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How Madame Chiang Kai-chek landed at Piedmont College

POSTED: February 8, 2009 1:00 a.m.

One hundred years ago, Soong Mei-ling, who became Madame Chiang Kai-shek, enrolled in Piedmont College in Demorest.

But the story of how she got there goes back to 1879, when her father at age 14 stowed away on a ship in China bound for the United States, according to David Price, Piedmont's public relations director. Her father's name was Chiao-shun, later changed to Charlie Soong. He became a crew member on the sailing ship Albert Gallatin, and later a benefactor paid his college tuition in the United States.

Soong returned to his homeland as a missionary, but became a successful publisher and merchant. He was the father of three beautiful daughters, all of whom he sent to the United States for their education.

Mei-ling's older sisters, Ai-ling and Ching-ling, were in Wesleyan College in Macon, and the three of them came to Demorest to visit Ai-ling's college friend, Blanche Moss, daughter of Minnie Moss, matron of Georgia Hall at Piedmont. They stayed in the house where Piedmont Chapel is today at the corner of Central Avenue and Massachusetts Boulevard, Price said he was told.

Mei-ling remained in Demorest to attend Piedmont Academy, a part of the college. She later also attended Wesleyan and graduated from Wellesley College in Massachusetts in 1917.

She married Chiang Kai-shek, a military school director, after she returned to China. Chiang later became head of all Nationalist forces and their government in China.

Madame Chiang Kai-shek became as well known worldwide as her husband. During World War II she was an interpreter for Britain's Winston Churchill and the United States' President Roosevelt. She also led China's air force. Her Southern accent, acquired in her college days in Georgia, came through in her address before the U.S. Congress in 1943, appealing for more help in China's fight with the Japanese.

She once wrote the president of Piedmont College, "I remember that Miss Olive Van Hise taught me physiology and physical culture. I was never so proud in my life as on the day when she announced my average grade in physiology was 98 percent, and that I was the only pupil, who because of high marks in that course, was exempt from final examinations.

"It was at Piedmont I was initiated into the mysteries of parsing sentences. My knowledge of English then was at best somewhat sketchy as I had only been in America for two years, and I had many funny little tricks of phraseology, which baffled my grammar teacher. To cure me of them she made me try to parse them. Her efforts must have been productive of some success for people now say that I write very good English."

She received an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from Piedmont in 1968. The young Chinese girl who got her first formal taste of English in the hills of Habersham County had become one of the world's most famous, powerful and popular women.

After her husband died, she remained pretty much out of the public eye. She died at age 106 in 2003 in New York City, where she had her home.

During her time at Piedmont, Madame Chiang Kai-shek undoubtedly visited Hall County often as one of her best friends was Flora Additon of Flowery Branch. Madame Chiang, in her later writings, spoke of their friendship and doing charity work while they were young classmates. They maintained their connection through the years.

Miss Additon taught kindergarten at Lucy Cobb in Athens, later marrying Cyrus H. Karraker, a college professor. They eventually moved to Lewisburg, Pa., where her husband taught, and she operated a kindergarten for 18 years.

She died at age 49 in 1946 and is buried in Flowery Branch.

• • •

When the monument honoring veterans of the Spanish-American War was unveiled on the courthouse grounds in Gainesville in May 1938, Mrs. E.R. Dent was the leader of the Veterans Auxiliary at the time. The initials were incorrect in last Sunday's column.

Her husband had left college at Emory at age 18 to fight in the war and was slightly wounded. They were the grandparents of Dent Bostick, formerly of Gainesville. Coincidentally, Bostick was a line officer on a naval aircraft carrier named "Siboney" after a place in Cuba where Americans landed during the Spanish-American War. Bostick often visited Guantanamo Bay, not far from where his grandfather served.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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