Serendipity

Ora Tuttle Goes to KoreaIn late May, 1907, a letter from the Chicago Training School for Home and Foreign Missions addressed to Miss Ora Tuttle of Norwalk, Ohio, arrived at her sister’s home in nearby Fostoria. Ever since she had graduated from that school, Ora had been at her sister’s home, anxiously awaiting word of where she would be assigned. Did she hesitate before opening the envelope? Did she say a prayer? Or did she tear it open the moment it came into her hands? No matter which of those things she did, we know that she read the letter, and learned that she had been assigned to mission in the mysterious “Hermit Kingdom” of Korea. [1]

Ora Tuttle was twenty-seven years old, and had been preparing all her life for this moment. She had grown up in a prosperous family in a good part of Norwalk, and had received an excellent education for a young woman of those days. A graduate of Norwalk High School in 1897 [2], she had attended Ohio Wesleyan University the 1903-1904 school year. [3]

But secular education and career had not been the focus of her life. Her energies had always been devoted to the Methodist-Episcopal church in Norwalk. That is where she had found like-minded friends, and that is where she had realized her purpose in life. From an early age, she believed she had a call from God to serve Him as a missionary in foreign lands.

To prepare herself for her calling, Ora had joined societies at her church that supported missions, served on their committees, assiduously studied missionary work, and spoke to any and all about what she had learned and of her dream of becoming a missionary herself.

And now, she was actually going on a mission. She had realized her dream. From this day forward, she would live it.

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Serendipity led me to this story. While browsing the May 23, 1907 issue of the Norwalk Daily Reflector for articles about the June graduation of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907, the headline “Miss Ora Tuttle Goes to Korea” caught my eye.

temporary-derangementWhat about this headline captured my attention? First off, the name Tuttle rang a bell, although I wasn’t sure why. Then I remembered. In January, I posted a series of posts titled Temporary Derangement about the Tuttle ancestry of Sarah Barnett of the Class of 1907. That story culminated in a bit of narrative non-fiction about the December 1906 suicide of Sarah’s grandmother, Calista Harris, nee Tuttle. Was Ora Tuttle a distant cousin of Mrs. Harris? If so, how did the woman’s suicide affect her?

Emperor Sunjong

Sunjong – Last Emperor of Korea

That Ora Tuttle was heading to Korea aroused my curiosity, too. I lived in Korea for eight years intermittently from 1975 to 1999, first as a soldier and later as a businessman, and I developed a deep interest in Korean culture and history, especially of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the last years of an independent Korean monarchy before Japan annexed the peninsula in 1910.

In the Daily Reflector article, I noticed that Ora would be a Methodist missionary in Korea, another point of connection for me. Although baptized in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Norwalk, Ohio, I was raised a Methodist.

So there you are. As often happens in historical and genealogical research, looking for one thing leads you to something unexpected — and fascinating. I am now securely hooked by Ora’s story, and want to learn more about her. What events in her early life led this daughter of the Firelands to missionary work? How did she fare in that strange and mysterious land? What was her ultimate fate?

I’ll explore the answers to all these questions in my next series of posts, beginning with how I became interested the history and culture of the “Hermit Kingdom.”

Footnotes:

[1] “Miss Ora Tuttle Goes to Korea,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, May 23, 1907, page 1, column 4.

[2] “The High School,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, September 4, 1895, page 3, column 4.

[3] “Gone to College,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, September 15, 1903, page 7, column 2.

[4] “History of Epworth League Read at Banquet Last Night,” The Norwalk Evening Herald, April 18, 1907, page 2, column 1.

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