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Illinois State Museum Honors Illinois Hero, "Minnie Vautrin, The Goddess of Mercy", Vautrin artifacts on display in Museum Lobby

  Illinois State Museum Honors Illinois Hero, "Minnie Vautrin, The Goddess of Mercy", Vautrin artifacts on display in Museum Lobby   

The Illinois State Museum is commemorating the courage of Illinois hero Minnie Vautrin; with a display of objects she owned, which were recently donated to the Museum. Minnie Vautrin, from Secor, Illinois has been recognized as an American woman whose heroism changed the course of history during World War II. The display case includes her Order of the Jade medal, the highest honor given to a civilian by the Chinese government. "Minnie Vautrin, The Goddess of Mercy" will be in the Museum lobby through the end of January 2008.

Minnie Vautrin came to be known in China as the "Living Goddess" or the "Goddess of Mercy." Miss Vautrin is credited with saving the lives of over 10,000 Chinese women and children. She was a missionary and head of Ginling College for Women in Nanking, China, when in 1937 the Japanese army invaded the city during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Vautrin risked her life to block Japanese soldiers' incursions into the College. In 1938, the Chinese government covertly awarded her the Order of the Jade. December 2007 is the 70th anniversary of Japan's violent occupation of Nanking, known as the Rape of Nanking, which claimed the lives of an estimated 300,000 Chinese.

The objects on display were donated to the State Museum by Minnie Vautrin's niece, Emma Lyon, and her grand-niece, Mary Lou Kniffen, of Shepherd, Michigan. In addition to Vautrin's Order of the Jade medal, the display case includes Chinese porcelain, personal mementos, and related photographs. Additional information on this remarkable woman is listed below.

Minnie Vautrin: Heroism in Nanking 

The Illinois State Museum wishes to honor the memory of Minnie Vautrin. Minnie was an Illinois missionary who in 1937-1938, as Acting President of Ginling College for Women in Nanking China, protected as many as 10,000 women and children during the Rape of Nanking. For her willingness to set aside her personal safety to protect the lives of the powerless, some in Nanking revered Minnie Vautrin as the "Goddess of Mercy" or "Living Goddess".

Minnie Vautrin was born and raised in Secor, Illinois, northwest of Bloomington. She trained as a teacher in Champaign at the University of Illinois, where she became involved in missionary activities. In 1912, at age 26, Vautrin joined the Foreign Christian Missionary Society and set off for China. Upon her arrival, she was moved by the pervasive illiteracy among Chinese women and devoted her life to promote women's education and help the poor in her community.

At the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese war in July 1937, Vautrin defied the American embassy's order to evacuate the city. In December the capital city of Nanking fell to Japanese forces and soldiers marauded through the streets looting, raping tens of thousands, and killing an estimated 300,000 civilians.

With only the protection of American flags and proclamations from the U.S. Embassy, Vautrin made Ginling College a sanctuary for women and children. Risking her life, Vautrin confronted armed soldiers who stormed the campus and refused to let troops ransack the school or seize the refugees.

After the siege ended in March 1938, Vautrin devoted herself to caring for the refugees, helping the women locate husbands and sons who had been taken away by the Japanese soldiers. She taught destitue widows the skills required to make a meager living and provided the best education her limted resources would allow to the children of Nanking.

Suffering from psychological trauma from the events, Vautrin returned to the United States in 1940 for medical treatment. A year later, believing herself a failure, she ended her life.

Vautrin was one of approximately twenty Westerners who remained in Nanking during the 1937-1938 siege. Although largely forgotten, a recent resurgence of scholarship, as well as the family's donation of her collection to the Illinois State Museum, will ensure that the story of Minnie Vautrin and her efforts at Ginling College live on. 

The Illinois State Museum is located at 502 S. Spring Street (the corner of Spring and Edwards Streets) in Springfield, and is open 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 5:00 p.m. Sunday. The Museum will be closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year's Day. Admission is free. Parking is available nearby, and the building is accessible to individuals with disabilities. Images are available upon request. 



Thursday, November 15, 2007

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The Illinois State Museum promotes discovery, learning, and an appreciation of Illinois' natural, cultural, and artistic heritage.
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Museum Director: Bonnie W. Styles
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