A lot of times, my work is spent doing the nitty gritty of historical work. I chew through letters from Cadbury or from other sources and attempt to place the information in the proper context and note the important stuff. But sometimes, I like to play a game I call “Find the Famous People” to keep myself occupied.
It’s a simple game; I just look for letters from famous people that float around the collections using the ambient noise from my undergraduate history education and occasionally Google people who have important sounding names. My threshold for “being famous” so far pretty much just consists of whether or not you have a decent Wikipedia page. This is really mostly just a game. Most of these letters don’t really have any historical significance. They are thank you cards or short business letters, nothing that will change the way we view their careers but rather one of the countless bits of flotsam and jetsam that a public life leaves behind that people collect and cherish later.
Or little Son Yat Sen as I like to think of him [this is a pun]. Fo’s father was Sun Yat-Sen, the founding father figure of both Taiwan and mainland China. Sun Fo became mayor of Guangzhou during the Republic of China years and later became a prominent politician in Taiwan. His letter basically contains an agreement to write a foreword to Cadbury’s book about the Guangzhou Hospital. Nothing earth-shattering but definitely nifty.
Wu Lien Teh
This is a neat little story that I discovered today that only partially fits in to my find the famous people game. Wu Lien Teh was the first Chinese graduate of Cambridge University and was an important figure in epidemiology in the early twentieth century. He helped to end a catastrophic plague in Manchuria and Mongolia that claimed more than 60,000 people and was head of China’s National Quarantine service for many years. To cap off his career, he won the Nobel Prize for his work in medicine in 1935. So he’s famous, but how does this relate to Cadbury? Well, it turns out that Cadbury was the one who nominated him for that honor according to letters to and from Lien-Teh as well as letters to the Nobel Committee. Cool.
Someone who is definitely more important than most historians give him credit for. This guy led the army that overturned the Qing dynasty and served as President of China three times during the most troubling period of its history. Most historians (my bff Johnny Spence included) largely credit him with being an aggressive thumb twiddler who was more or less outclassed by Yuan Shikai and Sun Yat Sen. His letter is essentially a typewritten thank you card sent to Dr. C.K. Edmunds for his work in education.
William Jennings Bryan
One of those names that is recognizable to history majors for reasons they can’t recall. He was a very influential turn of the century politician who is chiefly remembered for his role as the chief lawyer for the prosecution in the Scopes Monkey trial (I’m pretty sure the case is not Scopes v. Monkey—I have no idea why it is remembered as “Scopes Monkey”), the author of the famous Cross of Gold speech, and his numerous bids for the office of President. His letter is a response to a request for a job/a recommendation from a young Sarah Imbree Manatt (later to be Cadbury’s first wife) for a job. I just graduated and I wrote a number of these kinds of letters myself—too real. Anyway, he was totally helpful and suggested a number of congress people and judges she should contact. Whuttaguy.
Anyway, you should come by and play this game yourself—it’s easy. The letter from William Jennings Bryan is a great example. Whoever had recorded this letter before me had just listed this letter as a random piece of correspondence from a “William Bryan” or a “Billy Brian” or something. On a hunch I decided to check it out and after matching the letterhead to a paper he owned and his signature on the letter to a signature online, a William Jennings Bryan letter sprang into existence. Cool, right? Well, way cooler than a Billy Brian letter anyway.