February 4, 2013

Artifact: Photograph of Missionary Olive Gruen with seven orphans in China

Date: 1939

Significance: Olive Gruen was the first female LCMS missionary in the China mission field. She served for nearly forty years (1921 to 1960) in China and then in Taiwan following the Communist takeover in 1949. The photo is from Gruen’s time as the superintendent of girls at the LCMS orphanage in Enshih, China. A note on the back of the photograph states that both of the babies that Gruen was holding died about a month later.

Gruen’s time at the orphanage was during the Second Sino-Japanese War. The war was raging in east China when Gruen was given the reassignment to the orphanage. Enshih was in the interior, presumably a safer area. However, Gruen wrote to the LCMS Mission Board during her journey from Hankow to Enshih that “Even here in the interior, the movements of troops and interrupted communications keep us constantly reminded of the trouble.”

During her two years in Enshih, Gruen reorganized the orphanage, taught religion and singing classes, helped poor children in the neighborhood with night-school work and started a kindergarten. Serving at the orphanage was a tough job. The orphans there were very sickly, many having been deserted by their parents at the orphanage for that reason. Death was a common occurrence at the orphanage as living conditions prior to a child’s arrival were so dismal that recovery from malnourishment and illness was not possible. In fact, seventy-five percent of the thirty-nine babies at the orphanage during Gruen’s years there died early deaths.1

Check out our new display celebrating 100 years of missions in China. It is located in the lobby of CHI’s main building on the campus of Concordia Seminary, Saint Louis. The display presents the early history of the mission, including numerous photographs of the mission and missionaries and featuring cultural artifacts from China.


1Much of the information about Olive Gruen’s time at the orphanage was taken from One Cup of Water: Five true stories of missionary women in China, edited by Janice Kerper Brauer and published by the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League (1997).

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