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Grace Higley Knapp papers

Identifier: MS 0809

Scope and Contents

The Grace H. Knapp Papers contain correspondence, unpublished and published writings, biographical information and photographs. Most of this material relates to her experiences as a missionary and teacher in Bitlis, Erzerum, and Van, Turkey from 1895-1915. In two letters to James L. Barton written in June and July 1915 Knapp describes events and her activities following the siege of Van and the massacre of Armenians by the Turks in the spring of that year. She discusses shortages of food and supplies, troop movements of German, Russian, and Turkish soldiers in the region (a reflection of the ongoing World War), difficulties of providing care for Turkish refugee women and children brought to the Van mission by the Russian army, and assistance provided by Alexandra Tolstoy, daughter of Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy. She also describes a typhus epidemic that sickened many people working in the mission hospital including Director General of Near East Relief Ernest A. Yarrow and Dr. Clarence Douglas Ussher. The collection also includes a printed letter by Yarrow dated February 15, 1915 that describes the mission school and the worsening political situation. Earlier letters in the collection are chiefly addressed to Mount Holyoke College classmates and teachers including Bertha E. Blakely and Anna C. Edwards (three of these documents are extracts of Knapp's letters prepared by Edwards). These letters describe her activities as a teacher at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in Bitlis, where she assisted Charlotte E. and Mary A. C. Ely, as well as her work at the American School in Erzerum and the American School in Van. She also discusses marriage and holiday traditions, her travels in Turkey, and hardships caused by severe winter weather and earthquakes. Two letters to Grace Ely in 1914 concern a memorial for Mary A. C. Ely, who had died in 1913. The remainder of the collection consists largely of pamphlets, short stories, articles, essays, and poems by Knapp written 1912-ca.1947. Many of these documents relate to the mission at Van, the work of missionaries, and efforts to aid Armenian refugees. Her writings include two articles from 1912 about Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in Bitlis, accounts of the siege at Van and the evacuation of Americans and Armenians in 1915, a biography from 1916 of Martha W. Tinker Raynolds, a graduate of Mount Holyoke who was a missionary at Van, and an autobiographical essay from about 1947 describing Knapp's life in Turkey. Biographical information from ca.1904-1953 includes notes by Anna C. Edwards, an article about Knapp's retirement from the editorial board of the "Missionary Herald" in 1940, and a tribute written by Bertha E. Blakely after Knapp's death in 1953. Photographs in the collection consist of a formal portrait of Knapp, probably taken at the time of her graduation from Mount Holyoke in 1893 and a photograph of her sitting with the Ely sisters in their Bitlis home, ca. 1902.


  • Creation: 1893 - 1953

Conditions Governing Access


Biographical Note

Grace Higley Knapp was born on November 21, 1870 in Bitlis, Turkey, to the Reverend George Cushing Knapp, a missionary, and Alzina Churchill Knapp, a schoolteacher. She left Turkey in April 1883 and attended schools in Vermont, Massachusetts, and Illinois. She entered Mount Holyoke Seminary and College in 1889. Graduating in 1893, she returned to Turkey to teach at Mount Holyoke Seminary of Kurdistan (also known as Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, Bitlis), a girls' school founded in 1868 by Mount Holyoke alumnae Charlotte E. and Mary A. C. Ely. Knapp taught at Bitlis (1893-1895, 1898-1902, 1910-1913), the American School in Erzerum (1896-1898), and the American School in Van (1913-1915). She worked with refugees in Van during and after the Armenian massacres in 1915. When foreigners were forced out she returned to the United States in October 1915. Between 1915-1918 she wrote and published books and pamphlets about her experiences, among them "The Mission at Van" (1915, rev. 1916) and "War Time at Van" (1916). She worked as a staff writer for the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief in New York City from 1918-1923 and on the editorial staff of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in Boston, Massachusetts from 1923-1940. Her other published works include "The Tragedy of Bitlis" (1917), "An American Physician in Turkey" (1919, coauthored with Dr. Clarence Douglas Ussher), and a booklet of poems. She died at eighty-two on March 14, 1953, in Auburndale, Massachusetts.


1 boxes

Language of Materials



Knapp, Grace Higley, 1870-1953; missionary and teacher. Mount Holyoke Seminary and College graduate, 1893. Papers consist of correspondence, correspondence, unpublished and published writings, biographical information and photographs documenting primarily her experiences, travel, and teaching with Mary A. C. Ely and Charlotte E. Ely in Bitlis, Erzerum, and Van (Turkey), 1895-1915. Includes correspondence and publications about the 1915 massacre of Armenians and her work with Ernest A. Yarrow, Clarence D. Ussher, Alexandra Tolstoy and others to aid refugees.


Arranged in 4 series: Series 1. Correspondence. Series 2. Writings. Series 3. Biographical Information. Series 4. Photographs.

Knapp papers, ca. 1893-1953.
Finding Aid
Edited Full Draft
© 2003
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Encoding funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Repository Details

Part of the Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections Repository

50 College Street
8 Dwight Hall
South Hadley MA 01075-6425 USA