Isabel Ingram

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Reginald Johnston, Empress Wan Rong, and Isabel Ingram in the Forbidden City.

Isabel Ingram (Mayer) (1902–1988) was an American tutor of Wan Rong, Empress and wife of the last emperor of China.

Early life[edit]

Born March 7, 1902, in Beijing (then Peking), Northern China, Isabel Myrtle Ingram was the daughter of American Congregational missionary James Henry Ingram, MD (1858-1934) and Myrtle Belle (Prough) Ingram, his second wife. Her passport and a New York Times article (cited below) give her sisters as Miriam Ingram and Ruth Ingram. Other siblings were Kathryn Ingram (Rowe), Robert Ingram, and Lewis Ingram.[1]

Tutor to Wan Rong in the Forbidden City[edit]

Isabel Ingram was the tutor to Wan Rong the last empress of China. She lived in the Forbidden City, where she taught Wan Rong, Emperor Puyi's first wife, whom he wed in December 1922.

Isabel Ingram graduated Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachusetts, in 1922, the same year she returned to China, and began teaching Empress Wan Rong.

Accounts of Isabel Ingram in Richard Halliburton, The New York Times and Time[edit]

Famous in his era, travel-adventure writer Richard Halliburton wrote his parents in December 1922, saying that he called on "the young American tutoress of the Empress of China." He added that he found the visit quite interesting. The young Miss Ingram was petite and quite attractive. He wrote that on Christmas Eve he "went for a walk about the city wall with Miss Ingram," and also said that "the Royal Pair were only married a day or two before," adding that "this girl" and Reginald Johnston, the Emperor tutor, were the only people of European stock "at the great ceremony." [2] In his book The Royal Road to Romance,[3] he wrote that the empress was not to be outdone by the emperor with his tutor, and that Miss Ingram taught her the speech, modes, and manners of the West. As well, the two girls tried to look like one another and traded clothes.

A November 21, 1934 New York Times article states that the empress received part of her education from two American women. It names the women as Miss Miriam Ingram and Miss Isabel Ingram, and says they are daughters of a Congregational missionary from Philadelphia. The article further explains that from them the empress learned English, history and something about life in the Western world.[4]

On May 12, 1924, Time had a piece titled "Henry The Democrat," "Henry" referring to a name adopted by Puyi, who, according to Time had a "beautiful consort" with the court name, Elizabeth (Wan Rong). The article states, "Elizabeth was accompanied by Miss Isabel Ingram, graduate of Wellesley, her American tutor." [5]

Scholarly writing[edit]

As a reflection of her interest in Chinese art and culture, for The Pennsylvania Museum Bulletin she wrote "A Scroll of the Eight Views by Chang Lung Chang" [6] as well as "The Siren Collection of Chinese Sculpture," [7] both between 1927 and 1929.

Passport data[edit]

According to Miss Isabel Ingram’s American passport, in case of death or accident she wished that a sister Miss Ruth Ingram, be notified at Peking Union Medical College.

A note on Miss Ingram’s passport reads, “Travelling to British Ports, Egypt, Palestine, and United Kingdom en route to the United States of America. British Consulate, Peking. 23/2/27.” [8] On April 12, 1927 it was stamped by the Harbour Police in Ceylon. It bears other stamps, including Italy, Singapore, Greece, and Port Said. In 1928 she returned to China. At the time of her father's death in 1934 she lived in Edgewood, Maryland with her husband, William Mayer, a captain in the United States Army.