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Identifier: MC 1468

Reba Snapp Ryder Missionary Collection


  • Majority of material found within 1911-1929

Scope and Content Note

The Reba Snapp Ryder Collection consists of 1 cubic feet of materials, comprising 3 manuscript boxes, and spans the period 1911 to 1929. The collection primarily features letters written by Reba Snapp Ryder to her parents during her mission for the Reformed Church of America in Japan between 1913 and 1929, which is made up of 16 folders beginning in Box 1 and continuing into Box 2. Many of these retain their original envelopes and are lengthy, ranging from 10 to 20 pages, to produce an abundance of descriptive text. The bulk of the material dates from 1913 and 1924, with correspondence thinning as the family approached their return to the United States in 1929. Earlier correspondence from 1911 to early 1913 highlight Reba's experiences as a caretaker at the Lily House and at the Folt's Missionary Institute, which spans 1 and 2 folders respectfully in Box 1. Additional material includes letters and reports from Stephen Ryder in 1 folder, letters from their children in 1 folder, and miscellaneous letters sent from the U.S to Reba in 1 folder. The collection also includes materials such as photographs, illustrations, postcards, Japanese and Canadian paper currency, fabric samples, and a diary. Almost all of the material is in English, except for writing on Japanese envelopes, stamps and one document.


1.2 Cubic Feet (3 manuscript box)

Language of Materials

English, occasional Japanese

Conditions Governing Access

No restrictions.


The Reba Snapp Ryder Missionary Collection details the lives and services of Reba Snapp Ryder and her husband, Stephen Ryder, as missionaries in Japan in the early 20th century. It primarily contains correspondence dating between 1911 and 1932 between Reba Snapp Ryder and her parents, as well as a handful between Stephen Ryder and his parents-in-law, and their daughter, Elizabeth Ryder, to her grandmother. Additional materials include photographs, postcards, a diary, paper currency, a fabric sample and reports for the Reformed Church of America (RCA). This collection documents Western experiences in early 20th century Japan, Christian missions in Asia, cultural impressions, travel experiences, and natural disasters in Japan.

<emph render="bold">Biographical Sketch</emph>

Reba Catherine Snapp Ryder was a missionary in Japan for the Reformed Church of America between 1914 and 1929. Born in 1890 in Rochester, New York, Reba grew up in a Methodist-Episcopal family and attended the Folt's Missionary Institute, which was a school to educate missionaries and deaconesses in Herkimer County, New York. After graduating, she became a caretaker at the Lily House in Hamilton County, New York, until she entered the South Japan Mission of the RCA in 1914. Moving to Tokyo, she began writing letters to her family in the United States, documenting her experiences and impressions while living in Japan. While in Tokyo, she taught Sunday school classes and attended the Tokyo Language School for Missionaries. At this school, Reba met fellow missionary Reverend Stephen Willis Ryder, and they married in early September 1914. Soon after they moved to Kagoshima [Kyuushū] together and in 1916 had their first child, Elizabeth (Betty), followed by Carolyn in 1919 and Stephen Willis Jr. in 1923.

In December 1924, Reba experienced spinal issues, resulting in her hospitalization and recovery in the Peking Union Hospital in Beijing, China, for tuberculosis. In 1929 Reba and her family ended their service and returned to the U.S. to settle in Kingston, New York. Reba would go on to give lectures on her experiences abroad as a missionary.

Biographical Sketch for Reverend Stephen Willis Ryder

Stephen Willis Ryder was born on February 10th, 1880, in Rockledge, Florida, to Stephen and Phoebe Willis Ryder. Graduating from Yale University in 1909, he attended the New Brunswick Theological Seminary in 1913 and the Union Free Church College in Glasgow, Scotland. He entered the South Japan Mission in 1913, where he served as a minister until 1929, and often travelled to outlying villages to promote interest in Christianity. After returning with his family to the United States, Ryder would go on to receive his PhD in 1935 from Columbia University and publish A Historical Sourcebook of the Japan Mission of the RCA (1859-1930). He served as the pastor of the Flatbush Reformed Church in Ulster County, New York, for 17 years, before retiring from active ministry in 1953. Ryder relocated his family to Florida, where he would eventually pass away in 1967.

South Japan Mission Background

Operating under the Sakoku isolationist policy since the 1630s, Japan largely remained closed off from foreigners and travel until 1853, when the United States forcibility ended the policy through the Perry Expedition, which led to a trade agreement and the establishment of treaty ports. Soon after in 1859, the RCA sent their first missionaries to Japan. In 1889, the Nagasaki-based RCA mission divided from the North Japan Mission in Yokohama and was renamed the South Japan Mission, in which Reba Snapp Ryder and her husband, Stephen Ryder, would enroll in 1913 and 1914. This mission program would be reunited with its sister program, the North Japan Mission, in 1917.

Arrangement Note

The Reba Snapp Ryder Collection was divided into groups based on their sender, and then into chronological order by the correspondence date sent. As a majority of correspondence was written by Reba Snapp Ryder, these letters were additionally divided into groups from which the location they were sent from, including the Lily House in New York, the Folt's Missionary Institute, and Japan. The bulk of these letters were written by Reba during her service as a missionary for the Reformed Church of America to her parents in the United States. Other letters included are from her husband, Stephen Ryder, to his parents-in-law, and their daughter Elizabeth Ryder to her grandmother. Additional miscellaneous letters sent from the United States to Reba Snapp Ryder are included. Non-correspondence material was grouped by type, such as photographs, postcards, and a diary. In addition, miscellaneous items have been placed together at the end of the collection.

Guide to the Reba Snapp Ryder Missionary Collection MC 1468
Edited Full Draft
Waylen Glass
Language of description note
Finding aid is written in English.
Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University received an operating support grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, a division of the Department of State.