Friday, January 14, 2011

Lucy Dunlap and the Founding of Satriwithaya School

Whilst it is very well known that Somdet Ya, the Princess Mother was educated at Satriwithaya School (see also the Wikipedia entry, which Google can help a bit to translate), much less is known about its founder. Shortly after I came across the information in the Srinagarindra Museum that enabled me to establish that my grandmother had been a pupil there, I came across an article about the history of the school in the Education section of the Bangkok Post. It makes brief reference to its founding and then proceeds to offer a perspective that combines tradition with careful adaptation. I can see that the school is still highly regarded and a popular choice among parents.

But what piqued my interest was the very brief reference to the fact that it had a “Thai-American founder, Miss Lucy Dunlap, or ``Ma'am See'', who, we are informed, subsequently handed over the school to the Education Department. Who was Lucy Dunlap?

Once again I consulted Mr. Google, but there were very few matches returned. It seemed initially that there was no information available, but then I came across a link to the Wheaton College archives. The College contains in particular the Margaret and Kenneth P. Landon Papers. Margaret Landon is the author of Anna and the King of Siam, a work of fiction that has long been regarded in Thailand with some notoriety, but I won’t explain here.

As far as I can tell, all the authors in this archive were Presbyterian missionaries in SE Asia. Among the works (Box 196, Folder 17) is The Story of Lucy Dunlap by Margaret McCord. I had no idea about its format, publication status etc.; I then tried to search for this title in various library catalogues, but this was the only place I could see it referenced. So I filled in their online contact form, explained my interest from my grandmother's connection to the school and expected to come away empty handed ... Within a week, I received an email with an attachment – an archivist had very kindly scanned the document and sent me a PDF. It wasn’t very long, but I was still impressed at the service.

The document is a typed manuscript, 12 pages in length, dated August 1945, with a few corrections in ink. It starts with the heading Lucy Dunlap (Born 1869) and proceeds to describe in narrative form how the author came to meet Miss Dunlap in person and find out her story from missionaries. There’s a mixture of travelogue and second hand reports, laced with the author’s own interpretations, but the accounts of some key episodes sound true. One of these concerns the unusual circumstance’s behind the birth. Margaret McCord writes that a Dr. E. P. Dunlap was evangelising in Thailand (presumably in the late 1860s) and in the course of this missionary work came across a woman in prison, who was about to give birth. He asked for the woman to be released temporarily so the birth could take place with better care. When she gave birth to a girl, he and his wife subsequently offered to the mother to adopt her daughter, to which she agreed. Dr. and Mrs. Dunlap named the girl, Lucy.

We are informed that when Lucy was 9 years old she was taken to the U.S., where she continued her schooling, with training as a missionary, though it was not formally completed. She subsequently returned to Thailand in the 1890s and we learn that she was initially a teacher at Wang Lang School, but that didn’t work out. However, “next she was seen in charge of a small government school. However, this school did not continue long.” Since Lucy Dunlap’s subsequent work was in nursing and given the date, I guess this is a reference to Satriwithaya School.

I think this story is significant because it shows among other things the influence of Christian missionaries in the Thai education system, particularly in the 19th Century, a period in which the Thai monarchy consciously sought rapprochement with the various Western powers so as to ensure as best as they could the survival of Siam’s independence and furthermore prosperity, through the broadening of its culture. I think the story behind the founding of Satriwithaya School’s could be seen as indicative of the curious interplay that was taking place in those times. I wonder how much these undercurrents would have affected my grandmother and how much my mother knew about them...

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