Writer and Humanitarian
By Marylou Morano Kjelle
Pulitzer Prize Winner and
humanitarian Pearl Buck was born in West
Virginia in June 1892. Pearl spent her childhood
and young adult years in China, with her
Presbyterian missionary parents, Absolom and
Caroline Sydenstricker. Pearl often remarked
that she felt more Chinese than American.
Because of this, Pearl is often referred to as a
woman of two worlds.
Even as a child, Pearl was a
great observer of the Chinese people. Each day,
after lessons, she would explore the city of
Chinkiang, where she lived. When the 1900 Boxer
Rebellion threatened their safety, the
Sydenstricker family fled for their lives to
Pearl was moved by the plight of
the Chinese people, many of whom were poor and
uneducated. Her childhood observations were used
later in life to write a book about the Chinese
people called "The Good Earth", which won Pearl
the Pulitzer Prize in 1932.
Pearl was sent to America to
attend Randolph Macon Women's College in
Virginia. It was her hope to remain in America.
However in 1914, she returned to China to care
for her ill mother. In 1917, while teaching in a
missionary school, Pearl met and married John
Buck, a professor of Agriculture. They had one
daughter, Carol, who was mentally retarded. The
Buck's marriage was an unhappy one and in 1935
Pearl and John Buck divorced. Pearl had several
years before returned to America with an adopted
daughter, Janice, and had purchased a stone
farmhouse in Bucks County Pa. Carol had been
living in the United States, in a home for
retarded children in Vineland New Jersey, since
While still in China, Pearl
began making a name for herself by writing
stories about the Chinese way of life as seen
through their eyes. In later years, as a world
traveler, she used her writing to draw attention
to the needs of others. Wherever she went, she
sought the poor and oppressed and worked to show
them a better way of life. In America, she
fought for civil rights of African Americans and
an end to racial prejudice.
Pearl devoted herself to the
needs of children, especially handicapped and
abandoned children. She was concerned about the
unwanted orphaned children living in Asia. She
formed an adoption agency called Welcome House
to find homes in America for these children
Pearl and her second husband, Richard Walsh
eventually adopted 9 children.
Pearl was also concerned about
Asia's racially mixed children who could not be
adopted. In many cases these children were
considered outcasts and neglected by the
families they were born into. In the late
1950's, she founded the Pearl S. Buck Foundation
using the money she made from writing,
real-estate transactions and royalties from
books and movies. The agency was created to
support, educate and occupationally train
racially mixed children born in Korea, Taiwan,
Thailand, the Philippines, Japan and Viet Nam.
Until her death in March 1973,
Pearl was considered an expert on Asian affairs.
Her knowledge was shared with many heads of
state during World War II. President Nixon
sought her council during his years in office.
Pearl Buck died at the age of
80. She wrote and worked almost until her last
day. She showed us by her life and writings that
every person, regardless of the country of birth
or segment of society born into, deserves
dignity and respect. It is a message all of us
need to remember.
Marylou Morano Kjelle is a
freelance writer who lives and works in Central
New Jersey. She is the author of a book for
children living in single parent homes titled
"Sometimes I Wish My Mom Was Two People" and is
writing a biography of Pearl Buck for young
readers called Pearl Buck: Humanitarian Writer.