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|Pearl Sydenstricker Buck
Randolph-Macon Woman's College
Class of 1914
Pearl Sydenstricker Buck was born in Hillsboro, West Virginia, on June 26, 1892, to Presbyterian missionary parents. Her family returned to China when she was an infant, and she spent her early years in the city of Zhenjiang. Buck received her early education from her mother and a Chinese Confucian scholar, later attending missionary schools and a high school in Shanghai. She entered Randolph-Macon Woman's College in 1910. A philosophy major, she was active in student government and the YWCA and wrote for the college's literary magazine and yearbook.
Soon after her graduation in 1914, she left again for China, which she considered her true homeland. In 1917, she married John Lossing Buck, an agricultural specialist who was also doing missionary work in China. They lived for several years in North China, then moved in 1921 to Nanjing, where she was one of the first American teachers at Nanjing University and where her daughter Carol was born. In 1927 her family escaped a brutal anti-western attack through the kindness of a Chinese woman whom Buck had befriended.
Buck was deeply touched by the simplicity and purity of Chinese peasant life and wrote extensively on this subject. In 1931, she published The Good Earth, a novel about the fluctuating fortunes of the peasant family of Wang Lung. For this work, generally considered her masterpiece, she received the Pulitzer Prize in 1932. The Good Earth was followed by two sequels: Sons (1932) and A House Divided (1935). The Exile and Fighting Angel, biographies of her mother and father, followed in 1936 and were singled out for praise by the committee that awarded her the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1938.
She moved permanently to the United States in 1934. In the following year, she divorced Lossing Buck and married her publisher, Richard Walsh. For the remainder of her life, she wrote prolifically, producing a total of more than a hundred works of fiction and non-fiction. Her private life, too, was a full one, as she and Walsh adopted eight children.
She became a prominent advocate of many humanitarian causes. She was a founder of the East and West Association, dedicated to improving understanding between Asian and America. Her experiences as the mother of a retarded child led her to work extensively on behalf of the mentally handicapped and to publish the moving and influential book, The Child Who Never Grew. The plight of Amerasian children, rejected by two worlds, aroused her sympathy as well, and in 1964 she established the Pearl S. Buck Foundation to improve their lives.
She died on March 6, 1973, leaving behind an impressive body of writing and the memory of a life lived in service to tolerance and mutual respect.
This biographical sketch was written for the program of the Pearl S. Buck Centennial Symposium held at Randolph-Macon Woman's College on March 26-28, 1992.