Minnie Vautrin

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Wilhelmina (Minnie) Vautrin (September 27, 1886 – May 14, 1941) was an American missionary known for the care and protection of many refugees during the Nanking Massacre in China.


Minnie Vautrin was born in Secor, Illinois to Pauline (née Lohr) and Edmond Louis Vautrin. She attended Secor High School and then Illinois State Normal University in Normal, Illinois, receiving its diploma in 1907. She taught mathematics at LeRoy High School, Illinois before continuing her studies at the University of Illinois. She graduated in 1912 as salutatorian of her class with a A.B. in science.[1]

In 1912 she travelled to Nanking, China to undertake language training prior to taking up the position of principal at the Disciples of Christ school for girls in Luchow. During her time at the school the number of pupils increased and a high school department was added.[1]

In 1918 she returned to the United States to study for an M.A. at Teachers College, Columbia University. [1]

In 1919 Vautrin returned to China to take up a position at Ginling College, a protestant college providing teacher training to women.[1] She eventually took over as Master of Studies.

When the Imperial Japanese Army invaded Nanjing in December 1937 she and other foreigners, including John Rabe, worked to protect civilians in the Nanking Safety Zone. Ginling College became a refugee haven, at times harboring up to 10,000 women in buildings designed to support between 200 and 300. When all other refugee camps closed on February 4, 1938 a large number of women and children again sought refuge at the College and a census in mid-March showed 3,310 refugees were resident there. Vautrin would patrol the campus grounds and repel incursions of Japanese soldiers into the College and rescue and care for refugees.[1] She saw to the burying of the dead and the reception of newborn babies and was successful in tracing missing husbands and sons. Industrial or crafts classes were provided for women who had lost their husbands, so that they might support themselves.

Vautrin recounted the war in her diary in 1937:

"There probably is no crime that has not been committed in this city today. Thirty girls were taken from language school last night, and today I have heard scores of heartbreaking stories of girls who were taken from their homes last night—one of the girls was but 12 years old. Food, bedding and money have been taken from people. … I suspect every house in the city has been opened, again and yet again, and robbed. Tonight a truck passed in which there were eight or ten girls, and as it passed they called out "救命!救命! Jiuming! Jiuming!"—save our lives. The occasional shots that we hear out on the hills, or on the street, make us realize the sad fate of some man—very probably not a soldier."

On 19 December :

"In my wrath, I wished I had the power to smite them for their dastardly work. How ashamed women of Japan would be if they knew these tales of horror."[2]

In 1938, she wrote in her diary that she had to go to the Japanese embassy repeatedly from December 18 to January 13 to get proclamations to prohibit Japanese soldiers from committing crimes at Ginling because the soldiers tore the documents up before taking women away.[3]

In the spring of 1940, suffering from severe stress, Vautrin was accompanied back to the United States by a colleague. She appeared to recover for a while but committed suicide by turning on the stove gas in her apartment in Indianapolis.[4]

After the war, Vautrin was posthumously awarded the Emblem of the Blue Jade by the Chinese government for her sacrifices during the Nanjing Massacre. Her work saving the lives of Chinese civilians during the massacre is recounted in the biographical book, American Goddess at the Rape of Nanking, written by historian Hu Hualing.

In the 2007 documentary film Nanking, Vautrin was portrayed by actress Mariel Hemingway, who recited excerpts from Vautrin's diary.

References in popular culture[edit]

The hardcore band Hiretsukan honors Wilhelmina Vautrin in their song Song For Wilhelmina Vautrin on their 2005 record End States.[5][6]

She is depicted in Lu Chuan's 2009 film City of Life and Death.

In the 2009 movie on John Rabe, Minnie Vautrin is replaced by a fictive Valérie Dupres of an "International Girls College" as an important fellow Nanking Safety Zone committee member.

In Nanjing Requiem, a 2011 novel by Chinese-born writer and Boston University professor Ha Jin, Ha writes from the perspective of a fictionalized assistant to Vautrin named Anling Gao.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e James, Edward T., ed. (1971). Notable American women: 1607-1950. Harvard University Press. ISBN 0674627342. Retrieved 23 December 2014. 
  2. ^ Hua-ling Hu, American Goddess at the Rape of Nanking: The Courage of Minnie Vautrin, 2000, p.90,95
  3. ^ Hu Hualing, American Goddess at the Rape of Nanking: The Courage of Minnie Vautrin, 2000, p.96
  4. ^ Suping Lu, Minnie Vautrin, Terror in Minnie Vautrin's Nanjing: Diaries and Correspondence, 1937-38, 2008, pp.xxvii-xxviii
  5. ^ "Internet Archive Wayback Machine". Web.archive.org. 2008-04-01. Retrieved 2012-10-12. 
  6. ^ "Internet Archive Wayback Machine". Web.archive.org. 2008-04-01. Retrieved 2012-10-12. 

Further reading[edit]

Novels about the Nanking Massacre, inspired by or featuring Minnie Vautrin:

  • Galbraith, Douglas (2006). A Winter in China.

External links[edit]