A pioneering educator, a content exile and an activist poet

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A pioneering educator, a content exile and an activist poet

Feb. 10, 1970

Helen Kim, who was born in 1899 and died on this date, achieved many firsts among Korean women. Living through changing times on the peninsula, she was the first Korean woman to have her hair bobbed, to get a doctoral degree and to earn the Magsaysay Award in 1963 for contributing to human rights. Ms. Kim even made her Korean name "Hwal-lan" to sound like her Christian birth name.

After earning a bachelor's degree from Ewha Womans University, she pursued master's and doctoral degrees at Boston University and Columbia University, respectively. Back on the peninsula, she taught at Ewha and ultimately became its president from 1945 to 1961.

Ms. Kim's pro-Japanese attitude during the colonial period brought her criticism, however. She wrote a number of columns placing Japan on a pedestal, adopted the Japanese name Yamagi Katsuran and urged Korean women to send their husbands and sons to join Japan's World War II forces. As a tribute to her pioneering efforts on behalf of women's rights, however, Ewha Womans University established the Helen Kim Award, a sort of Korean Nobel Prize for women.

Feb. 15, 1997

Lee Il-nam, nephew of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's old flame Seong Hye-rim, wanted a fresh life in the South after fleeing Moscow to come to Seoul in 1982. He changed his first name to Han-young, meaning "living in [South] Korea forever" and had plastic surgery done on his face. Alas, Mr. Lee could not break free of his past; on this date, at age 36, he was assassinated by two snipers, supposedly North Korean agents. Up to that point, the South Korean government had taken especially good care of Mr. Lee, protecting him from public exposure and even getting him a job as a TV producer. He tied the knot with an employee of the TV station in 1989 and they had one daughter. Mr. Lee helped his mother Seong Hye-rang escape to Moscow in the 1990s, after his aunt Seong Hye-rim ceased to be the leader's favorite lady. In one overseas phone call from Seoul to Moscow, Mr. Lee told his mother: "Though life here in the South is not so easy, I like it much more than living in the North."

Feb. 16, 1945

Yoon Dong-ju, born in 1916, used his pen to resist Japanese colonial rule by crafting poems that were sensile, innocent and inspiring. Jailed as a political offender in Fukuoka, Japan, he died in prison at age 29. A short telegraph reached his family on this date, stating bluntly: "Yoon Dong-ju died. Come and get the body." Had he lived six more months, he would have seen his country freed. Three years after his death, friends gathered his works to publish "Poetry of the Sky, Winds and Stars." On the Yonsei University campus, where Mr. Yoon studied literature, a stone monument memorializes this young poet. Those who still admire him adorn it with blossoms of roses.

by Chun Su-jin
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