Based on: Hua-ling Hu and Lian-hong Zhang, The Undaunted Women of Nanking: The Wartime Diaries of Minnie Vautrin and Tsen Shui-fang. Carbondale, 2010
Last updated: 10/07/2019
Wilhelmina “Minnie” Vautrin was born in Secor, Illinois on September 27, 1886. She obtained a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana in 1912 and subsequently joined the Foreign Christian Missionary Society. She was sent to Hefei, China and decided to make the education of women her main goal.
In the following years she established the San Yu Girls Middle School and only returned shortly to the United States to pursue a master of arts degree in education at Columbia University (1918). When she returned to China in 1919 she became the acting president Ginling College in Nanjing as well as chairwoman of the education department.
During the Sino-Japanese War, Vautrin decided to stay in China and began keeping a diary, which she continued to write until April 1940. Along with Tsen Shui-fang and Francis Chen, Vautrin took over the management of the college in December 1937. It became part of the Nanjing Safety Zone as a refugee camp for women and children. The camp, which was originally meant to hold 2750 refugees, ended up housing up to 10000 refugees.
When Vautrin’s health continued to deteriorate she suffered a nervous breakdown in May 1940 and returned to the United States to receive medical attention. On May 14, 1941, at the age of fifty-five, Vautrin took her own life.