Pearl Comfort Sydenstricker was born on June 26, 1892, in Hillsboro, West Virginia. Her parents, Absalom and Caroline Sydenstricker, were Southern Presbyterian missionaries, and were stationed in China. Pearl was the fourth of seven children (and 1 of only 3 who would live until adulthood). Buck was born in the U.S. so she could be a natural U.S. citizen.
The Sydenstrickers lived in Chinkiang (Zhenjiang), in Kiangsu (Jiangsu) province. Pearl's father spent much time away from home, traveling in the Chinese countryside in search of Christian converts. Pearl's mother ministered to Chinese women in a dispensary she created.
>From childhood, Pearl spoke both English and Chinese. She was ...view middle of the document...
>From 1920 to 1933, Pearl and Lossing made lived in Nanking (Nanjing), on the campus of the Nanking University, where both had teaching jobs. In 1921, Pearl's mother died and shortly after her father moved in with the Bucks. The tragedies which Pearl suffered through out her life reached a climax in March, 1927. In the terrible even called the "Nanking Incident." In a confusing battle involving parts of Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist troops, Communist forces, and assorted “warlords”, several Westerners were murdered. The Bucks escaped and had an extremely long day hiding, but were finally rescued by American gunboats. After a trip downriver to Shanghai, the Buck family sailed to Unzen, Japan, where they spent the following year. They then moved back to Nanking, though conditions remained dangerously weary.
Pearl had begun to publish stories and essays in the 1920s, in magazines like Nation, The Chinese Recorder, Asia, and Atlantic Monthly. Her first novel, East Wind, West Wind, was published by the John Day Company in 1930. John Day's publisher, Richard Walsh from John Day, would eventually become Pearl's second husband, in 1935, after both received divorces.
In 1931, John Day published Pearl's second novel, The Good Earth. This became the best-selling book of both 1931 and 1932, won the Pulitzer Prize and the Howells Medal in 1935, and would be made a film by MGM in 1937. Other novels and books of non-fiction followed. In 1938, less than a decade after her first book had appeared, Pearl won the Nobel Prize in literature, the first American woman to do so. By the time of her death in 1973, Pearl would publish over seventy books: novels, collections of stories, biography and autobiography, poetry, drama, children's literature, and translations from the Chinese.
In 1934, because of conditions in China, and also to be closer to Richard Walsh and her daughter Carol, whom she had placed in an institution in New Jersey, Pearl moved permanently to the US. She bought an old farmhouse, Green Hills farm, in Bucks County, PA. She and Richard adopted six more children over the following years. Green Hills Farm is now on the Registry of Historic Buildings; fifteen thousand people visit each year.
>From the day of her move to the US, Pearl was active in American civil rights and women's rights activities. She published essays in both Crisis, the journal of the NAACP, and Opportunity, the magazine of the Urban League; she was a trustee of Howard University for twenty years, beginning in the early 1940s. In 1942, Pearl and Richard founded the East and West Association, dedicated to cultural exchange and understanding between Asia and the West. In 1949, outraged that existing adoption services considered Asian and mixed-race children unadoptable, Pearl established Welcome House, the first international, inter-racial adoption agency; in the nearly five decades of its work, Welcome House has assisted in the placement of over five...