Clara Jones (1887-1969)

Clara Jones-2

Good Afternoon.  I’m Jean Zamin and I am going to tell you about my grandmother, Clara Jones, and the role she played as a missionary wife in Chungking, China.

Barbara Jones 2011

First let me put into context both my grandmother and myself. Here is the connecting person, Barbara Jones Good, Clara’s daughter, my mother, and a very proud mish-kid. As many of you know, she was an active participant in these West China meals from the 60’s until a couple of years ago and she would have been delighted that the program is finally about missionaries from CHUNGKING and even better, about the women.

1943 Clara Jones

It has been quite a journey for me putting this talk together because we did not have the opportunity to get to know either of our Jones grandparents. Grandfather Jones died when I was two. Grandmother lived longer but in 1944, a year after this photo was taken, she contracted encephalitis which resulted in brain damage such that she could not develop new relationships nor recall anything since the illness. Going through old photos, letters and articles allowed me to get to know Clara Jones in a way I had never experienced before. Most enlightening were her letters home and three typed out talks that Grandmother gave 23 times to different groups during her furlough in 1943/44, speaking of her life in China.

Clara German with friends

Before I tell you about the role Clara Jones played as a missionary wife, let me tell you about who she was and how she initially envisioned her role in the mission field. Clara was an only child, brought up in Strathroy Ontario in a strongly Methodist family. She attended high school in London Ontario and then spent one year at Ontario Ladies College in Whitby, before attending Victoria College at the University of Toronto, a Methodist College at which many of the missionaries to West China studied. While there, she lived at Ansley Hall and developed many strong friendships, one with Muriel Hockey who later came to West China and ultimate became Muriel Brown, grandmother of the Crook family.

Clara in Japan

Clara was an excellent student. Beyond her studies, she was very active in the debate club and in the YWCA and its missionary effort, serving on several executives. I recently read some of Grandfather’s early letters to her from China in which he reminisced about the many evenings he spent waiting for her outside some meeting in which she was speaking. She led a very active life – how she had time to study I don’t know.   She met Gordon Jones before even entering university, on a train down to a Student Volunteer conference in Nashville Tennessee in 1906, at which they both signed pledges to take their faith to the mission field. They became friends at Victoria College and he clearly courted her, but when he asked her to marry him in 1909, she declined, resolved to pursue a missionary career of her own. When Gordon went to China alone in 1910, Clara attended Deaconess training in preparation for missionary work and then, in 1913, she was sent to Japan by the WMS, or Women’s Missionary Society, as a teacher – an independent woman pursuing her own career.


Once in China alone, Gordon started writing to Clara – initially rather tentatively after the earlier rejection of marriage. By July 1913, he was ready to take a huge risk – he traveled down the long muddy Yangtze river to Shanghai and then Japan for a summer vacation with the fervent hope that he would be able to convince Clara to marry him. Success! They were married on August 31 and headed back to Shanghai, then up the Yangtze river to Chenchow where Gordon had been overseeing a building project.

WMS women

A slight aside – for the mission field, the men and the couples were sent out by the Mission board of the Methodist church but the young ladies were usually commissioned by the Women’s Missionary Society, or WMS, which at that time was a separate entity. These are the WMS women who went out with grandfather in 1910, many of them Clara’s friends from college. Much to the dismay of the WMS executive in Canada, 3 of the initial 4 young women sent out to China resigned to marry single men from the mission and many more were to follow. The WMS was not at all happy when these women were lost to them but the Mission Board was actually quite pleased. The mission field was quite a lonely place for a single man and they were delighted each time one found a partner. According to the book “A Sensitive Independence” by Rosemary Gagan about the WMS, when the first woman resigned to marry a fellow missionary, a protocol was set up that requiring the General Council of the Methodist Church to reimburse the WMS for the lady’s passage to the Orient, and the new husband to repay all of the salary that she had received thus far.

Gordon and staff

Gordon Jones was by training a civil engineer and thus far had used his training to oversea the building of a number of missionary hospitals. Shortly after arriving back in West China with his new wife, a new appointment awaited him. Several years earlier, the West China Mission decided that it had grown sufficiently to require that one man be appointed to look after purely business interests, the coming and going of mission personnel and supplies… and so, in 1911, Mr. Brillinger had opened the Home and Business Agency in Chungking. It was now time for him to return to Canada on furlough so Gordon Jones was asked to take his place in running the Agency.  I say “Gordon Jones was asked” but as he wrote later, “The Home is for the entertainment of the Members of the Mission passing through Chungking and falls naturally within the province of the wife of the Business agent.” So Clara now had a job – unpaid of course – but one that she carried on through war and peace from 1915 to 1943, close to 30 years.

Family 1917 - 1927

Before I expand on Clara’s role as a hostess and manager I’d like to note that she was also a wife and a mother in a challenging environment.  In 1917, when it was time to go on furlough, she and baby Eleanor headed home alone across the Pacific as Gordon joined the war effort as an officer with the Chinese Labour Corp destined for France. She and Eleanor lived with her parents and in-laws for the next two years until Gordon returned home  and they could make their way back to China together. That was the only trip they would make together until 1943. Clara crossed the Pacific as a single mother, first with one and then with three children five times as her husband came later or left earlier. The bond between Missionary families was so strong in part because the women supported one another on these trips together and in so many other ways. As with many other Missionary parents, when Clara returned to China in 1928,  she left her 12 year old daughter, Eleanor, back in Canada with grandparents because there was no schooling for her in Chungking. For the next year there was no schooling for the younger two children, Barbara and Stephen, either so she taught them herself at home.

 Chungking and Canadian School

This is to give you a flavour of Chungking. Chungking is on a peninsula at the confluence of the Yangtze and the Jailing River. The Agency was right on the edge of the cliff in Chungking while the Canadian School, built in 1929, was on the south side of the river as were most of the mission homes.  Chungking is famous for these steps down to the river. Every Monday morning Mum and Uncle Steve were taken down the steps and across the river by sampan by their mother and they boarded at the school until Friday. You can imagine that the river, calm on this day, was at times, fast flowing and dangerous.  Clara took her turn living at the school during the week, acting as matron to the children in boarding. A letter home described the whole family walking back from school the six miles to their ‘bungalow’ in their beloved hills, their refuge from the summer’s heat – so the sedan chairs you see in the video were not always used by the family.

Clara was always upbeat – and.. I have to add very STOIC!! In 1925, after being evacuated from Chungking with three small children during anti-foreign riots, Clara wrote a factual but positive letter to her parents calmly describing the way they had packed up one outfit each into pillow cases and gone down to a British gun boat. She then added, that once out of danger, there was almost a picnic-like environment on board with all the women and children. Years later she later wrote about that long July night “when we evacuated Chungking and lay wide-eyed on the deck of a steamer waiting for the rosy dawn to give the signal to leave all we owned.” In her case that included her husband! Not quite a picnic!


Now back to Clara’s role in the Agency Home and the special touch that was hers alone – that of calmness in the face of adversity.  She once said to Mum that she thought that the inscription on her tombstone should read “She Never Fussed”. It doesn’t. In the early years the agency appears to have been for members of the Mission passing through Chungking. As Mum described it, the Agency was a large homey building of four stories and up to 10 bedrooms. At the street level, lived the gateman, the cook, 2 amahs and the table boy. The large dining room could seat many people and Clara could never be sure whether she would be feeding 6 or 16 at a time.

I found a note in Mum’s papers from Julia Brown reminiscing that their family happened to be at the Agency on her 11th birthday. She was completely surprised and thrilled when Clara produced a birthday cake for her. She wondered how she had even known.

The roles of both Gordon and Clara grew enormously in 1937 when the Japanese invaded China, and Chungking became the seat of government and the refuge for millions of people fleeing destruction to the east – and these refugees included many westerners as well as Chinese.


This may give you an idea of her calmness during stressful times. In 1939, Mary Endicott wrote to her sister about a bombing by the Japanese: On Wednesday Clara Jones came over to give the children their music lesson. We had just finished lunch when the air raid signal sounded …. We took the children down to the basement …. Clara suggested we play “Animal, Vegetable and Mineral” so we did and had quite a jolly time, almost forgetting to hear the different roar of the planes as the enemy planes arrived….


I could share accolades about the work done by Clara and Gordon as written by others but let me first share a few snippets of the war experience in Clara’s own words as presented to church groups in 1943.

She writes: I have been digging down into my bag of memories and bringing out treasures old and new….. the first person who comes to my mind is a Chinese gentleman just about up to my shoulder, a Mr. Tsu, educated in America, before the war a professor in Shanghai, ….one of the gentlest and humblest Christian gentleman I have even met. While he was in Chungking, he used to phone me when he found the New Life Movement headquarters where he was staying a little too hectic and ask if he could come to us for a few days or a week’s rest and quiet – though heaven knows I consider my home anything but restful.

A few people

If I ever heard sounds of occupation some morning in a bedroom I knew to be empty, it was apt to be F.T. Smith, known as animal Smith, who had popped in during the night and helped himself to a room.

 Bob McLure of our Honan Mission came to Szechwan as head of the Friend’s Ambulance Unit which was made up of 80 to 100 boys mostly from England, most with pacifist backgrounds.…. They live hard lives, sleeping on the trucks while they are on the road, eating badly, and not caring for themselves. I never knew at what hour of the day or night some of these lads would pop in, covered with grease from top to toe. If there was a bed, they had it, if not they went back again to their trucks, eating where they could and likely coming down to us to wash off the grease and to get filled up with tea and cake.

I will quote from one tribute to Clara and Gordon: Clara has the extraordinary, almost uncanny faculty of flying into great calm. And … guests constantly come and go, and not always at opportune hours. Yet through it all there is that inexplicable, unruffled, quiet atmosphere. Where else would you find a tired university Dean who, seeking ten days of quiet rest would go to a Business Agency for it, and mark you, find it.

Clara and Gordon

Gordon and Clara Jones lived and worked as complete partners in the task of raising their family and running the Agency. It has been a privilege to tell you about Clara, an incredibly intelligent & articulate woman with a heart of gold, a sensitivity to the needs of others and the unflappable nature that allowed her to truly reach out to others and provide calm in their stormy lives.

House boats on Yangtze

5 thoughts on “Clara Jones (1887-1969)

  1. What an interesting story! How I wish I had this information when I was writing about the WMS. When was this posted?

  2. Hi, I can identify each of those WMS women on the boat.
    I have been researching the life of one of them. She was a local resident.
    Let me know if you would like the names.

    1. Hi Ileen,

      Yes, I’d like to know the names, and also you can tell me something about your research of one of them. Thanks.


  3. Hi Jean,
    Great to read this article, we missed it, mom would have loved to read this!
    Could you please tell me, the painting at the end of your article……….is the artist Anna Morse? What is the title, and where was it painted?

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