HIGHLIGHTS

  • Though Koreans were discouraged from higher education after the Japanese annexation of their country in 1910, HELEN KIM completed her studies at Ewha, did graduate work with honors abroad and became the first Korean woman to hold a doctorate.
  • A fervent patriot, HELEN KIM helped found the Young Women’s Christian Association in 1922, and develop its literacy work that fostered the movement for Korean cultural awareness and independence.
  • The RMAF board of trustees recognizes “her indomitable role in the emancipation and education of Korean women and sustained participation in civic affairs, symbolizing to Korean women their awakening.”

 CITATION

Born at the turn of the century when Korean women were strictly secluded, HELEN KIM’s career has been intimately interwoven with their struggle for opportunities and expression. She was led to this concern as a student at Ewha Haktang. This first school to provide a modern education for Korean girls had been founded at Seoul in 1886 by Methodist missionaries with one student in attendance. By 1929, Ewha Haktang offered courses from kindergarten through college.

Though Koreans were discouraged from higher education after the Japanese annexation of their country in 1910, HELEN KIM completed her studies at Ewha, did graduate work with honors abroad and became the first Korean woman to hold a doctorate. As dean and professor, later as Vice-President and after 1939 as President of Ewha, she gave of her abundant energy, wit and devotion to prepare women for wider responsibility.

World War II brought the first crucial test of HELEN KIM’s courage. School curricula were rigidly prescribed as the Japanese sought to enforce a system antithetical to Christian belief. Although then denied foreign support, Ewha held to its motto of Truth, Goodness and Beauty and to its insistence upon human dignity.

The bright promise of Korean independence in 1945 was dimmed by difficulties of rehabilitation, but Ewha became a university and its curriculum expanded to meet the challenge of service in the Republic. The Communist attack, in the summer of 1950, drove Ewha to its “campus in exile” at Pusan. There for two and one-half years classes were held in rough sheds with tent roofs and no floors. Dr. KIM took Ewha Womans University back to Seoul with the signing of the truce in 1953 to find the campus looted and wrecked. Again rehabilitation was achieved with the help of parents, patrons and foreign friends. In 1961 HELEN KIM retired from active direction to chairmanship of the Board of Trustees. Under her leadership, Ewha has made a contribution to higher education for women unmatched in Korea. With its student body of over 6,500, Ewha now enrolls one-half of all Korean women who attend college and is the largest women’s university in the world.

A fervent patriot, HELEN KIM helped found the Young Women’s Christian Association in 1922, and develop its literacy work that fostered the movement for Korean cultural awareness and independence. She was founder of The Korean Times and remained as publisher for three years. As an active member of their boards she has helped build the 4-H Clubs, the Korean Research Library and the International Night School. Five Korean Missions to the United Nations General Assembly have included her as a distinguished member. A devout Christian, she has given liberally of herself to her church and its work at home and abroad.

In electing HELEN KIM to receive the 1963 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service, the Board of Trustees recognizes her indomitable role in the emancipation and education of Korean women and sustained participation in civic affairs, symbolizing to Korean women their awakening.

 RESPONSE

While I cannot presume to accept this generous award for myself, I gratefully accept it for those whom I represent, namely Korea and all of those whose lives have been dedicated to the emancipation and education of Korean women.

My heart is full that you have chosen to add my name to this illustrious roll, but my name stands for only part of the vision and the dreams which Christian women around the world have had for Korean women.

When an American missionary woman felt that it was better to teach one Korean girl than to curse the inequalities and misfortunes of Korean women, Ewha was born. The seed of hope planted on that day has been nurtured and sustained by the constant dedication of consecrated men and women. That I have been privileged to work for and through this cause has been my great good fortune. The honor bestowed on me today belongs to all those hearts and lives which have been given to break the bonds of ignorance and prejudice which once enslaved our women. They would, I am sure, join with me in expressing their appreciation that our cause has been so recognized.

I also wish to share this honor with my countrymen. May I read from an editorial published in the English language newspaper, The Korean Republic. Quote: It was with overwhelming emotion that the entire Korean people heard the news from Manila last week that Dr. Helen Kim has been named to receive the 1963 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service. The great honor is not confined to Dr. Kim herself but shared by the entire people of this country. Unquote.

The editorial went on to say “the occasion impels us to cite gratefully the Foundation’s particular attention given to the Republic of Korea as Dr. Kim was preceded by Mr. Chun-ha Chang, president of Sasangge, a Seoul monthly magazine, who won the 1962 Journalism and Literature Award.”

This editorial was only one of several favorable mentions from the Korean press. I do share this honor with the Korean people as a whole. Their struggle to be free and to prosper has not been a common one. Each Korean person has suffered from the inequalities of the past and daily is faced with the uncertainties of the future.

Furthermore, we realize that our struggle is not over. The North Koreans have not accepted the 1953 Armistice as final. The rice fields on our side of the 38th Parallel still look greener. The day when our country is one, when families can be reunited, and when our countrymen are at one with each other seems as distant as outer space to us.

There are many other problems. As an agrarian nation we have been denied our birthright of an industrial revolution. Even as an aidchild we cannot hope to take our rightful place in a prosperous world as long as our industrial potential lies buried in the north. Nor as freedom lovers can we long sustain our brothers’ suffering under communism’s false tyranny.

But the Korean struggle on the fronts of communism, ignorance, poverty, and fear will go forward. To know that we do not fight alone is the boon of this century. To know that through joining free hands and hearts we consolidate our strength, this is the knowledge that carries us through the fight. This Award serves to remind us of the strong ties of friendship which bind our two nations, ties which no nation can soon forget. These ties serve to remind us that the Philippines was one of the 16 U.N. nations that sent her young men to our shores to carry on a fight that, while belonging to all free men, won us our present freedom. We can say literally that we are now blood brothers and we shall always seek to honor this bond.

Nor can Koreans forget the contributions which former President Magsaysay has made to the free world. For more than 4,000 years according to our lunar calendar, history has chosen to remember two kinds of men: those who busied themselves enslaving others, and those who gave their lives cutting others’ chains.

We speak and write and memorize the lives of tyrants, as we do those of the heroes, but we preserve as sacred a niche in every heart for the emancipators, the men who have freed nations or races from tyranny’s bonds. Count every country lucky that has its emancipator-saint, for that country has left its youth a heritage to grow by. But there is one stamp of man which reaches beyond one country, beyond one principle, to embrace all the needs of all men, to ensure their God-given equalities and their God-given rights. These men belong to the whole world and the whole world does them honor. Such a man was Mohandas Gandhi, such a man was Dag Hammarskjold. Such a man was Ramon Magsaysay.

I do not need to tell about this man. I do not need to tell you how he loved freedom or people or an upright government. But I do want to tell you why the Korean people find greatness in him. To them he is a freedom-fighter, who while pushing his fight with the communists to the limits within his own country gave those misguided men a chance to redeem themselves with his “complete force or complete fellowship” policy. He went the second mile of Christian forgiveness when he gave land and tools to those who surrendered. This was a new way to win over old enemies and one from which we can all learn.

In my work as an educator, in my belief as a Christian and in my experience as a person, I have kept as my motto of life: “Let us live with a smiling face, let us live in belief, and let us live helping others.”

I found a living example of this motto in my mother, who, following my baptism at seven years of age, consecrated me to God asking, “Help me to make her to be a person of large caliber, useful to Thy will.” I have always tried to follow her desire. If I have helped raise the status of Korean women through education it is because she taught me of God’s love for every person.

In the old days in Korea a young woman was considered a slave, a wife and a mother, but never an individual. Our goal in women’s education in Korea has been not only to educate so that women can take their rightful place in social, political and national life, but to establish their individuality. For generations the Korean people accepted the Confucian idea that “women are as different from men as earth is from heaven and, though indeed human, of a lower state, and so the aim of female education is perfect submission, not cultivation and development of the mind.”

But we all know that in the eyes of God each person is an individual, born in a situation peculiar only to himself, and none will have identical problems or meet his problems in the same way. But God has given man intelligence and freedom of choice and the moral obligation to seek truth for himself. Ewha’s motto is “Truth, Goodness, Beauty.” Our goal is to help each of our 8,000 students to recognize her individual worth, to give her the tools to find what is true for her, to give her the opportunity to find the good way of life, and to add to this all the grace and beauty which our Korean heritage holds for her.

Today Korean women have gained social and political status. While the basic Korean marriage pattern is still the arranged marriage, and while many of our graduates marry upon graduation, we have tried to help them know better what kind of a husband and what kind of a marriage they want. There is no question that Korean men profit from Ewha too, for they are now looking for university-trained wives, and Ewha has become the most famous place in Korea to carry out this kind of research.

We cannot claim to have righted all of the inequalities that Korean women inherit, but I have found that both equality and inequality can be relative. To correct one inequality may be to uncover another. Surely there is still much work to do, but again let me quote The Korean Republic when they say, “We are sure that the great honor given to Dr. Kim will become a lasting stimulus to women’s movements in this country in the years ahead.”

 BIOGRAPHY

HELEN KIM was born on February 27, 1899 in Inchon, Korea, the fifth of eight children of Kim Chin-yon, a scholar of Chinese classics, and Pak To-ra. The introduction of Christianity and trade with foreign nations had, less than two decades earlier, ushered in an “age of enlightenment.” Earliest acceptance of the new philosophy was among Christian families such as the Kims who braved social ostracism to educate their daughters, as well as their sons.

At the age of nine HELEN was sent to Ewha Haktang in Seoul, a move that was to be the determining influence upon her life. The school had been established in 1886 by Mrs. Mary F. Scranton, a missionary of the Methodist Episcopal Church of the Northern United States. The name Ewha Haktang, or Pear Blossom School, was given by Queen Min in the following year when enrollment had advanced from one timid student to seven. The first in Korea to provide a modern education for girls, the school became the inspiration and a source of encouragement for many schools that followed.

Before HELEN entered Ewha a high school department had been added (1904); while she was a student Ewha College (1910), a kindergarten (1914) and the Normal Training Department (1915) were established.

(For the complete biography, please email biographies@rmaf.org.ph)