Guide to the Agnes Smedley letters, 1930s-1947


Agnes Smedley was a journalist, writer, and left-wing activist remembered for her activity on behalf of the Communist cause in China during the 1930s. It is believed that she engaged in extensive espionage activities while she lived in Shanghai from 1929-1941. The Agnes Smedley letters consist of three letters by Smedley, the first of which was written while she lived in Shanghai, and the second two while she lived at the Yaddo artists' colony during the 1940s. The first letter is a request for a social engagement, and the second two letters discuss the particulars of her political observations and writings while she lived and worked in China.

Collection Details

Collection Number
Agnes Smedley letters
0.1 Linear Feet, 3 items
David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Materials in English

Collection Overview

The collection consists of three letters written by Agnes Smedley; the first to a Miss Gates, and the second two addressed to Corporal James A. Frankel. The single-page autograph manuscript letter to Miss Gates is written on letterhead stationery with Smedley's Shanghai address identifying her as the "Correspondent of the Frankfurter Zeitung in China." She asks Miss Gates to have "tiffin or tea" with her and wonders "Do you ever have extra time to see strange people?" The second manuscript letter, two leaves with text on all four sides, is dated December 27th, 1944. It primarily concerns Emily Hahn's book "China To Me." Smedley writes, “Miss Hahn spent 9 years sleeping around in Shanghai ... When the Japs took Hong Kong she wrote that she would just have died had she gone to a concentration camp like other Americans. So she went to the Japs and said, 'I’m a bad girl.' So the Japs left her free and she fooled around with them in Hong Kong, drinking and carousing, while the bastards were killing our men... But we Americans find this 'hot stuff' and put it up as a best seller... Miss Hahn is a propagandist for the Chinese reaction. She’s never seen a Chinese Communist, yet she’s agitating against them in N.Y... She led a purely personal life in two Chinese port cities but now poses as an authority on political and military matters of China." The third letter, autograph typescript dated March 23d 1947, was originally enclosed in Frankel’s copy of Smedley's book Battle Hymn of China, and addresses Frankel's questions about the Xi'an Incident of 1936 and the capture of Chiang Kai-shek. Smedley directs Frankel to her article on the topic published in The Nation magazine, as well as "her book."

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How to Cite

[Identification of item], Agnes Smedley letters, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Contents of the Collection

Folder 1

Historical Note

Agnes Smedley was an American journalist, writer, and left-wing activist best known for her autobiographical novel "Daughter of Earth." She went on to publish seven books about China, many of which are sympathetic chronicles of the Communist cause during the Chinese Civil War. During World War I, Smedley worked on behalf of the independence of India from the United Kingdom. From 1929-1941, she lived and wrote in Shanghai. It is generally accepted that Smedley engaged in espionage on behalf of the Communist International and the Soviet Union during this period. Smedley has been called "one of the most prolific female spies of the 20th century." After leaving China, she returned to the United States and lived at the Yaddo writer's colony. She was officially accused of espionage in 1949, which prompted her relocation to the United Kingdom shortly before her death. Smedley also worked on behalf of various progressive social causes, and was an associate of both Margaret Sanger and Emma Goldman.

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The Agnes Smedley letters were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library as a purchase in 2015.

Processing Information

Processed by Megan E. Lewis, March 2017

Accessions described in this collection guide: 2015-0050-LUBMSS449-450