1890s Omar & Retta Kilborn and Family

Vic in China

Omar Kilborn sailed to China with his wife Jennie Fowler in 1891, arriving in Chengtu in May 1892. He was supported in his Mission by the Toronto East District Epworth League.  Shortly after her arrival in West China, Jennie  contracted cholera. She died on July 10 1892. 

Dr. Retta Gifford and  Miss Sara C. Brackbill were the first missionaries appointed to West China by the Women's Missionary Service to open a dispensary for women and a W.M.S. school in Chengtu. They set sail for China in November 1892 arriving in Shanghai in February 1893. They were obliged to wait for close to a year for an escort for the second leg of their journey to Szechwan. The escort up river was Omar Kilborn.

The courtship was brief, Omar Kilborn and Retta Gifford married in Chengtu in May 1894.  Immediately they were faced with the W.M.S. policy of only employing unmarried women missionaries. The W.M.S. policies stipulated that once a woman was married, she was not only obliged to resign her mission, but she and her husband were obliged to repay the wages earned as a W.M.S. missionary. (The cost of the journey to China was repaid by the General Missionary Society.) The W.M.S. made an exception in Retta Gifford's case. She was given special dispensation to continue in her work as W.M.S. medical missionary with the caveat that she would not earn a salary.

Retta Gifford Kilborn spent a year in language study and travelled with her husband to Kiating to open a station for the General Society. They returned to Chengtu in May 1895 where they were caught up in anti-foreigner rioting. They travelled down river with other Canadian missionaries to wait out the unrest in Shanghai. The Kilborns returned to Chengtu in 1896 and Dr. Retta Kilborn opened a W.M.S. dispensary and hospital for Women and Children. Retta Kilborn resigned from the W.M.S. in 1898.  She took on important social issues facing women in China, and was a leader in the anti-footbinding league in West China. Dr. Retta Kilborn practiced medicine in Chengtu in the 1920s, following her husband's death. She also served as a faculty member in the Department of Medicine of the West China Union University.

Omar Kilborn was a founder of the Departments of Medicine and Dentistry at West China Union University. He was one of the organizers of the Chinese Red Cross Society in Szechwan, and was active during the Revolution of 1911 in caring for soldiers in the field. Omar Kilborn was a fluent Chinese speaker, his book "Chinese lessons" (1917) was used as a first year text for Chinese language students until the 1930s.

The Kilborns had four children, all of whom were born in China: Leslie, Constance, Cora, and Kenneth.

In April 1920, Omar Kilborn was awarded D.D. (honoris causa) by Victoria College.

The Kilborn family photographs used in this exhibit were provided by David Walmsley.

Sources:
Omar L. Kilborn. Chinese Forms of Politeness. Rev. by  Ruth L. Fraser and J.E. Moncrieff. -- ed. [Chengtu?: s.n.], 1926.

---. Chinese Lessons for First Year Students in West China. [s.l.]: Union University, 1917.Available online through Scholars Portal Books http://go.utlib.ca/cat/1242231

---. Heal the Sick : An Appeal for Medical Missions in China. Toronto: Missionary Society of the Methodist Church, 1910.  Available online through Scholars Portal Books http://go.utlib.ca/cat/3234072

--,"A Quarter of a Century and After," "Historical Sketch,"  "Departmental Surveys: A Look into the future," in Our West China Mission, Toronto: The Missionary Society of the Methodist Church & The Young People's Forward Movement, 1920.

Our West China Mission : Being a Somewhat Extensive Summary by the Missionaries on the Field of Work during the First Twenty-Five Years of the Canadian Methodist Mission in the Province of Szechwan, Western China. Ed. Omar L. Kilborn and Young Peoples Forward Movement. Toronto: Missionary Society of the Methodist Church, 1920. Available online through Scholars Portal Books http://go.utlib.ca/cat/128654

 

Retta Gifford Credit: Kilborn / Walmsley Family.

Retta Gifford Credit: Kilborn / Walmsley Family.

Retta Gifford with a friend, Shanghai, 1893 Credit: Kilborn / Walmsley Family.

Retta Gifford with a friend, Shanghai, 1893 Credit: Kilborn / Walmsley Family.

Omar & Retta Kilborn and their Wedding guests, May 24 1894 Credit: Kilborn / Walmsley Family.

Omar & Retta Kilborn and their Wedding guests, May 24 1894 Credit: Kilborn / Walmsley Family.

"With our teacher" - Omar and Retta Kilborn with their Chinese language teacher, possibly 1895 Credit: Kilborn / Walmsley Family.

R.G.  Kilborn, after the Riots, 1895 Credit: Kilborn / Walmsley Family.

R.G. Kilborn, after the Riots, 1895 Credit: Kilborn / Walmsley Family.

Doctors Omar and Retta Kilborn, 1899 Credit: Kilborn / Walmsley Family.

Doctors Omar and Retta Kilborn, 1899 Credit: Kilborn / Walmsley Family.

Omar Kilborn on the city wall of Chengtu, showing with houses and mission hospital in the distance. Credit: Kilborn / Walmsley Family.

Omar Kilborn on the city wall of Chengtu, showing with houses and mission hospital in the distance. Credit: Kilborn / Walmsley Family.

Doctors Omar and Retta Kilborn with their young family, 1903 Credit: Kilborn / Walmsley Family.

Doctors Omar and Retta Kilborn with their young family, 1903 Credit: Kilborn / Walmsley Family.

Kilborn family at home, Si Shen Tzi, 1903 Credit: Kilborn / Walmsley Family.

Kilborn family at home, Si Shen Tzi, 1903 Credit: Kilborn / Walmsley Family.

Kilborn home in Chengtu, 1905 Credit: Kilborn / Walmsley Family.

Kilborn home in Chengtu, 1905 Credit: Kilborn / Walmsley Family.

Retta Kilborn, November 1907 Credit: Kilborn / Walmsley Family.

Retta Kilborn, November 1907 Credit: Kilborn / Walmsley Family.

Mother [Retta Kilborn] December 5, 1918 Credit: Kilborn / Walmsley Family.

Mother [Retta Kilborn] December 5, 1918 Credit: Kilborn / Walmsley Family.

Doctors Omar and Retta Kilborn, 1919 Credit: Kilborn / Walmsley Family.

Doctors Omar and Retta Kilborn, 1919 Credit: Kilborn / Walmsley Family.

Cora and Kenneth Kilborn, 1922 Credit: Kilborn / Walmsley Family.

Cora and Kenneth Kilborn, 1922 Credit: Kilborn / Walmsley Family.

Report from Drs. Kilborn, in Missionary Campaigner, 2:5, September 1897

Omar Kilborn. "The Modern City of Chengtu," Acta Victoriana. 33:8, 522-6