Guide to the Grace Donald and Ezra Caryl Brownell letters, 1918-1921


Ezra Caryl Brownell, of Ridgefield Park, New Jersey was a banker with the Bank of New York. In 1918 he was made manager of the Tientsin, China branch of the Asia Banking Corporation and was charged with oversight of the bank's opening. He travelled to China in April 1918 with his wife Grace Donald Brownell of Butler, New Jersey. The couple lived in Shanghai and Tientsin, returning to the United States in March 1921. Chiefly letters of Grace Donald Brownell to family members and family friends in New Jersey. Letters of Ezra Carly Brownell are scattered throughout the collection. The letters touch on myriad topics including familial events and happenings in New Jersey; observations of Chinese and Japanese customs and culture; current affairs in China, the United States, and the world; as well as the couples' travels, routines, and other activities in China.

Collection Details

Collection Number
Grace Donald and Ezra Caryl Brownell letters
Brownell, Grace Donald
0.5 Linear Feet, 254 Items
David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Material in English

Collection Overview

The collection consits primarily of letters written by Grace Donald Brownell to friends and family in New Jersey. However, also present are scattered letters of Ezra Carly Brownell.

Letters of 1918 primarily describe the couple's journey from New Jersey to San Francisco and the voyage to China on the S.S. Nanking. Present are descriptions of the cities of Salt Lake City and Provo, Utah, including a visit to the Great Salt Lake and San Francisco, California. Letters also describe the voyage from San Francisco to Shanghai including missionaries, Y.M.C.A workers, schoolteachers, and Red Cross workers aboard the S.S. Nanking; stops in Honalulu, Hawaii and Yokohama, Japan. Letters also offer observations of Japanese and Chinese cultures, the laboring poor in China, the effects of embargo on the native population, and differences in local dress based on class and gender.

Letters of 1919 offer descriptions of life in Beijing and Tientsen, China. Letters prior to the couples' relocation to Tientsen describe visits to a local convent, orphanage, tea house, market, and temple; preparations for and celebrations of the Chinese New Year; modes of Chinese worship and perceived "superstitions"; and activities with the local Woman's Club. Letters from Tientsen include detailed descriptions of the couples' home and furnishings, Bastille Day celebrations in the local French settlement, the activities and services of various religious denominations including the Church of England, Union Church, Catholic Church and Christian Science, meetings with numerous diplomats and dignitaries including the American, British, and Prussian Consuls and the Chinese Commissioner of Foreign Affairs, as well as Grace's teaching position at a Methodist Mission School.

Letters of 1920 and 1921 continue to focus on the couples' daily life in Tientsen including various club activities, trips into the country side, the cost of goods, services, and various commodities, and descriptions of a visit to a Womens Temple. Many of the letters, however, discuss social and political developments in China including student demonstrations and unrest, the boycott of Japanese goods, and the beginning of factionalism within the military mentioning General Wu Peifu of the Zhili clique and accusations of other factions collaborating with the Japanese. Letters also describe the influx of refugees into Tientsen from the provinces due to famine and factional fighting and various foreign relief efforts.

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How to Cite

[Identification of item], Grace Donald and Ezra Caryl Brownell Letters, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Contents of the Collection

Letters, 1918 April-October
Box 1
Letters, 1918 November-December
Box 1
Letters, 1919 January-February
Box 1
Letters, 1919 March-April
Box 1
Letters, 1919 May-July
Box 1
Letters, 1919 August-September
Box 1
Letters, 1919 October-December
Box 1
Letters, 1920 January-March
Box 1
Letters, 1920 April-June
Box 1
Letters, 1920 July-September
Box 1
Letters, 1920 October-1921 March and undated
Box 1
Print Material, 1918-1919 and undated
Box 1

Historical Note

Grace Donald Brownell was born 28 February 1893 at Butler, New Jersey and eventually married Ezra Caryl Brownell. Ezra, or Caryl as he was known to friends, family, and colleagues, was born in Brooklyn, New York on 21 December 1889 to Ezra and Caryle Brownell. The couple resided in Ridgefield Park, NJ. In August 1918 Ezra was hired by the Asia Banking Corporation to manage the corporation's branch in Tientsen, China. The couple travelled by train from New Jersey to San Francisco in the fall of 1918 making stops in Provo, Denver, and Salt Lake City. The couple boarded the S.S. Nanking in September 1918 making stops in Honalulu and Yokohama, Japan before arriving at Beijing in October 1918. While settling into life in Beijing the couple toured other foreign concessions and various Beijing neighborhoods, took day trips to other nearby cities, attended church services of numerous denominations, and socialized with other western and native Chinese families. The couple remained in Beijing until May 1919 when Ezra moved to Tientsen to begin preparations for the bank's grand opening before joined by Grace in June. In January 1921 the couple bagan making preparations for the return journey planning stops in Japan, Sri Lanka, Yemen, Egypt, Italy, France, and the British Isles en route to the United States. The couple eventually settled in Oradell, Bergen County, New Jersey.

Related Material

  • Paul Hibbert Clyde and Mary (Kestler) Clyde Papers, 1924-2001 and undated (David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Duke University.)
  • Sidney Gamble Photographs, 1906-2007 (David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Duke University.)

Click to find related materials at Duke University Libraries.


The Grace Donald and Ezra Caryl Brownell letters were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library as a purchase in 2008.

Processing Information

Processed by Josh Larkin Rowley, February 2012

Encoded by Josh Larkin Rowley, February 2012

Accession(s) described in this finding aid: 2008-0242