Johnson, William R. (William Richard)

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William Richard Johnson was born in 1878 in Cornell, Illinois. He received a B.A. degree from Northwestern University in 1905 and an M.A. degree from Columbia University Teachers College in 1937. In 1906, Johnson sailed for China to serve as a missionary for the Methodist Episcopal Church. In China, he served as a pastor, educator and school administrator. He was active in famine and flood relief work, 1931-1936, and proposed a Rural Reconstruction Program adopted by the central government in 1933. Shortly after becoming the assistant director of the American Red Cross China Relief Unit, Johnson was taken prisoner by the Japanese in 1941. He was exchanged and returned to the United States in 1942. He died in Polo, Illinois on July 19, 1967.

From the description of William Richard Johnson papers, 1836-1936 (inclusive). (Yale University). WorldCat record id: 702165191

  • 1849 - 1914 : Sarah Esther Husted, mother of WRJ, born in Indiana and came to Illinois at an early age.
  • 1851 - 1908 : Benjamin R. Johnson, father of WRJ, born in Ruyville, Ohio; came to Illinois at the age of 2 in a prairie schooner; was a general storekeeper and banker in Cornell, Illinois. (The following are children of Sarah Esther and Benjamin R. Johnson: Estella, b. 1872, d. 1874; Franklin, b. 1874; Sidney Elmer, b. 1881; William Richard, b. 1878, d. 1967; Harry, b. 1883, d. 1950; Marcia (Lowell), b. 1886; Edward Amer, b. 1889; Lucille (Jones), b. 1892.)
  • 1882: Ina Buswell Johnson, wife of WRJ, born in Illinois. Her parents were Joel Battie Buswell (1834-1905) and Laura Shoemaker Buswell (1843-1936).(The children of Joel Battie and Laura Shoemaker Buswell are: Clark, Emily (Thorpe), Elizabeth (Antrim) and James.)
  • 1894: WRJ finished ninth grade in Cornell public school.
  • 1897: Graduated from Pontiac High School, Illinois
  • 1898 - 1899 : Taught district school in Illinois
  • 1899 - 1901 : Worked as a cashier in the Cornell bank
  • 1901: Entered Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois
  • 1905: IBJ and WRJ graduated from Northwestern, both with degrees in Liberal Arts.
  • 1905 - 1906 : WRJ worked as a fund raiser for the building campaign of the Y.M.C.A. at the University of Illinois.
  • 1906: William Buswell, b. 1908 in Kuling, later became a Methodist minister in California. Joel Benjamin, b. 1910 in Nanchang, later became a lawyer in Princeton, New Jersey. Clark Husted, b. 1913 in Nanchang, later named Foreign Director for McNeil Laboratories, then purchased the Zemmer Company in 1964 and sailed for China (Dec. 9) as a missionary for the Methodist Church. James Bashford, b. 1915 in Nanchang, graduated from Western Reserve Medical School, served in World War II, eventually practiced medicine in Greencastle, Indiana. Laura Lillian, b. 1920 in Polo, Illinois, graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University, served in the Navy in World War II, awarded M.A. degree from University of Michigan, taught school, married Lt. Col. Clifford L. Woodliff, lived in Polo, Illinois with WRJ at the time of his death.
  • 1907: Arrived in Shanghai and was ordained to the ministry of the Methodist Episcopal Church; began to study the Chinese language.
  • 1908: Pastor and District Superintendent, Nanchang, Kiangsi Province.
  • 1913: James Whitford Bashford writes about WRJ: "one of the ablest representatives of our church in central Asia or in the entire nation." (James W. Bashford was a bishop of the Methodist Church in China 1904-1915. See George Richmond Grose, James W. Bashford: Pastor, Educator, Bishop, (New York: The Methodist Book Concern, 1922).)
  • 1915 - 1918 : Principal, Nanchang Academy
  • 1918 - 1919 : Furlough. Secretary for Foreign Missions and Stewardship in the Methodist Centenary Movement, Denver, Colorado area.
  • 1919 - 1920 : Assistant Secretary of the Stewardship Dept., Methodist Committee on Conservation and Advance, New York City.
  • 1921 - 1927 : Principal, Nanchang Academy
  • 1922: Red Cross refugee work
  • 1924 - 1927 : Executive Secretary, Kiangsi International Famine Relief, directing dike repair, famine relief program.
  • 1927 - 1929 : Furlough. Studied at Columbia University; Executive Secretary, China Famine Relief (New York City) during its first financial campaign.
  • 1929 - 1936 : Director of Religious Education, Nanchang Academy
  • 1931 - 1936 : Famine and flood relief work, directed part of the dike repair program financed by the American Wheat and Cotton Loan, 1931-1932.
  • 1933: Made a survey for Generalissimo and Madame Chiang Kai-shek, outlining a Rural Reconstruction Program for Kiangsi Province which was adopted by central government and provincial authorities and put into operation. For Johnson's involvement in the Rural Reconstruction Program see While China Faced West, by James C. Thomson, Jr. (James C. Thomson, Jr. While China Faced West: American Reformers in Nationalist China, 1928-1937. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1969.))
  • 1933 - 1936 : Chairman, Board of Trustees of the Kuling Estate, participating in the rendition ceremonies January 1, 1936. (Kuling Estate was a summer resort which was administrated by the British as a part of the Concession of Kiukiang, but not returned with the Concession, under the Chen-O'Malley Agreement.)
  • 1936 - 1937 : Furlough. Columbia University Teachers College, M.A.
  • 1937 - 1940. : Returned to China without his family. District missionary, largely engaged in war-relief administration: hospitals and relief camps with industrial work and cooperatives.
  • 1940: Furlough
  • 1941: Assistant Director, American Red Cross, China Relief Unit, in charge of Hong Kong office. Lay Superintendent of the Canossa Hospital (later the Majama Hospital), a British Government Hospital for civilian wounded, during the siege of Hong Kong.
  • 1941 - 1942 : Prisoner of the Japanese, interned from January 5, 1942 until June 29, 1942 at Stanley Civilian Internment Camp.
  • 1942: Exchanged at Lorenco Marques and returned to U.S. on the "Gripsholm."
  • 1942 - 1949 : Lectured for the U.S.O. in Army and Navy camps, in Rotary International Institutes, for Y.M.C.A. groups, crossing the United States four times. His lectures were arranged largely by the Redpath speakers' bureau.
  • 1944: Speaker for the Community War Fund, Washington, D.C.
  • 1946: Had given 361 addresses in twenty states.
  • 1947 - 1952 : Published various articles regarding China.
  • 1954: Appeared before the Un-American Activities Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, eighty-third Congress.
  • 1950 - 1966 : "During the course of the Kuomintang's decline, the reformers and their colleagues were soon torn by partisanship. In the war and postwar years, the Protestant missionary community became sharply divided--as did American officials and academics--on the question of loyalty to the Kuomintang regime. On the one side stood such indefatigable spokesmen for the Nationalists as Walter H. Judd ..., William R. Johnson... .Ranged against them were...other American missionaries, whose disillusionment with the Nationalists was intense..."(Thomson, While China Faced West, p. 242.) WRJ debated this issue through letters, articles and speeches.
  • 1962: Presented with a medal by the Republic of China on behalf of Chiang Kai-shek. The award was given "in recognition of his meritorious contribution." (Box 50, Series V, Folder 19)
  • 1963: Ina Buswell Johnson died in Polo, Illinois.
  • 1967 Jul 19: William Richard Johnson died in Polo, Illinois.

From the guide to the William Richard Johnson Papers, 1836-1966, (Yale University Divinity School Library)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf William Richard Johnson Papers, 1836-1966 Yake University Divinity School Library
creatorOf Johnson, William Richard, 1878-1967. William Richard Johnson papers, 1836-1936 (inclusive). Yake University Divinity School Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith American China Policy Association, Inc. corporateBody
associatedWith Bashford, J. W. (James Whitford), 1849-1919. person
associatedWith Birney, L. J. person
associatedWith Birney, L. J. person
associatedWith Chiang, Kai-shek, 1887-1975. person
associatedWith Hammaker, Wilbur Emery, 1876- person
associatedWith Kohlberg, Alfred. person
associatedWith Kohlberg, Alfred. person
associatedWith Methodist Episcopal Church. corporateBody
associatedWith Nanchang Academy. corporateBody
associatedWith Nanchang Academy. corporateBody
associatedWith Welch, Herbert, 1862-1969. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Anti-communist movements


Birth 1878

Death 1967



Ark ID: w6rv31j0

SNAC ID: 63374864