Have you ever thought that a certain family member’s history would make a great book? When you dig a little deeper, you are truly inspired by their stories and wish that others could see all that they accomplished and overcame. When Carolyn Buckmaster came across the letters of her great aunt, Harriet Holbrook Smith (1897-1990), she knew that the story was one that deserved to be told. Carolyn and her husband, Dennis, began pouring over letters by her aunt to compile her biography in a true labor of love entitled Healing, Romance, and Revolution: Letters from an American Nurse in 1926 China.
We have a lot to learn from the past, especially from pioneer women, like Miss Smith, as young women have fewer role models of substance today. Miss Smith was a strong, courageous woman who defied the expectations of her time. Like many young girls, I looked to literature to find the strength and inspiration from fellow female characters from Pride and Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennett to The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen. Miss Smith is such an inspiration, and even better than any protagonist, she was real. She was smart, brave, adventurous, witty, well-traveled and accomplished in the 1920s when women were still considered predominantly as homemakers and had only just secured the right to vote. She was a nurse, a professor, and eventually the Dean of the School of Nursing at the University of Washington. Miss Smith’s story is a reminder that you too can accomplish great feats and a challenge to live life to the fullest.
Her story is presented in a series of letters sent home during her stay in Changsha, China, in 1926-1927 where she worked as a nurse as part of the Yale-in-China Program. She was stationed there for five years in total during a period of dramatic changes in China with the end of Imperial China in 1911 with the fall of the Qing Dynasty and the rise of China’s Nationalist Party (the Kuomintang) to power in 1928. She offers a unique perspective on China at this time (great for history buffs), and insight into the thoughts of such a fascinating woman (great for everyone).
If you would like to meet the authors and learn more about this inspirational woman (and fellow Seattleite!), the Buckmasters will hold a discussion and PowerPoint presentation featuring Smith’s photos and mementos from her adventures in China at the Seattle University Book Store June 13th at 7 p.m. To find out more about where to purchase the book, visit the official website of Healing, Romance, and Revolution here.