Blog #11 Gage and Buck

Susan Savion 2 July 2017

There are MANY women who have been left out of history.  It was done on purpose to Matilda, but others were simply forgotten, diminished or obscured over the years. The term “The Matilda Effect” was named after Matilda Joslyn Gage because she “dug up” and wrote about many women who were inventors, artists, scientists, etc., whose accomplishments were attributed to men.  This was often because women could not obtain copyrights. But I have had the good fortune to re-discover a familiar name, Pearl S. Buck.buck

Like many of you, I read The Good Earth in my younger years. I enjoyed it but had no realization of the depth and accomplishments of this woman.  Like Gage, she was extremely intelligent, passionate about social justice causes and outspoken. As the author of Pearl S. Buck:  A Cultural Biography, Peter Conn, has said of her, “…her once-remarkable prominence makes her indispensable to any account of America’s twentieth-century intellectual and imaginative life.”The Good Earth

Her publishers during the 1950’s would refuse outright to print what she really wanted to say. (Matilda purchased her own newspaper and wrote articles in other newspapers in order to get her message out!)   Buck’s progressive ideals conflicted with the conservative times. But just like Matilda, she did not let that stop her from pushing her causes.  She left a legacy which continues to save lives.MUTUAL UNDERSTANDINGThroughout her American years, Pearl Buck was one of the leading figures in the effort to promote cross-cultural understanding between Asia and the United States. Both in Asia and the United States, Buck devoted much of her time and money to the welfare of children.  In particular, she worked for children who were mentally or physically disabled or were disadvantaged because of their race. She founded Welcome House, the first international, interracial adoption agency in the United States. The adoption agencies that existed at that time (1941) considered Asian and Amerasian children to be unadoptable. In forty-five years, Welcome House has placed over five thousand of these children in American homes.

Buck with Chinese baby

I got first-hand knowledge of the above because the class I was taking at OASIS in Syracuse on Pearl S. Book was being taught by the mother of one of these Chinese babies.  Several of the class members were also parents of adopted Asian babies! Welcome House was only one of a dozen major projects Buck had initiated in support of children’s welfare and interracial understanding. Buck’s commitment to human service also parallels Gage’s equal zeal for social justice

The award-winning author Toni Morrison, in reflecting on her early reading of Buck’s novels said, “She misled me . . . and made me feel that all writers wrote sympathetically,  empathetically, honestly and forthrightly about other cultures.”  This is because Buck represented Chinese characters with much empathy and compassion. Buck has the distinction of sharing the honor of winning a Nobel prize for literature with only one other American woman who has done so, Toni Morrison.

It was at the time of the Japanese invasion of China that Buck moved back to the U.S.  China was being torn apart by civil war and violence toward foreigners.  She bought a dilapidated eighteenth-century farmhouse in Bucks County, north of Philadelphia. From this Green Hills Farm, she raised Carol, her only naturally-born child. Carol, was afflicted with phenylketonuria which caused her to be mentally retarded.  The Bucks adopted seven more children.

This homestead was also where she continued to write and to manage her various organizations that she had founded to address the problems of ethnic hatred.  She also addressed the problems of displaced and disadvantaged children. When she was given the run-around by adoption agencies, she famously said: “I was indignant so I started my own damn agency!”

The Pearl S. Buck Foundation tried to organize support for families in foreign countries, especially the poor.  She worked with Korea, Okinawa, Vietnam, The Philippines and Thailand.Pearl S. Buck

Throughout World War II, despite her close association with Chinese resistance to Japanese aggression, Buck was one of the few Americans who spoke out strongly against the U.S. internment of Japanese-Americans.

Buck was also active throughout her adult life in the American civil rights movement. Buck was born in West Virginia to missionaries.  She was taken to China at three months of age and lived there for most of the next forty years except for some college education in America. Pearl had grown up bilingual and spoke and read in both English and Chinese.  She had a favorite metaphor; she called herself “culturally bifocal.”  When she moved back to the United States in 1934, she became a regular contributor to Crisis, a magazine put out by the NAACP.  She also contributed to the National Urban League’s journal, Opportunity.  A longtime executive secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said that there were only two white Americans who really understood the reality of Black life.  Both were women:  Eleanor Roosevelt and Pearl S. Buck.OWN THE WORLD QUOTEDecades before most white intellectuals paid attention to racial injustice, Pearl Buck made major contributions to the American struggle for civil rights.  She served on the Urban League board and was an active trustee of predominantly black Howard University for many years. Howard awarded her an honorary degree in 1942. Her address to them was on the complex issue of black patriotism in the early days of World War II. Throughout the 1940s, Buck associated herself with such writers as W. E. B. Du Bois in opposing British colonialism. Buck’s friendships in the 1930s and 1940s included Paul and Eslanda Robeson. In 1949, Pearl and Eslanda co-authored a book called American Argument, a dialogue on American racism.220px-Pearl_Buck_1972

Buck’s efforts on behalf of equality included tireless support for women’s rights. She promoted modern birth control and called her friend Margaret Sanger “one of the most courageous women of our times,” a person whose name “would go down in history” as a modern crusader for justice. In the 1930s and 1940s, Buck also spoke out repeatedly in support of an Equal Rights Amendment for women, at a time when opposition to it included the majority of organized women’s groups. Her novels, short stories, and essays regularly raised questions about the racial and sexual attitudes of the era.

Here is a quote from Buck’s novel Pavilion of Women, which was published in 1946.  She relates in this Chinese woman’s mind a similar description to Gage’s analysis of medieval opinions of men toward women as expressed in her Woman, Church and State:

“…Such, then, was the unhappiness that lay between men and women.   Man believed in his own individual meaning, but woman knew that she meant nothing for herself, except as she fulfilled her place in creating more life.  And because men loved women as part of themselves, and women never loved men except as part of what must be created, this was the struggle that made man forever dissatisfied.  He could not possess the woman because she was already possessed by a force larger than his own desire.

     Had she not created even him?  Perhaps for that he never forgave her, but hated her and fought her secretly, and dominated her and oppressed her and kept her locked in houses and her feet bound and her waist tied, and forbade her wages and skills and learning, and widowed her when he was dead, and burned her sometimes to ashes, pretending that it was her faithfulness that did it.”

 Pearl S. Buck’s own father also believed that women were meant to serve man.  Her father, Absalom Sydenstricker, was a Presbyterian missionary stationed in the small town of Chinkiang, outside Nanking, China. Pearl had been born on June 26, 1892.  This was just a few years before Gage’s death in 1898.  (Gage published Woman, Church and State in 1893.) It was more than two decades after this before women got the right to vote.  However, in the 1930’s, when Buck was in her early 40’s, she worked for passage of an Equal Rights Amendment for women.QUOTE

Buck’s collection of feminist essays, Of Men and Women, which was once compared to the work of Virginia Woolf, could be part of contemporary discussions of gender in America.Of MEN AND WOMEN. Pearl S. Buck wrote over seventy books, many of them bestsellers, including fifteen Book-of-the-Month Club selections. She wrote in virtually every genre of writing: novels, short stories, plays, biography, autobiography, translations (from the Chinese), children’s literature, essays, journalism, poetry. Yet, most of us are not conscious of what she accomplished and produced, nor the progressive content of her character.  She didn’t disappear, but she seemed to be “hidden in plain sight”, as her many accomplishments were obscured beneath a simplistic veneer that hid her complexity and achievements.  I only knew her as the author of The Good Earth

She was often the victim of political hostility, attacked by the right for her active civil rights efforts but distrusted by the left because of her vocal anti-Communism. James Michener, who served on the original Welcome House board of directors, said this about her:  “She was a spokesman on all sorts of issues: freedom of the press, freedom of religion, the adoptability of disadvantaged children, the future of China, especially the battle for women’s rights, for education. If you followed in her trail, as I did, you were put in touch with almost every major movement in the United States — intellectual, social, and political.”

Her life and writing helped to define the role of women in modern society. She lobbied successfully to change American attitudes and policies in the areas of immigration, adoption, minority rights, and mental health. In 1999 she was designated a Women’s History Month Honoree by the National Women’s History Project. [We need her again NOW—though many are being motivated to step up to defend these very areas.]

I hope this little blog can help to restore the life Buck led to greater visibility. She is my newest hero! She lived an unapologetic life.


Works Published by Pearl S. Buck (She published yet other books under the pen name of John Sedges! Because of the times, she knew books written by males were more likely to get published.):


East Wind, West Wind
The Good Earth
The Young Revolutionist
All Men Are Brothers
The First Wife and Other Stories
The Mother
A House Divided
House of Earth
This Proud Heart
The Patriot
Stories for Little Children
Other Gods: An American Legend
Today and Forever: Stories of China
Dragon Seed
China Sky
The Chinese Children Next Door
The Water-Buffalo Children
Twenty-seven Stories
The Promise
The Story of Dragon Seed
The Dragon Fish
The Townsman: A “John Sedges” Novel
Portrait of a Marriage
China Flight
Yu Lan: Flying Boy of China
Pavilion of Women
Far and Near: Stories of Japan, China, and America
The Angry Wife
The Big Wave
The Long Love
One Bright Day
God’s Men
The Hidden Flower
Bright Procession
Come, My Beloved
Voices in the House
Johnny Jack and His Beginnings
The Beech Tree
Imperial Woman
Letter from Peking
Christmas Miniature American Triptych: Three “John Sedges” Novels
Command the Morning
The Christmas Ghost
Fourteen Stories
Satan Never Sleeps
Hearts Come Home and Other Stories
The Living Reed
Stories of China
Escape at Midnight and Other Stories
Fairy Tales of the Orient
Death in the Castle
The Big Fight
The Little Fox in the Middle
The Water-Buffalo Children and the Dragon Fish
The Time is Noon
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
The Beech Tree and Johnny Jack and His Beginnings
The New Year
The Three Daughters of Madame Liang
The Good Deed and Other Stories of Asia, Past and Present
The Chinese Story Teller
Once Upon a Christmas
The Goddess Abides
A Gift for the Children
Mrs. Starling’s Problem
All Under Heaven
Words of Love (poetry)
The Rainbow
East and West: Stories
Secrets of the Heart: Stories
The Lovers and Other Stories
Mrs. Stoner and the Sea and Other Works
The Woman Who Was Changed and Other Stories
The Old Demon
Little Red



East and West and the Novel: Sources of the Early Chinese Novel
Is There a Case for Foreign Missions? (pamphlet)
The Exile
Fighting Angel: Portrait of a Soul
The Chinese Novel
Of Men and Women
When the Fun Begins
American Unity and Asia
Pearl Buck Speaks for Democracy
What America Means to Me
The Spirit and The Flesh
China in Black and White: An Album of Woodcuts
Tell the People: Mass Education in China
Talk About Russia with Masha Scott
How It Happens: Talk About the German People
American Argument
The Child Who Never Grew
The Man Who Changed China: The Story of Sun Yat-sen
My Several Worlds: A Personal Record
Friend to Friend: A Candid Exchange Between Pearl S. Buck and Carlos P. Romulo
The Delights of Learning
A Bridge for Passing
Welcome Child
The Joy of Children
Children for Adoption
My Mother’s House
The People of Japan
For Spacious Skies: Journal in Dialogue
To My Daughters, With Love
The Kennedy Women: A Personal Appraisal
China As I See It
The Story Bible
Pearl Buck’s America
Pearl S. Buck’s Oriental Cookbook
China Past and Present
A Community Success Story: The Founding of the Pearl Buck Center
Pearl Buck’s Book of Christmas


Flight into China
Sun Yat-Sen: A Play
The First Wife
A Desert Incident
The Guide

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