An Underwood departs, with job at an endAfter 119 years of ministering to Korea and its people, the links between the Underwood family and missionary and educational work in Korea are about to be loosened, although not entirely severed.
“It is similar to what Koreans living overseas feel when they know their time has come. I am returning home to take time to look back on my life,” Horace Horton Underwood IV said, explaining the reason for his and his wife’s decision to leave for the United States. Also known by his Korean name, Won Han-gwang, Mr. Underwood had said in the past that he would return there when he reached the age of 60. The family leaves in November.
After Mr. Underwood’s departure, the only family representation here will be his younger brother, Peter, who works for a private consulting firm, and Peter’s wife, Diana.
“Most of the things my great-grandfather imagined back in the 19th century when he first set foot on the peninsula have been accomplished, and I don’t think there are too many roles for the Underwood family now,” Mr. Underwood said. “Also, my second son, David, is expecting his first baby in December. Don’t you think a grandfather should be present to see the birth of his first grandchild?” he said.
The history of the Underwoods and their contributions explains why many Koreans are saddened by the family’s decision to leave.
The first Underwood to arrive in Korea was Horace Grant Underwood, who came as a Presbyterian missionary in 1885. Mr. Underwood played a pivotal role in introducing Protestant Christianity and also setting the foundation for modern Western education here. Taking the Korean name of Won Du-woo, Mr. Underwood established Korea’s first Presbyterian church, Saemoonan Church. Backed with $50,000 in funding from his brother, John T. Underwood, the founder of the Underwood Typewriter Co., he also founded Chosun Christian College, later Yonhi College, the predecessor to Yonsei University.
The first Mr. Underwood’s son, Horace Horton Underwood, or Won Han-gyung, was born in Seoul in 1890. After being educated in the United States, the second-generation Mr. Underwood returned to Korea to teach psychology at Yonhi College, later serving as the school’s third president.
Mr. Underwood’s oldest son inherited his father’s love for Korea. Horace Grant Underwood III, or Won Il-han, born in Seoul in 1917, also spent most of his life working here. The Underwoods had been repatriated from Korea by the Japanese colonial government here in 1942 following the attack on Pearl Harbor and outbreak of war between the United States and Japan. At the start of the Korean War in 1950, Mr. Underwood again accepted a commission in the U.S. Navy; he had been discharged from the navy only in 1947 after serving in the Pacific during World War II. He played a crucial role as senior interpreter in the armistice talks to end the war between the two Koreas.
After the armistice, Mr. Underwood settled down again in his family’s second homeland and followed in his father’s footsteps, as an educator at Yonsei University. He was active in many service organizations and also was vice chairman of the Korean American Association and a director at both Gwangju Christian Hospital and the Korea Bible Society.
Horace Horton Underwood IV, the fourth-generation representative of his family to live in Korea, first came to Korea in 1946 when he was three years old. He left for the United States in 1960 to attend college, and returned again in 1971 to live and work. “I made the decision to come back only after I was positive that my experience could contribute to the efforts launched by my ancestors,” he explained. After serving as dean of Yonsei University’s Graduate School of International Studies, Mr. Underwood also worked to strengthen ties between Korea and the United States as executive director of the Korean American Educational Commission, which manages the Fulbright program here.
Despite all the recognition the family received, Mr. Underwood said in a letter to the JoongAng Ilbo, “Koreans should equally remember four generations of Underwood women who have served their entire lives in Korea.” They showed Koreans that women were intelligent and capable of leading roles, a dubious proposition to Joseon Dynasty-era Koreans. Mr. Underwood’s great-grandmother, Lillias Underwood, was a physician, and treated women from both Korea’s upper and working classes. Her influence on the Korean women of the time was pronounced; most of her patients had accepted the Joseon Dynasty perception that women were not qualified to work as professionals. His grandmother, Ethel Underwood, founded an orphanage for young girls and organized relief efforts for Koreans during World War II.
“I wanted to maintain a bond with Korea by having one of my children teach at Yonsei University, but things did not turn out as planned,” Mr. Underwood said. But he promised that his departure would not mean the end of relations between his family and Korean education; he said he planned to continue to work with the foundation that supports Yonsei University.
by Lee Chul-jae