Missionary Frank Scudder in Japan and Hawaii



 Rev. Frank Seymour Scudder

Edited from various sources by Jack Scudder Gillmar,[1] Member of the Board of the Scudder Association Foundation

© Scudder Association Foundation


Frank Scudder, 1862–1956. Frank grew up with Dr. Doremus Scudder as children of the Arcot Mission in India. By the third generation of Scudders in India there were so many Scudders in the Arcot Mission that the mission board declined to send any more, suggesting that they should serve in other mission fields. Both Doremus Scudder and Frank Scudder, first cousins of Dr. Ida, served first in Japan and second in Hawaii.  At that time Hawaii was not a state but a foreign territory of the United States.

Following his education at Rutgers University, Frank was a minister in Havana, Illinois and Mount Vernon, New York. In 1895 he set off with his young wife Florence Schenck, (daughter of the minister in New Ghent, New York) and his mother-in-law, Jenny Dumont Schenck, for missionary work in Japan. They were sent to a new mission station in Nagano, western Japan, where few foreigners had ever been. They faced and survived major challenges over ten years. Jenny decided to return to the U.S. after the first year. During the Scudders ten years in Nagano the church formed a small, dedicated Christian community despite major resistance from the priests of the city’s famous Zenko-ji Buddhist temple.

In the tenth year of Frank and Florence Scudder’s missionary work in Japan, Florence died in the western hospital in Tokyo after the birth of their third child, Ruth.

© Florence Schenck Scudder[2]


Knowing that she would not live to raise her newborn child, Florence left a loving, poetic letter for her.


“I Tell It Now, My Child”[3]

 Florence died a few months after Ruth was born. She is buried in Aoyama Cemetery, Tokyo.  Frank maintained the baby book until Ruth was of age. It was Ruth’s treasured possession. The family did not know of the book’s existence and Florence’s letter until Ruth own passing.

This left Frank with the responsibility of rearing his three small children while conducting his mission in a foreign land which was becoming less hospitable to foreigners.

 Japan had fought China a few years earlier and had defeated the Russian navy. In the same year Ruth was born, there had been anti-western riots in Tokyo. Frank was concerned about the education and safety of his children.

 While Japan was opening up to the West, the same process allowed many Japanese the freedom to seek better alternatives for their own lives. Many country folks elected to seek their fortunes in lands of which they had just become aware; many left to make new lives in Hawaii, California, and Brazil.

 In the late 19th century, Hawaii had evolved an extensive plantation system for the growing of sugar cane. As this was a labor-intensive industry and the local population in Hawaii was relatively small, the plantation owners sought workers from abroad, primarily Japan. Indicative of this rapid growth is the fact that in 1884 there were 116 Japanese in Hawaii while in 1900 that number had increased to 61,000, comprising more than a quarter of Hawaii’s population.

 The rapid influx of Japanese to the Hawaiian plantations caused significant social dislocations.   The indigenous people found it hard to understand and to communicate with this substantial and new group within the community.

 The first American Missionaries, led by Frank’s distant cousin on the Scudder line, Hiram Bingham, had come to Hawaii from New England in 1820. They were part of the same mission outreach that had already sent Frank’s grandparents, Dr. John and Harriet Scudder to India.

 The American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions to native Hawaiians concluded its work in Hawaii in 1863 and concentrated on the mission in Micronesia. The ABCFM successors in Hawaii became known as the Hawaiian Board of Missions as Hawaii became a U.S. Territory.  Their work focused on Asian immigrants to Hawaii – mostly Japanese, but also Chinese and Koreans. A mission superintendent was assigned to each ethnic group.

  In response to this new need, a new group of church leaders arrived in Hawaii whose hopes, ideals, ambitions and deeds contributed to the advancement of Hawaii. The Rev. Doremus Scudder, Frank’s first cousin, was in Honolulu at this time and he was aware of Frank’s concerns with raising his children in Japan by himself. Doremus saw that Frank’s ability to speak Japanese and his love for the Japanese people could be very beneficial in Hawaii while providing Frank with a more congenial place to raise his children. In 1906 Frank and his children, Raymond, Margaret and Ruth sailed to Hawaii with Uraji, Ruth’s nurse, who had lived with the Scudders in Japan.

 Frank became Superintendent of the Japanese Department of the Hawaiian Board of Missions in 1906. He would take periodic inter-island trips to oversee the welfare of Japanese plantation workers. Life there was difficult. The camp houses were rough and small, the area crowded, the water sometimes brackish. Twelve hours of hard work in the fields and low wages were the norm.

 Frank’s concern was primarily for the young children growing up under these harsh conditions.  They were reaching an age at which it would be vital to their future to know and understand their adopted country, the English language and American ideals and standards.

 Frank oversaw the creation of Japanese churches and Sunday schools all over the islands.  He used drama as a way to engage the interest of young people. Being a friendly and loving man, Frank quickly won the hearts and confidence of these young people of the plantations. Across the Hawaiian Islands of Hawaii, Maui and Kauai boys and girls on plantations heard about Frank.  They named him “Dad Scudder.” Stories of America and a sense of loyalty and service were instilled in them. He made it possible for his youth groups to meet each other in Christian fellowship by organizing field trips between the islands on inter-islands steamships at steerage rates, sleeping on deck with “Dad.” For children isolated on small plantations these trips were a great eyeopening experience to a wider world. A sense of Christian ethics, loyalty and service was instilled in them.

 A dream came true for Frank Scudder in 1923. With ministers working with other ethnic groups, he formed a multi-ethnic young peoples church with services in English. Previously churches on all islands were conducted in the native language of specific ethnic groups. The young peoples church provided a new approach to the fundamental problems of multi-racial/ethnic children of Hawaii’s immigrants. Known today as the Church of the Crossroads, it remains a strong force for liberal Christianity in the islands.


Church of the Crossroads, Honolulu, Hawaii

In 1936 Frank retired as head of the Japanese Department and as Editor of “The Friend,” the mission’s newspaper. The Rev. John P. Erdman expresses the affection of his fellow workers:

Frank’s devotion to duty, loyalty to the mission and by a spirit of selflessness and unassuming gentleness, which has won wide respect and affection. He has made a host of friends among the adults, and especially among the youth of all races in all parts of the territory. His active service will be greatly missed, but it is hoped that his valuable help as counselor and advisor will long be available during his retirement.

       John P. Erdman
Hawaiian Board

 Frank did just that, he started writing a newsletter to his growing number of plantation friends in order to keep in touch with them. Calling those letters “Mystic Messages”, the recipients eventually became known as the “Mystic Members.  Membership reached 1300. Inspirational messages were sent periodically, speaking of the ideals and dreams of America, a country to which they belonged. During World War II the U.S. 442nd Battalion, comprised of American youth of Japanese ancestry, distinguished itself fighting on the European front. Hawaii’s original representatives of Asian ancestry in the US Congress, after statehood in 1959, grew up during this formative period in Hawaiian history.

 Over Frank’s lifetime he wrote 250 Mystic Messages that he signed with a red rubber stamp depicting two floating ducks facing each other—“Redducs”–  “Scudder” backwards.

 Perhaps the greatest testament to the work of Frank Scudder and others like him was the patriotism of Hawaii’s Japanese Americans during World War II. While on the West Coast of the United States the Japanese Americans were moved to internment camps for the balance of the war, in Hawaii the people of Japanese descent joined with other Americans in the defense of their country. Many of the young men Frank trained joined the U.S. Army as part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Battalion and distinguished themselves in battle in the Italian campaign and later in France.

 Frank’s recollection at age 90 of one of his adventures in western Japan, “The Different Man in Western Japan,follows this article.

[1] Compiled from a number of open sources in the Scudder Gillmar Archive including The Scudder Association Newsletter, Number 165, (Spring 1998).

[2] Florence Schenck Scudder,” copyrighted by Jack Scudder Gillmar.

[3] Florence Schenck Scudder, “I Tell It Now, My Child,” copyrighted by Jack Scudder Gillmar.


© Scudder Association Foundation, All rights reserved



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