Ewha’s grammar mystery; A bookstore’s demiseMay 31, 1886
Many wonder why the country’s most prestigious women’s college, Ewha Womans University, appears to misspell its name, rather than “Women’s” or “Woman’s.” According to a theory, the school’s name is supposed to emphasize the importance of the “individuality of each woman.” Regardless of the grammatical accuracy, Korean society needed this spirit back on this date when Mary Scranton, wife of a Methodist missionary from the United States, established Ewha Hakdang, today’s Ewha Womans University.
Now located in Sinchon, northwestern Seoul, Ewha Hakdang in its earlier years was in Jeong-dong, central seoul, where the first generation expatriate community clustered in Seoul in the late 19th century.
The year following its founding, then-Queen Myeongseong of the Joseon Dynasty granted the name “Ewha,” which literally means “pear blossoms,” with a hope that its students would become “innocent and beautiful.”
Some say that the name came from the scent of the flowers in the neighborhood, and others say the school was named after a nearby pavilion. Whatever the source, the school was the first women’s university in the country.
During this era, Mrs. Scranton believed that her missionary school would help educate women living in a strict Confucian society. Back then, women were isolated from education. Initially in this cultural environment, Mrs. Scranton had difficulty in attracting students to attend the school.
So the school started running with only one student, and Mrs. Scranton taught English. In the following years, however, the number of students grew to seven, with more classes teaching the Bible and the Korean language. The Ewha students were the first ones to wear school uniforms consisting of white tops and black shortened skirts in a hanbok style, Korean traditional clothing.
The school slowly yet steadily built a reputation and counted many many respected women who became leaders in many fields as graduates.
June 4, 2002
Things and places come and go. For the lovers of Chongno Book Center, however, this simple truth was hard to accept.
This bookstore in the center of Jongno was more of a social symbol than a simple commercial shop selling books.
Until this date when the bookstore owners finally went bankrupt, the bookstore stood as the symbol of the neighborhood for 95 years, before the birth of giant ones such as Kyobo and Youngpoong.
In the day and age when people were free from information technology such as cell phones, people in the 1960s and the 1970s just said, “Let’s meet at 3 p.m. Saturday in front of the Chongno Bookstore.”
On weekends, the bookstore was crowded not only with book worms but also people waiting for friends and lovers.
Established in 1907 in a rundown wooden building specializing in Christian publications, the bookstore grew to be the one and only that sold a wide variety of publications in Seoul until the 1970s.
There was even a legend that because there were too many people gathering in the bookstore, every marble stair of the bookstore had a 2-centimeter deep dent.
Although nobody can tell the truth of the legend today since the bookstore is gone, it is a fact that the bookstore was much beloved.
The cause of the bankruptcy of this historical institution is said to be the failure in catching up with the new times with larger competitors with more stock.
The bookstore was also rumored to have a number of unsettled problems between its management and labor union.
After the crumbling of the bookstore, it was not the book lovers but the debtors who were desperate to get their money back, and the bookstore faded into the history.
Now the building is used as a cram school for college entrance examination with a nightclub in the basement.
by Chun Su-jin
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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