Beach was born in Orange, New Jersey and graduated from Yale University (B.A., 1878) and Andover Theological Seminary (B.D., 1883). He served from 1883 to 1889 as American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions missionary in North China, where he taught in a high school and seminary in Tung-chau and founded one of China’s first YMCAs.
He returned to the United States because of his wife’s ill health. Working under the direction of John R. Mott he became educational secretary of the Student Volunteer Movement in 1895, with responsibility for a program of missionary education for students in colleges and seminaries. He served on the executive committee and was chairman of the exhibit committee of the Ecumenical Missionary Conference at Carnegie Hall in New York City in 1900.
His work as a statistician and compiler of atlases of foreign missions, his major contribution to scholarship, began during this period with the publication of A Geography and Atlas of Protestant Missions (vol. 1, 1901; vol. 2, 1903). In 1906 he became the first professor of missions at Yale Divinity School, and from 1911, he was also librarian of the Day Missions Library at Yale. At the 1910 World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, Beach reported to the commission on “The Preparation of Missionaries” that Yale had the largest collection of missionary literature in America. His greatest achievement at Yale was the expansion and development of the Day Missions Library, which greatly facilitated the work of his successor, Kenneth Scott Latourette.
Beach traveled frequently to visit overseas mission fields in connection with his teaching and research. His other major scholarly works were World Atlas of Christian Missions (1911), with James S. Dennis and Charles H. Fahs, World Statistics of Christian Missions (1916), with Burton St. John, and World Missionary Atlas (1925), with Charles H. Fahs. After retirement from Yale in 1921, he was lecturer in missions at Drew University Theological School until ill health caused his permanent retirement in 1928.
This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright (c) 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of The Gale Group; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.
Beach also published The Cross in the Land of the Trident (1895), a mission study on India, Renaissant Latin America, a report on the conference in Panama in 1916 of Protestant missionaries to South America, and Missions as a Cultural Factor in the Pacific, prepared for the 1927 conference of the Institute of Pacific Relations. His letters and diaries are in the special collections of Yale Divinity Library.