Author and Humanitarian

Pearl (Sydenstricker) Buck was born in Hillsboro, WV, to Presbyterian missionaries.  When she was 5 months old, her parents returned to China for their missionary work.  Pearl spent most of her young life in China.  Pearl returned to the U.S. to attend college.  Pearl hadn’t planned to return to China, but she did so because her mother was ill.

While she was in China, Pearl became interested in a writing career.  She wrote The Good Earth as a depiction of family life in a typical Chinese village.  The book was the best seller in both 1931 and 1932 and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932.  Later in 1933, Pearl won the Nobel Prize for Literature for her collected works.

Pearl Buck is well known as an author, but she is a hidden hero for her humanitarian efforts.  She was an advocate for a number of basic human rights, long before these became popular causes.  These included racism, sex discrimination, and adoption practices.

She co-founded the Welcome House with James Michener, Oscar Hammerstein, and his wife.  Welcome House was the first interracial adoption agency for international children.  Welcome House was able to provide adoptions for thousands of children who would have otherwise perished.  She also created Opportunity Centers and orphanages in South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, and Vietnam.  The Opportunity Centers purpose was to reduce injustices and prejudices that children faced in their countries.

Pearl died at age 80 of lung cancer.  She designed her own tombstone with her birth name inscribed in Chinese characters.  Hidden heroes often help us understand people of different cultures.  In Pearl Buck’s case, her writing helped us understand a culture that was a mystery to many.  President George H.W. Bush commented that he felt he better understood the Chinese people by reading Pearl’s books.  But unlike many authors, Pearl wasn’t just content with the words she wrote, she also became an activist to bring relief to those she wrote about.  Pearl Buck used her stature as a famous author to become a hidden hero as a humanitarian.

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“The test of a civilization is in the way it cares for its helpless members.” Pearl Buck

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