The Korean Society of Boston

Project Description Individuals Institutions Issues
Dr. Kwang Lim Koh, Dr. Hesung Chun Koh and the Koh Family First Korean Church of Boston Koreans and the Boston Marathon
Helen Kim and Ed Hymoff The Korean Society of Boston The Korean Independence Movement and Boston University
Sungha Kim and the Korean Collection of the Harvard-Yenching Library The Human Relations Center at Boston University
Yi Ku, the Last Prince of the Choson Dynasty
Richard Eun Kook Kim and The Martyred
Daesun Park

The number of Korean immigrants to the United States grew noticeably after the Korean War armistice in 1953, due in part to various scholarships granted by American missionaries and other institutions to promising students from South Korea. For example, in 1956 Boston University established a scholarship for Korean students in honor of the alumnus and ambassador to the United States, Dr. You Chan Yang.[1] The development of the Korean intellectual community in the Boston area in the 1950s, however, was largely attributable to Korean graduate students and visiting scholars at the Harvard-Yenching Institute.[2] In 1953, the Yenching Institute—an independent foundation at Harvard University dedicated to promoting higher education in Asian studies—began to offer generous fellowships to post-doctoral scholars from South Korea.

Korean_Society

Korean Society of Boston, photo courtesy of the Korean Church of Boston

The Korean Society of Boston was established in 1953 by the joint efforts of Dr. Doo Soo Suh (1907-1994) and Dr. Kwang Lim Koh (1920-1989). At the time, Dr. Suh was a visiting professor at the Harvard-Yenching Institute and Dr. Koh was a doctoral candidate at Harvard Law School. Both men saw a need to form an organization for the Korean diaspora in the Boston area to provide practical and emotional support to Koreans, as well as to build relationships with one another in anticipation of future collaboration as leading intellectuals in the United States. Dr. Suh was elected as the first president and Dr. Koh the vice-president. It is noteworthy that the Korean Society and the first Korean Church of Boston were founded on the same day, Thanksgiving Sunday, 1953.[3] There was a significant overlap of key leaders in these two organizations, illustrating the role of the church as a place of comfort, support, and fellowship for the diaspora community. The Korean Society also worked closely with the Korean Students Association, organized in that same year by Harvard architecture student Jaryong Cho.[4]

Dr. Koh recalls some of the crises that affected Koreans living in the Boston area in the 1950s and the need for an organization to support the diaspora community.

Watch this video on YouTube

 

Before coming to the Boston area, Dr. Suh had served on the faculty of Seoul National University and Yonsei University in Seoul, Korea, from 1945 through 1949. In 1949, he entered the Ph.D. program in education at Columbia University in New York City. After completing his doctorate in 1952, he moved to Harvard University as Visiting Associate Professor of Korean Studies. He obtained this position with the help of Dr Koh, then a doctoral candidate at Harvard Law School, who recommended Dr. Suh to Dr. Edwin O. Reischauer, then an acting director of the Harvard-Yenching Institute.[5] As the first professor of Korean Studies at Harvard, he taught Korean language and literature for three years. One of Dr. Suh’s students, Edward Wagner, later founded the Korea Institute at Harvard in 1981.[6]

In 1955, Dr. Suh moved to the University of Washington in Seattle as Professor of Korean Literature.[7] Dr. Koh became the second president of the Korean Society. As a public figure representing the Korean intellectual community in Boston, Dr. Koh openly criticized the Syngman Rhee dictatorship and called for full-fledged democracy in South Korea.[8] His relentless efforts were recognized by South Korean Prime Minister Chang Myun, who took power after the April 19 Movement in 1960, and Dr. Koh was appointed as Ambassador to the Korean Embassy in Washington, D.C.[9] When Dr. Koh left Massachusetts to begin his diplomatic service in Washington, Sungha Kim (1924–1989), librarian of the Korean Collection of the Harvard-Yenching Library, was elected the third president of the Korean Society. Interestingly, Kim married the daughter of Dr. Suh, illustrating that professional and personal relationships among these intellectuals were often interlinked.

Citations

[1] “Alumni to Fete Ambassador, Establish Korean Scholarship,” Boston University News, February 7, 1956.

[2] New England Centennial Committee of Korean Immigration to the United States, ed. History of Koreans in New England (Seoul: Sonhaksa, 2004), 58.

[3] “History of Korean Society of New England,” Korean Society of New England, http://www.bostonks.com/index.php?mid=intro (accessed March 25, 2013).

[4] History of Koreans in New England, 286.

[5] Hesung Chun Koh, “East Rock Institute and Harvard Korean Studies Program” (April 17, 2006), http://koreaweb.ws/pipermail/koreanstudies_koreaweb.ws/2006-April/005556.html (accessed March 25, 2013).

[6] “History of the Korea Institute at Harvard University,” Korea Institute at Harvard University, http://korea.fas.harvard.edu/about-korea-institute-harvard-university (accessed March 25, 2013).

[7] “History of the Korea Studies Program at the University of Washington,” Center for Korea Studies of the University of Washington, http://jsis.washington.edu/korea/koreahistory.shtml (accessed March 25, 2013)

[8] Jong-Moo Cho, “Dr. Kwang Lim Koh: Scholar and Community Leader,” The Korea Times, October 6, 2011, http://www.koreatimes.com/article/688328 (accessed March 25, 2013).

[9] Ibid.

Written by: Daewon Moon

Edited by: Doug Tzan