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Gertrude M. Hoffman Papers


Scope and Contents

Administrative Information

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Gertrude M. Hoffman Papers, 1933-1936 | Oberlin College Archives

By Melissa Gottwald, Anne Cuyler Salsich

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Collection Overview

Title: Gertrude M. Hoffman Papers, 1933-1936Add to your cart.

ID: RG 30/311

Primary Creator: Hoffman, Gertrude M. (1912-1981)

Extent: 1.75 Linear Feet

Date Acquired: 02/02/1999. More info below under Accruals.

Forms of Material: letters (correspondence), photograph albums, photographs, postcards

Languages: English

Scope and Contents of the Materials

The papers of Gertrude M. Hoffman consist of two series: Series 1. Correspondence, and Series 2. Albums.  The correspondence series comprises letters written to her family while she was teaching at the Oberlin Shansi Memorial School in Taigu, Shanxi, China, from 1933 to 1936.  These letters describe her daily activities, classes taught, Chinese customs observed, visits to other parts of China and to Japan and Korea, and her study of the Chinese language.  The March 1936 correspondence discusses the Communist army's movements in Shanxi Province which caused Hoffman and her colleagues to leave Taigu for Beijing.  Hoffman's letters frequently mention other teachers and fellow Americans in China; they include Raymond T. Moyer (A.B. 1921), Paul Corbin (B.D. 1903), Joseph Hamilton (A.B. 1933), Richard G. (Dick) Irwin (A.B. 1932, A.M. 1936), Elizabeth (Betty) James (Mrs. R.G. Irwin; A.B. 1932, A.M. 1936), Mark Wu, Josephine Hamilton (Mrs. H.E. Van Meter; S.Mus.B. 1935, A.B. 1939), Mr. and Mrs. Leonard Wilbur, and Mr. and Mrs. Myron S. Burton.

Series 2 comprises two dis-bound photograph albums with attached photographs and postcards dating from Hoffman’s time in China and reflect the people, places and activities with which she engaged as a representative from Oberlin.  The albums significantly complement the correspondence series and provide images of persons with whom she corresponded, and of places mentioned in her letters.

Collection Historical Note

Gertrude Marilla Cheney was born March 20, 1912, in Springfield, Massachusetts.  She was the daughter of Ralph Loren Cheney (1872-1964; S.B. 1898) and Frances Stiles Cheney (1880-1946; A.B. 1901).  She spent her early years in Springfield, where her father was a professor of sociology and social ethics and director of the courses in YMCA administration at Springfield College.  The Cheney family moved to New Haven, Connecticut, in 1924 when Ralph Cheney accepted the position of General Secretary of the New Haven YMCA.

After graduating from New Haven Hillhouse High School in 1928, Gertrude Cheney spent a year studying French and music in Geneva, Switzerland.  She entered the freshman class of Oberlin College in 1929.  While at Oberlin, she majored in French and was active in extracurricular activities, including the Y.W.C.A., Cosmopolitan Club, Oberlin Band, and the All-Star Volleyball team.  In addition, she was President of French House and chairman of the Women's Honor Court.  She graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1933.

Gertrude Cheney was one of two members of the Class of 1933 selected to teach English at the Oberlin Shansi Memorial School in Taiku, Shansi, China.  During 1934 she also served as English secretary to Dr. Y. P. Mei (A.B. 1924), the acting president of the school.  In March of 1936, Chinese Communist armies moved into Shansi province, and the school was forced to close.  Gertrude Cheney, along with several other Shansi representatives, left Taiku to seek safety in Peiping.  They were able to return to Taiku in April, and she resumed her teaching duties until her term as Shansi representative ended in June 1936.

After leaving China, Gertrude Cheney returned to Oberlin to serve as the graduate assistant in Churchill House and to pursue graduate studies under a scholarship program for returned Shansi representatives. In 1937-38, she was a student at Yale University, and she received the M.A. degree from that institution in 1941. In 1938 she moved to Paterson, New Jersey, to take up the position of YWCA Secretary.  In 1943-44, she was a recipient of the Kappa Alpha Theta scholarship at Columbia University in New York, where she studied in their Civilian Training in International Administration, specializing in China.

On June 24, 1944, Gertrude Cheney married Donald O. Hoffman.  The couple moved to Columbus, Ohio, where Donald Hoffman was pursuing doctoral studies in chemistry at the Ohio State University.  During this time Gertrude Hoffman worked as a teaching assistant in the French Department at the Ohio State University.  Donald Hoffman received his Ph.D. in 1948, and the couple subsequently spent three and a half years in Cairo, Egypt, where he was a biochemist with the U.S. Navy Medical Research unit.

Upon their return to the United States in the 1950s, the Hoffmans settled in Sturbridge, Massachusetts.  In 1958 Gertrude Hoffman began working in the Joshua Hyde Public Library in Sturbridge as a part-time library assistant while learning library work.  During this time she also worked part-time in the Museum Education Department of Old Sturbridge Village.  Gertrude Hoffman was named Head Librarian of the Joshua Hyde Public Library in 1963, and served in this position until her death in 1981.

Gertrude and Donald Hoffman had three children: Jeanne Frances Berger (b. 1946; A.B. 1967), Carolyn Sue Furrevig (b.1948), and Paul Curtis Hoffman (b. 1950).

Gertrude Cheney Hoffman died in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, on October 12, 1981.

Sources Consulted

Papers of Gertrude M. Hoffman (RG30/311), and student file of Gertrude M. Hoffman (RG28).

Administrative Information

Repository: Oberlin College Archives

Accruals: Accession No: 1999/008, 2016/039.

Access Restrictions: Unrestricted.

Acquisition Method: The correspondence was donated to the Oberlin Shansi Memorial Association by Donald O. Hoffman in 1997, and deposited in the Archives in 1999.  The photograph album pages were given to OSMA by Jeanne Hoffman Berger; OSMA transferred them to the Archives in August 2016.

Related Materials:

The following collections in the Oberlin College Archives contain materials relating to missionary work in China:

            15          Records of the Oberlin Shansi Memorial Association

            38/1      Missionaries

            21          Oberlin File; Section II; Folder 21 (Rowena Bird letter, 1900)

            30/67    George Nelson Allen

            30/76    Willard L. Beard

            30/49    Paul Leaton Corbin

            30/130  Everett D. Hawkins

            30/26    Margaret Portia Mickey

            30/260  Raymond T. Moyer

            30/42    Missionary Letters of C. N. Pond

            30/145  A. Clair Siddall, M.D.

            30/322  Francis F. & Emma B. Tucker

            30/288  Herbert & Josephine (Hamilton) Van Meter

            30/58    Mr. and Mrs. George L. (Alice Moon) Williams

            30/21    George Frederick Wright

See RG 15 Oberlin Shansi Memorial Association, Subgroup II, Series 4 and Subgroup IV, Series 1 for letters and reports from Gertrude (Cheney) Hoffman.

RG 30/288 includes letters from Gertrude Hoffman's mother, Francis Cheney, to Josephine Hamilton Van Meter's parents concerning their daughters' experiences in China and news about the Communist army in Shansi.

Finding Aid Revision History: Processed by Melissa Gottwald, July 2001.  Revised by Anne Cuyler Salsich, August 2016.

Box and Folder Listing

Browse by Series:

[Series 1: Correspondence, 1933-1936],
[Series 2: Albums, 1933-1936],

Series 1: Correspondence, 1933-1936Add to your cart.
Box 1Add to your cart.
Folder 1: Correspondence, 1933-1934Add to your cart.
1933 August 18 through 1934 August 27
Folder 2: Correspondence, 1934-1935Add to your cart.
1934 September 21 through 1935 June 28
Folder 3: Correspondence, 1935-1936Add to your cart.
1935 July 5 through 1936 June 16

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