Celebrating the Life of Dr. Horace Allen

Friends from Korea and Delaware honor a diplomat, doctor, and beloved missionary

Pictured here are several Korean visitors and members of the OWU and Delaware communities, who gathered for lunch in the Hamilton-Williams Campus Center in mid-February. (Photo by Cole Hatcher)

Ed. Note: During the week of February 14, 21 Koreans, most of whom were from Namdaemoon Presbyterian Church in Seoul, Korea, visited Delaware and Ohio Wesleyan to recognize the life of Dr. Horace Newton Allen, and celebrate the 200th anniversary of Delaware’s First Presbyterian Church. The church in Korea claims that Allen is its founder, and though born in Delaware, he is credited with laying the groundwork for introducing Christianity to Korea. During their visit, the Korean group toured Ohio Wesleyan and had lunch with OWU President Rock Jones and other community members; viewed artifacts donated to OWU by Allen; visited Delaware sites; toured Columbus; and saw Allen’s Toledo gravesite. The following story by former OWU journalism professor Paul Kostyu, is a fascinating account of Dr. Allen’s accomplishments and of the admiration and respect he has garnered by the people of Korea.

More Koreans know of Dr. Horace Newton Allen than residents of Ohio or even Delaware, where he was born and raised. Twenty-one Koreans visited Delaware during the week of February 14 to join members of the First Presbyterian Church to recognize Allen and acknowledge the end of a year-long celebration of the church’s 200th anniversary.

Nineteen of the visitors, most of whom did not speak English, came from Namdaemoon Presbyterian Church in Seoul, Korea, which lays claim to Allen as its founder in 1887. Two others came from Yonsei University and Severance Medical Center, which also attribute their founding to Allen, who received a donation from Cleveland philanthropist Louis Henry Severance to build the hospital.

OWU’s Carol Holliger, archivist of the Ohio United Methodist Collection, shared an early photo of Dr. Horace Allen with the visitors from Korea. (Photo by Cole Hatcher)

Allen, a grandnephew of American Revolutionary War hero Ethan Allen, was born in Delaware, where he attended school, and his family owned a dry goods store. He graduated from hometown college Ohio Wesleyan University in 1881 and earned his medical degree from the former Miami University Medical School in Cincinnati in 1883.

“Dr. Allen had a significant impact not only on spreading Christianity half-way around the world, but on the introduction of Western medicine and the expansion of American diplomatic and business interests,” says the Rev. Deborah Patterson, pastor of First Presbyterian Church. “We’re excited that such a large delegation of Koreans, who revere Dr. Allen, have joined our celebration of his life.”

In Seoul, it is customary to see plaques honoring Allen.

“Among Koreans there and in this country, he is widely known,” says Kris Jones, co-chair of the recent Korean events in Delaware and a distant relative of Allen. “Americans have little if any knowledge of one of Ohio’s most distinguished citizens.

Initially assigned to Nanjing, China, Allen and his wife, Frances Ann Messenger, stayed for about a year before being reassigned  to Korea. Frances (Fannie) Allen was a native of Huron County and also was an OWU graduate.  Her husband entered Korea as a medical doctor assigned to the U.S. delegation, as missionaries were banned from, and if caught, executed in the Hermit Kingdom.

Allen saved the life of the crown prince, following an assassination attempt in 1884, endearing the American to the royal family. He used that opportunity, with backing from the royal family, to open a hospital and church.  Allen’s ties to the United States also opened Korea to American businesses, including mining. He is credited with introducing the telegraph, electricity, and a public water system to the country. He wrote the first Korean-English dictionary.

In 1897, Allen became the seventh U.S. ambassador to Korea. Appointed by fellow Ohioan, President William McKinley, Allen served until June 10, 1905, when he was replaced by President Theodore Roosevelt. Allen opposed Roosevelt’s alliance with Japan, which lead to Japan’s invasion and subjugation of Korea until after World War II.

Horace and Frances Allen returned to Ohio, settling in Toledo, which he used as a base to continue to promote Korea. He wrote four books, including a history of the country. He died on December 11, 1932, and Frances, on June 3, 1948.

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