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Digital Archive International History Declassified


Kim Hwal-lan

Andrew C. Nahm and James E. Hoare

Kim obtained her doctoral degree from Columbia University in 1931 and was the first Korean woman to do so.


KIM HWAL-LAN (KIM, HELEN) (1899-1970). Born to a Christian family in Incheon, Gyeonggi Province, her childhood name was Gideuk, but she became better known among Westerners in Korea as Helen Kim. Educated at Ewha Girls’ School in Seoul, where she took up the nationalist cause in 1919, she received her higher education in the United States at Columbia University. She obtained her doctoral degree in 1931, the first Korean woman to do so.

Kim taught at Ewha Womans College (now Ewha Womans University) while promoting Korean women’s modernization and the nationalist movement during the 1920s and 1930s. In 1939, she became president of her alma mater, serving in that position until1961. Kim was a co-founder of the Korean Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) in 1922, a dedicated educator; a devout Christian, as well as a social reform advocate. After retiring from the presidency of Ewha Womans University, she devoted her life to the Christian and social reform movement, receiving five honorary doctorate degrees. She was the recipient of the Magsaysay Prize in 1963. Since the 1980s, however, there has been some criticism in South Korea of her role in the Japanese colonial period.

All rights reserved. No portion of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior written permission of the publisher. (Historical Dictionary of the Republic of Korea, by Andrew C. Nahm and James E. Hoare, published by RLPG Books, appears by permission of the author and publisher).