history of education. He also kept up the international travel. In September of 1937, he returned from a trip to Asia (link). In 1940, the Census records him as living at 5 Paradise Road in Brownville, New York with his wife, son, and housekeeper (link). In 1942, his WWII Draft card repeats the 5 Paradise Road address and states that he was working at Columbia (link). In late August of 1947, D. G. Tewksbury arrived at Southampton on the way to 10 St. James Square in London (link to entry paperwork). This was the address of The Royal Institute of International Affairs, an organization dedicated to the study of international issues and Cold War relations. He returned that same October, this time to the address of 2 Olden Place in Bronxville – this is the same place as Brownville, and the address is often spelled “Alden Place” (link to ship’s manifest).

D. G. Tewksbury remained active into the 1950s, authoring the “Source Book on Far Eastern Ideologies” (Book Review, The China Weekly Review, 5 Aug 1950), as well as traveling to Le Havre for 5 months in 1953 (link), and to Paris in 1954 (link). However, he was in his late 50s and slowing down. On 8 December, 1958, he passed away and was buried in Connecticut (Find A Grave link), presumably with his wife, as his parents both passed away in Shanghai and were buried in the Bubbling Well Road Cemetery.


So, what can we say about D. G. Tewksbury. Was he a Chinese student? He was born in China and came to the US for university training. But he was always a white Westerner, even from birth, no matter what that 1930 Census taker seemed to think. He was always interested in China and the educational system in China, and indeed around the world, but he definitely had a neocolonial attitude towards the entire system. Here’s a quote from probably one of the last things he wrote:


We may draw encouragement and strength from the fact that there is an America that is ready to move forward to become a part of the world. The prospects for international education in this country will be immeasurably improved when this positive conception of the role of America in the world becomes the accepted ideal of the American people. – Tewksbury, D. (1959). American Education and the International Scene. Teachers College Record, 60(7), 357-368.

However, after reading the Chinese Students’ Monthly for all this time, I have to say that sentiment is not so different than the attitude many native Chinese students who came to study in the US had towards the American educational system. On the other hand (I think I have run out of hands here), it makes a difference whether that sentiment is felt by someone who represents said educational system, and someone who wants to access it from the outside.


I don’t know that I will profile another non-Chinese student here in this blog, but I think it’s important to recognize how the Boxer Indemnity Scholars movement was impacted, both negatively and positively, by Western powers who didn’t always have the Chinese students’ interests at heart, or at the very least, wanted to remake these students in their own image. Sometimes it takes seeing the exact same viewpoints in another person to realize the possible downsides to them. We don’t think of it the same way when H. J. Fei writes, “I intend to see [my children] all through the Peking American School (Junior and Senior High), so that they may have (1st) the Spirit of the America[n way], (2nd) English & Chinese which are the most important tools . . . (3rd) and then the general culture and education…”, or when C. H. Chu encourages the UK to begin its own Boxer Indemnity Scholarship program, as we do when we read that a guy named Donald Tewksbury states that America should lead the world in international education. If nothing else, I hope this post has given you a new perspective on this scholarship program.

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