1906  — 1967

Robert Orr Wilson

Eliza Carter Orr

Medical missionary in China during the Japanese occupation of Nanjing.

Born in Nanking (Nanjing), China, the son of Methodist missionaries William F. and Mary R. Wilson, Wilson graduated from Princeton University (B.A., 1927) and Harvard Medical School (M.D., 1933). He was appointed to the staff of the University of Nanking Hospital in 1935, arriving in 1936. He continued working in the hospital throughout the Japanese occupation, although most Chinese doctors had left Nanking well before the city was captured. He carried an incredibly heavy load of medical work with the help of a few nurses during the occupation.

In April 1938 two doctors and two nurses arrived from St. Andrew’s Hospital in Wu-hsi (Wuxi) to give Wilson and his staff some relief. In June 1938 he was able to leave Nanking for a furlough in Shanghai, and in 1940 he and his family left China for a furlough in the United States. When they sought to return to China the following year, his wife was unable to obtain a passport because of war conditions, so they stayed in the United States. Wilson served as a surgeon in Panama during World War II (1943-1944). After the war he practiced medicine in Arcadia, California.


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.


  • Wilson’s diaries and letters are held in the Special Collections of Yale Divinity School library; excerpts published in Martha Lund Smalley, ed., American Missionary Eyewitnesses to the Nanking Massacre, 1937-1938 (1997), provide a valuable eye-witness account of the atrocities committed by the Japanese army in the Nanking Massacre.

About the Author

Martha Lund Smalley

Curator, Day Missions Collection, Yale Divinity School Library, New Haven, Connecticut, USA