Biography and History

Pearl S. Buck was born Pearl Comfort Sydenstricker on June 26, 1892, in Hillsboro, West Virginia. While still an infant, she moved to eastern China with her Presbyterian missionary parents, Absalom and Caroline (Stulting) Sydenstricker. She was educated by her mother and a Chinese tutor until the Boxer Rebellion forced her family to flee to Shanghai, where she attended boarding school. Buck credited her tutor and her immersion in Chinese culture as shaping her perception and understanding of China, which influenced her literary works. Buck continued her education at Randolph Macon Woman's College in Lynchburg, Virginia, and obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1914. She taught psychology for a few months there before returning to China to care for her ailing mother. In 1917, she married John Lossing Buck, an agricultural expert stationed in northern China. While living there, Buck became familiar with Chinese peasant families and their daily lives, but also noticed a strong divide between whites and the Chinese. She used her observations to pen non-fiction articles about Chinese daily life, which were published in American magazines.

In 1925 Buck returned to America to seek care for her daughter, Carol, who was severely retarded, and in 1926 she received an MA from Cornell. Upon returning to China, she continued writing and published her first novel, East Wind, West Wind, in 1930. In 1931, Buck published The Good Earth, her most famous novel, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 and the Howells Medal in 1935, and which was adapted into a MGM film in 1938. In 1938, she also became the first American woman to receive the Nobel Prize for literature. Before her death, Buck published over 70 books, including novels, poetry, biographies, and dramas and collections of stories. In all of her works, she sought to bridge the cultural gap between Asia and the West.

Buck left the political unrest in China and returned to America in 1934 to be closer to both her daughter, who was hospitalized in New Jersey, and Richard Walsh, her editor, whom she would marry in 1935 after receiving a divorce. Throughout their marriage, Buck and Walsh adopted five children. She became active in the civil and women's rights movements in America. After being outraged that current adoption agencies did not allow the adoption of Asian or mixed race children, Buck established Welcome House, the first international, interracial adoption agency. Since its establishment, Welcome House has assisted in the placement of over six thousand children. Buck and Walsh also formed the East and West Association in 1942, an organization dedicated to cultural exchange between Asia and the West. Pearl S. Buck died in 1973 at the age of 80.

Source: From the finding aid for C0060


  • Literary agents -- 20th century..
  • Novelists, American -- 20th century..
  • Women novelists, American -- 20th century..