1898  — 1974

Eva Dykes Spicer

Under the auspices of the London Missionary Society (LMS), Eva Dykes Spicer taught at Ginling College, a Christian women’s college in Nanjing, from 1923 to 1951.

Eva Dykes Spicer was born on May 29, 1898 in London, near Kensington Gardens. She was the ninth of eleven children. Her father, Albert Spicer, was the treasurer ofthe London Missionary Society (LMS) for twenty-five years.

While studying history at Somerville College at Oxford University, she was a member of the Student Christian Movement. After graduating she wrote to the secretary of the LMS, inquiring for opportunities for missionary service. After teacher training at the London Day Training College and taking courses in pastoral and teaching work at Mansfield College, she left for China in August 1923.

Though English was the main language of instruction at Ginling, foreign faculty were required to be competent in Chinese. Spicer immersed herself in intensive language study at the University of Nanjing. She felt “doubly a foreigner” because the majority of the faculty of Ginling were Americans. The nearest group of British missionaries was in Shanghai, a six-hour journey away.

In her second year, Spicer began teaching Old Testament studies, the expansion of Christianity, and the social and ethical teachings of Christ. She served as faculty advisor for the lively YMCA group on campus. She enjoyed becoming a mentor and advisor to the students.

With the rise of opposition to Christian education in the left-wing of the Guomingdang and the Northern Expedition Army coming through Nanjing and killing some foreign residents, Spicer, who had already arranged a furlough, wondered if there would be a place for her at Ginling.

She returned to Ginling in September of 1928. Nanjing had become the seat of Chiang Kai-shek’s government. Wu Yifang, a graduate of Ginling in 1919 who had received a PhD in biology at the University of Michigan, became president of the college in 1928. The new government had ruled that all schools and colleges be headed by Chinese nationals and be registered with the Ministry of Education. Wu used Spicer’s great leadership and diplomatic skills during this transition.

Since the religious department was disbanded, Spicer’s religion classes were transferred to the department of philosophy. She found that students were only interested in religion if it could help China. She felt that the college was making a “real contribution … to the cause of women and Christianity in China.”

After the Japanese army attacked China and Nanjing came under bombardment on an almost daily basis, the students were initially sent to Shanghai, Chengdu, or Huazhong Christian University in Wuchang. After the fall of Nanjing at the end of 1937, most of the Ginling faculty and students moved to the West China Union University (WCUU) in Chengdu, Sichuan province. Spicer first went to Shanghai and later arrived at WCUU in September 1938. After postponing her furlough until September 1940, Spicer crossed the U.S. to travel to London.

In September 1941, she began her trip back to China through South Africa and India. Because of visa delays, she did not get back to Chengdu until February of 1942. She taught history and sociology of religion. She also taught a course on comparative religion at Nanking Theological Seminary, which was in exile at WCUU. She chaired the Advisory Committee for Joint Religious Activities of the different institutions at WCUU and also the Committee for Student Evangelism in Isolated Universities. She enjoyed living at the center of the LMS in Free China.

After the war, it took a while to be able to move back to the campus which was empty of furniture, books, and lab equipment. Spicer was on furlough for the academic year 1947-48, helping her two eldest sisters in London. After she was requested to return to help with the history department and supervise the religious activities, she flew back to China in August 1948. The Communists took over Nanjing in April 1949. She left China in 1951.

In 1952, she sailed for Africa to be principal of the Women’s Training College at Old Umuahia, Southern Nigeria. She served there for six years. She received an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in 1959. Her active retirement included the LMS, the Congregational Union, and the Society for the Ministry of Women in theChurch. She kept in touch with the family of Ginling former colleagues and alumnae.

She died suddenly in 1974, at the age of 76.


Based on Rosemary Seton,“Doubly a Foreigner in Strange Lands: The Experience of Eva Dykes Spicer, London Missionary Society, at Ginling College, China, from 1923-1951.” International Bulletin of Missionary Research (July 2015), Vol. 39, No. 3.

About the Author

Stacey Bieler

Research Associate, Global China Center, Michigan, USA