Jeannette Veldman was born on November 23, 1901 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She attended a variety of schools in her adolescence including: Grand Rapids Public Schools, Davenport Business College, Hope Preparatory School and Hope College. She graduated from Hope College in 1926 and went on to pursue a degree in Nursing from the Presbyterian Hospital School of Nursing in Chicago. As a young woman, Veldman knew that her passion lay in missionary work, so she focused her studies on subjects that would be the most useful for that life.. She applied to the Reformed Church in America (RCA) Mission almost immediately after receiving her nursing degree.
Once accepted as a candidate, she studied for a little over a year at the Kennedy School of Missions, before embarking on her journey across the ocean. The R.C.A. Mission had placed Veldman in Xiamen, China, port city on the southeast coast. She arrived in the 1931. As one of the first trained nurses to arrive at the Mission, she helped to integrate the nursing profession into China’s traditional culture. In Xiamen the missionaries before her had established a hospital, the Hope and Wilhelmina Hospital, known also to the local Chinese as the Save the World Hospital. The hospital itself had a major impact on the surrounding community. It introduced both Western medicine and the Christian religion to the Chinese people in the region. After its opening in 1898, the hospital staff recognized the need for nurses to insure the quality of their patient care. Veldman came to the Hope and Wilhelmina Hospital about six years after the opening of the nursing school.
Although Veldman was not the founder of the school, she was instrumental in the education of the nursing students. After she arrived at the school, which had been founded by Jean Nienhuis, another RCA missionary nurse working in Xiamen, Veldman would stay in Xiamen (except for an interval of thirteen months) until she was forcibly removed by the Japanese and taken to an internment camp in 1942. During those years Veldman and Nienhuis would be the life and soul of not only the nursing school but the hospital itself. She accomplished this significant role by dedicating all of herself to her students and her patients.
As a member of the nursing school staff, Veldman was regularly in charge of up to thirty students at any given time. Many of these students were from the Xiamen area or surrounding region and all were single women. Besides teaching these young women professional skills, Veldman also provided them a social platform to stand on. This was critical because in early twentieth century China, single women were given very little respect from the community; they were expected to marry and live out their lives as both wives and mothers. Veldman offered an alternative to these social norms and gave young Chinese women a choice, an opportunity to do something different.
Jeannette Veldman was also devoted to the care of every patient. Each day she would make the rounds through the hundred - fifty bed hospital to ensure that all of the patients were satisfied with the quality of their care. If they were unhappy she would attempt to improve their stay in any way she could. Since the nursing profession was still in its infancy in China this was for many their first experience with patient care delivered from outside the family. Veldman’s continued dedication to the hospital and to the nursing school did not waiver, even when danger seemed imminent.
After a furlough in 1937, political turmoil in Hong Kong meant that Veldman was forced to re-located to India for roughly thirteen months. Rather than use this unexpected break for travel and vacation she made her way to a local missionary hospital and offered her services as a nurse. She served that hospital faithfully until travel in and out of China was safe in early 1938. Later that year the Japanese invaded the island of Xiamen. Despite constant bombings and lack of supplies Veldman disregarded the U.S. government’s warning for missionaries to evacuate China. She continued to work at the hospital as the population of the island increased by tenfold and the hospital overflowed with the sick and wounded. She did not hesitate to carry on with her day-to-day activities after hearing about the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Nor did she stop when the Japanese restricted her travel to only the hospital itself. Veldman left the Hope and Wilhelmina Hospital and nursing school only when she was forced at gun point to depart the island and move to an internment camp.
In 1943 Veldman was allowed to leave China and was taken back to the United States. She stayed in the States until the end of the Second World War. With the conclusion of the war she once again offered herself for missionary work. The RCA mission stationed her at the Arabian Mission in Bahrain. From the Arabian Mission Veldman traveled to Iraq, Kuwait, Jerusalem, and Oman. In each place she was charged with the duty of establishing a nursing school, as she had done in Xiamen. She returned to the United States in 1989 and began to write her memoirs. She was unable to finish her writing due to a stroke in 1989. She passed away on March 2, 1994.
Veldman’s life was dedicated to missionary work, the patients she tended to, and the young students that she taught. She was a fervent Christian and lived out her life for the Lord. She was also passionate about nursing and the opportunities that it provided for her to live a Christian lifestyle.
- Hope College, “H88-0113. The Old China Hands Oral History Project. Records, 1976-1977. 1.50 linear ft.”
- Western Theological Seminary, “W88-0315. China Mission. Papers, 1888-1979. 1.50 linear ft.,”.
- Western Theological Seminary, “W89-1012. Jeannette Veldman (1901-1994). Papers, 1912-1989. 13.50 linear ft.”