We note an interesting family photo of John Espey as a boy of almost 6 years of age and his sister, Mary Frances Espey. who was 8 years old. The snapshot was taken in the garden of a girls' school in the missionary compound of South Gate, a suburb of Shanghai, China, in 1918. John wears a white short-pants summer suit in 1918. John and Mary Frances were the children of Presbyterian missionaries in China. John and
his sister were born and grew up in Shanghai, living in the two contrasted
worlds of the pious religious compound of the mission (at South Gate) and the
canals and alleys of Shanghai. In a memoir of his boyhood, John Espey,
now an emeritus professor of English at UCLA, writes about his schoolboy
clothes during the period of the 1920s (about 1920-24) in China. He was
dressed like most American boys of the period (his family was originally from
Iowa), although perhaps a bit more conservatively than some boys because of
the strict religiosity of his parents and also perhaps because he was living
abroad where American childhood fashions would be slower to catch on.
John and Mary Frances were the children of Presbyterian missionaries to China.
The history of Christian missionaies is extensive and an important chapter of European history. It is largely an account of the Catholic Church. This did not change until the 19th century when Victorians, especially the English, began to evangelize the Gospel. British missionaries set out to bring the Gospel to the new Empire. Protestant missionaries were different from the Catholic missionaries in that they brought their families with them. British colonial officizals by the 19th century were also bringing their families, but were more likely to live in cloistered foreign communities. The missionary families were more likely to live with the local population since their mission was to convert them. American Protestants also took up this mission, especially after the Civil War (1861-65).
American missionzaries went to many foreign locations, but no country fired the American missionary zeal more than China. The Espeys were part of this missionary effort. The missionaries themselves were concerned with salvation. There effort was, however, much more significant. With them they brought modernity and opening to a wider world. Often they set up schools, the first modern schools in China. In their wake came businessmen. They brought with them American products, stimulating a demand for these goods. Europeans seized control of treaty ports in China. The United States did not do this, but there were military consequences.
The Japanese invasion of China (1937) was accompanied with horendous attrocities against Chinese civilians. Reports from missionaries in China had a profound impact on American public opinion. Thus when President Roosevelt began a series of diplomatic efforts including embargoes to force Japan out of China, he received considerable support in still largely isolationist America.
We note an interesting family photo of John Espey as a boy of almost 6 years of age and his sister, Mary Frances Espey. who was 8 years old. John and
his sister were Americans, but were born and grew up in Shanghai, living in the two sharply contrasted worlds of the pious religious compound of the mission (at South Gate) and the canals and alleys of Shanghai.
The snapshot was taken in the garden of a girls' school in the missionary compound of South Gate, a suburb of Shanghai, China, in 1918.
John wears a white short-pants summer suit in 1918. It is a little difficult to make out precisely what he is wearing. I thought at forst he was wearing a tunic suit. But I think rather he is wearing a collar-buttoning Norfolk suit. I can't tell if he is wearing an Eton collar or if the collar is part of the suit. The suit has short pants rather than knickers. Notice the long black stockings, worn even in summer time. He was dressed like most American boys of the period (his family was originally from Iowa), although perhaps a bit more conservatively than some boys because of the strict religiosity of his parents and also perhaps because he was living abroad where American childhood fashions would be slower to catch on. In a memoir of his boyhood, John Espey, now an emeritus professor of English at UCLA, writes about his schoolboy clothes during the period of the 1920s (about 1920-24) in China.
"If the reader can clothe this young family skeleton [i.e. John at the age of
8 or 9] in long ribbed black cotton stockings reaching high above the knee, a
pair of blue serge shorts, and a blouse, he will begin to see me as I was in
those days [the early and mid-1920s]. The stockings, which turned a dark
metallic green after much washing, hitched to garters hung from a foundation
garment of light canvas called a waist. This waist was striped with tape and
circled by three tiers of buttons. One tier anchored the garters, the next
held up the shorts, and the third held down the blouse, which was gathered
together by a drawstring whose bow kept popping out from its hiding place. In
winter my ankles bulged with folds of long woolen underwear; in summer the
whole effect was topped by a large heavy pith helmet or a sailor straw lined
in Turkey red, under my chin a broad elastic dangling limp and sticky from
repeated chewings. Beneath all were the shoes. Our parents, wisely frugal,
bought sturdy button shoes, which my sister never wore out and passed down to
me when she had outgrown them. We both suffered, for our parents were always
quite neutral in their choice, and until my sister was thirteen, the two of us
wore shoes so stricly sexless that even the mates of a pair were identical." [Espey, pp. 42-43.] This description of a boy's underwaist in the 1920s and its relatioship to the rest of his clothes (the garters, the stockings, the short pants, and the blouse) is quite helpful in understanding how boys dressed at the yime. Note also Espey's mention of the long underwear, the shoes, and the headgear (a pith helmet and a straw sailor hat).
Espey describes the underwaists he wore in detail. We have few such descriptions by adults looking back on their boyhood. Underwaists were another type of support garment. Underwaists (sometimes called panty-waists) were worn by younger boys and girls to support additional underwear (such as bloomers or panties) or outer clothing (such as trousers or skirts). These bodices tended to be worn by boys only until about age 10, although some models came in ages for boys as old as 12. Some models were specifically for girls and others for boys, but the great majority of styles could be worn by both boys and girls. They tended to be made of elastic knitted fabric (and therefore rather form-fitting) or of cambric material and a bit looser. They nearly always were equipped with reinforcement straps, waist buttons, and garter tabs for attaching hose supporters. The popularity of underwaists declined in the later 1930s and early 1940s although they were still available, usually in the preferred knitted style, up until about 1945. When long stockings stopped being worn by school children, the main function of the underwaist ceased to exist.
A French Canadian reader writes, "Why children wore long stockings, even in summer, is another good question. When looking at their children dressed like this, parents were at ease with their conscience because they believe that innocence was is in their souls. From the point of view of the kids, things were different because the resented so many restrictions. That is why changes occured
rapidly in the Western World as society became more affluent. Modern parents nelieve in more informal, casual dress. Some do not even dress up the children for church on Sunday. When the portrait here was taken, the Church dictated clothing and it was a way of living for parents, not always for kids. Today Walmart is a dictator which is not very demanding. In my local Church (Catholic), parish priest do not dare ask parents to dress children properly. Some children even show up in clothing bordering on the indecent. The priests often are hesitantt to criticize because the family may not come to Church the following Sunday. On a very cold day of January this year, I saw a girl inproperly dressed who gave offerings to the priest. Rediculous!"
Several years ago I helped a friend write a short biography of Mr. Espey for the Christian Comics International website.
Here is a portion of that bio which I wish to inquire about: "In 1927 he collaborated with a (currently unknown) Chinese artist to produce a series of line sketches illustrating the life of Christ in Chinese style (but not Chinese figures). Produced for the China Sunday School Union, the series was called Bible Picture Cartoons and was aimed at Chinese children or adults new to the Christian message. The cartoons were issued four on a sheet, in wall scroll form and intended to be shown one by one as the Bible story was told. Reportedly, the sketches had heavy lines with little detail, so that they could be easily seen across the schoolroom and comprehended by scholars with little Bible knowledge. Accompanying the cartoons were leaflets with incomplete facsimiles of the cartoons to be filled in from memory by the pupils. These cartoons were prepared originally for the Primary and Daily Vacation Bible Schools, but were also available for use in country districts." My question---do you know of the whereabouts of any of these Chinese cartoons?" [Stevens] HBC does not, but we would be interested in any reader insights.
Espey, John. Minor Heresies, Major Departures: A Mission Boyhood (Berkeley: University of California Press, revised ed., 1994).
Stevens, Alec. E-mail message, February 12, 2008.
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