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Forsythe family papers

Identifier: WUA106

Scope and Contents

The Forsythe family papers contain correspondence, documents, literature, photographs, and ephemera. They represent the collected efforts of Irene Hanson (née Forsythe), Emmett and Bessie Forsythe, and Margaret Grace Forsythe to retain their family history. The materials in the collection are from as early as the mid-1800s, spanning all the way to the last years of Margaret Forsythe’s life in the 2000s. The Forsythe family papers consist of four distinct series. The first and most voluminous series is the Margaret Forsythe papers, featuring her collected correspondence, photographs, Cold War era literature, her writings and academic work, and ephemera. Within her correspondence Forsythe converses with her family and friends, sharing not only the aspects of her daily life, but her interests, opinions, and beliefs. Her collection of Cold War era literature focuses on subjects like Cuba, Soviet Russia, and Vietnam. Forsythe’s writing touches on a variety of subjects like Asian culture, science fiction, and international politics. The second and third series contain the papers of Margaret Forsythe's parents Bessie and Emmett Forsythe, and aunt and uncle, Irene and Perry Hanson, respectively. Both series contain collected correspondence from friends, family, and business acquaintances; documents and writings; photographs; and ephemera.


  • 1846-2009


Language of Materials

Materials are predominately in English with some material in Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, Russian, and Vietnamese.

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open to researchers.

Conditions Governing Use

Library acts as “fair use” reproduction agent.

For further information, see the section on copyright in the Regulations and Procedures of the Willamette University Archives and Special Collections.

Copyright Information: Before material from collections at Willamette University Archives and Special Collections may be quoted in print, or otherwise reproduced, in whole or in part, in any publication, permission must be obtained from (1) the owner of the physical property, and (2) the holder of the copyright. It is the particular responsibility of the researcher to obtain both sets of permission. Persons wishing to quote from materials in any collections held by University Archives and Special Collections should consult the University Archivist. Reproduction of any item must contain a complete citation to the original.

Biographical / Historical

Margaret Grace Forsythe was born March 8, 1923 in Vancouver, Washington, the only daughter of Bessie and Emmett Forsythe. During her childhood, the Forsythe family moved to Salem, Oregon where she attended North Salem High School and then Willamette University, graduating with the class of 1945. From 1947 to 1948, Forsythe and her mother relocated to Japan to live with Emmett Forsythe while he was stationed there with the American Red Cross. Forsythe and her mother worked teaching English to Japanese students, many of whom Margaret would visit and correspond with in the future. After returning to the United States, Forsythe attended graduate school at the University of Washington. There she studied Russian, Far East Politics, and Asian culture, receiving a Master of Arts degree. When she graduated, she was familiar with Japanese, Spanish, and Russian. In 1952, her father mentioned a man he met working at a military station. Describing him as “in the intelligence work," Emmett Forsythe said that the man had told him that the United States government was always looking for people with Margaret’s skills and had given Emmett an address so Margaret could apply. Forsythe had many preconceptions about working for the Central Intelligence Agency but ultimately applied. Forsythe began her service in June of 1953, working from Washington D.C. There she enjoyed the growing metropolitan culture, a sharp change of pace from the Pacific Northwest. From 1958 to 1960, she served her first overseas assignment stationed in La Paz, Bolivia. After serving for three years in Bolivia, Forsythe returned to Washington D.C. for a time and then accepted an assignment working for what she described as a "private research company" in Coral Gables, Florida. In 1965, she returned to Washington D.C. She was then assigned to Torrejón Air Base in Madrid for the US embassy in Spain from 1967 until November of 1968. Forsythe returned to Washington D.C. once again, but in 1970 she decided to take on her last foreign assignment, which was in Vietnam. She served as a member of the Foreign Service in South Vietnam until 1974. She lived in Saigon, working with US officials and native Vietnamese. During her time there, her parents Bessie and Emmett Forsythe passed away, in 1970 and 1972 respectively. Forsythe returned to Washington D.C. for the last four years of her government employment, retiring in 1978. Moving back to Salem, Forsythe pursued many of her long-time goals. She wrote two articles focusing on artwork from the Vietnamese Mien tribe for Arts of Asia magazine. She also achieved a long-time goal of teaching, becoming an assistant professor at Chemeketa Community College. Forsythe kept active in the local First Presbyterian Church and, through her church efforts, Forsythe helped support the members of the Mien tribe from Vietnam who had immigrated to the United States. Throughout the remainder of her life, she stayed engaged in the growing community of Mien living in the Salem-Portland area. Forsythe continued to travel, visiting Mexico and Asia in the last years of her life. Forsythe died in 2009 at the age of 86.

Emmett Forsythe was born to Elmer Forsythe and Amy Templeton on February 1, 1896 in Enterprise, Oregon. Bessie Swope was born on November 20, 1897 in Woodburn, Oregon. With the entrance of the United States into World War I, Forsythe signed up with the American Expeditionary Forces. After his return, Forsythe and Swope were married on April 5, 1922 and moved to Vancouver, Washington where Emmett began a career with a chemical company while Bessie taught elementary school. On March 9, 1923, they had their first and only child, Margaret Grace Forsythe, and eventually moved to Salem, Oregon. In 1944 Emmett Forsythe returned to military service serving the American Red Cross in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater of World War II. During this period, Forsythe was stationed throughout the Pacific, on islands such as Guam and Papa New Guinea, and finally in Japan in the aftermath of the war. In 1947 Margaret and Bessie Forsythe joined him for a year while he was assigned to Japan. During this time, Bessie and Margaret worked teaching English to Japanese students. By the end of 1948, the Forsythes returned to Salem. Bessie returned to teaching while Emmett continued to work for the American Red Cross until retiring in 1968. Bessie Forsythe died in 1970 and Emmett Forsythe died in 1972.

Frances Irene Hanson (née Forsythe), was born August 5, 1898 in Enterprise, Oregon. She graduated from Muskingum College in New Concord, Ohio and then relocated to Woodburn, Oregon to teach. There, she introduced her brother Emmett Forsythe to a colleague of hers and his future wife, Bessie Swope. Irene Forsythe wanted to live an exciting life outside of Oregon, but her father would only allow her to attend the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. She moved to Chicago to attend the institute and was assigned to a street corner to preach testimonies. Growing up, Forsythe had reservations about missionary work; however, in 1926 she was assigned to the Shangtung Province of Northern China. There she traveled with two Chinese women who taught her the customs of China and assisted Forsythe in preaching Christianity. She remained in China during the Japanese occupation, eventually being deported on a ship called the S.S. Gripsholm bound for New York. She returned to China in 1946, now under threat from the communist revolution led by Mao Zedong. Forsythe was the last remaining American Presbyterian missionary in China during the revolution and was the subject of denunciation campaigns by the communists who dubbed her "the chief American spy" in the region. She recalled loud speakers yelling her name and calling for her death. Eventually, she was picked up one night and shuttled to the coast where she was once again placed on a ship and sent home, warned never to step foot in China again. After returning to the United States, Forsythe married Perry O. Hanson on August 8, 1952 and settled down in Iola, Kansas. Reverend Hanson was also a Presbyterian missionary who had lost his first wife to fever while living in China. Together they preached about the circumstances in China and the effect on the Presbyterian Church there. Irene Hanson wrote two books, "Chengs Mother" and "The Wheelbarrow and the Comrade" in an effort to inform Americans about life in China. Perry Hanson died in 1967, but she continued to spread their message. Irene Hanson moved to Duarte, California, in 1980. She died December 25, 1994.


43 Linear Feet (51 boxes)


The Forsythe family papers (1846-2009) contain correspondence, documents, literature, photographs, and ephemera. They represent the collected efforts of Irene Hanson (née Forsythe), Emmett and Bessie Forsythe, and Margaret Grace Forsythe to document their family history.


The Forsythe family papers are arranged into the following series by family member(s) and then into subseries based on material type. The series are Series I: Margaret G. Forsythe papers, Series II: Bessie and Emmett C. Forsythe papers, Series III: Irene and Perry O. Hanson papers, and Series IV: Miscellaneous.

Physical Location

Mark O. Hatfield Library

Related Materials

The University of Oregon holds the Irene Forsythe Hanson papers. The finding aid is available here:
Guide to the Forsythe family papers, 1846-2009
Finding aid processed by Nicholas Wagener.
© 2017
Description rules
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.
Processing of this collection was sponsored by the Willamette University History Department.

Repository Details

Part of the Willamette University Archives and Special Collections Collection Descriptions

Mark O. Hatfield Library
900 State Street
Salem Oregon 97301 United States