March is Women's History Month, a time when we celebrate the contributions of women to American history and society. This year, I want to recognize a woman with whom every child in West Virginia should be familiar.
Pearl S. Buck was born in Hillsboro, West Virginia, on June 26, 1892, to Caroline Stulting and Absalor Syndenstricker. Her parents, who were missionaries, took their young daughter, Pearl Comfort Syndenstricker, to China, where she spent most of her youth.
Pearl returned to the United States to obtain a college degree from Randolph-Macon Women's College in Virginia (1914), and then returned to China. In 1917, she married Dr. John Lossing Buck, an agricultural expert who was working in China.
The couple lived for several years in the rural village of Nanhsuchou, the home of thousands of impoverished farmers. This was the village that served as the setting for many of her early works, including her most famous, The Good Earth, which was translated into more than thirty languages, sold nearly two million copies, and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1932.
In 1938, Pearl Buck became the first American woman to be awarded the Noble Prize in Literature. At the time, she was only the third American to win the Noble Prize for Literature, following Sinclair Lewis and Eugene O'Neill. Pearl Buck eventually wrote more than 100 books, and hundreds of short stories and magazine articles.
While best known for her writings, she was also a great humanitarian. Pearl Buck was an advocate for racial equality and women's rights, years before the issues became national movements. In 1949, she established the Welcome House which found homes for mixed-race children who had been fathered by American servicemen in Asia. In 1964, she launched the Pearl S. Buck Foundation to provide foster care for Asian-American children.
I am proud to point out that this world-renowned writer and humanitarian never forgot her roots. In the 1960s, she toured West Virginia to raise money to preserve her family home in Hillsboro. She expressed the hope that the house "would belong to everyone who cares to go there" and would serve as a "gateway to new thoughts and dreams and ways of life."
Today, the house, The Pearl S. Buck Birthplace, is a National Literary Landmark, a historic house, museum, and cultural center. It is open for tours May 1 through November 1. For more information, the phone number is 304-653-4430. Its web site is http://www.pearlsbuckbirthplace.com.