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Hove, Arthur (ed.) / Wisconsin alumnus
Volume 66, Number 2 (Nov. 1964)

Wisconsin's first woman engineering graduate is always exploring,   pp. 14-15

Page 15

Wisconsin's first woman engineering graduate is
Professor of Portuguese in King's
College at the University of London.
They were in Madison during the
month of October when Prof. Boxer
was Paul Knaplund visiting professor
of history at the University. Prof.
Boxer has specialized in the colonial
history of the 16th-18th centuries
with emphasis on the Portuguese
and Dutch colonial empires in the
tropics. Before assuming his aca-
demic career, he served as an officer
in the British regular army from
1923 to 1947. He was wounded dur-
ing World War II and spent four
years as a Japanese prisoner of war.
  Emily Hahn has led an eventful
life since leaving Madison. After a
brief experiment with working as an
engineer for an oil company, and
then advance study in petrology, she
went to the Congo where she
worked in a Red Cross infirmary.
She became stranded in the Congo
when she couldn't muster enough
money to pay her passage back to
the United States. When she finally
did return to New York in 1933,
her net assets amounted to a nickel.
But she had kept a journal during
her stay in Africa and this provided
the material for her first book, Congo
  In 1935, Miss Hahn went to
China. "I really didn't want to go.
I liked Africa and I wanted to go
back there. My sister suggested that
if I wanted to go back to Africa, I
should go the western way. So I
went with her to Japan. When we
got there she talked me into going
to Hong Kong and then to Shang-
  Once Miss Hahn got to Shang-
hai, her thoughts about returning to
Africa evaporated. She found the
Chinese to be the most charming
people she had encountered, and
November 1964
she admired their relaxed way of
doing, or not doing, things. In
Shanghai, she found a fascinating
and cosmopolitan city and settled
down to writing and teaching Eng-
lish at Custom's College.
   During the late 1930's, the easy
 charm of China was shattered by the
 growing presence of the Japanese.
 Eventually, Miss Hahn was made a
 prisoner of war in Hong Kong. At
 that time, because she told the Jap-
 anese she was part Chinese, Miss
 Hahn had to beg food to keep her-
 self and her infant daughter alive.
 The China experience and Miss
 Hahn's feeling for the Far East has
 produced  several books, among
 them: Chiang Kai-Shek, Raffles of
 Singapore, Hong Kong Holiday,
 China to Me, The Soong Sisters,
 and the recent history, China Only
 Throughout her adventurous life,
 travel has been a constant pattern
 for Emily Hahn. She is virtually al-
 ways in transit. "I feel at home any-
 where," she says. Her recent stay
 in Madison marked the first time
 she had been here, except for a brief
 stopover in 1944, since her gradua-
 tion from the University in 1926.
 Have Madison and the University
 changed radically in that time? "Not
 as much as I thought they would.
 I had the feeling that it would be
 a factory, but it's not."
 "I love it here," she went on to
 remark as she explained that Mad-
 ison was where her family spent its
vacations. Nevertheless, Madison
was still part of a continuous itiner-
ary, a place to stay and savor for a
while, but not a permanent anchor-
age. There are other places to see
and chronicle, new sights, sounds
and smells to absorb, and people to
   Miss Hahn points out that her
 decision to become a writer was
 something that simply "happened"
 to her.
 * "We all scribbled in my family,"
 she explains. "Writing was some-
 thing I did as naturally as playing
 games, but I never really said to
 myself I'm going to be a writer."
   The first sustained efforts at writ-
ing came out of a feeling of frustra-
tion. She had been working with an
engineering firm in St. Louis and the
regularity of the time-clock was a
stifling experience. During that time,
she began writing long letters to her
brother-in-law, Mitchell Dawson. He
thought the letters were entertain-
ing and sent one on to the New
Yorker magazine, the editor of
which replied encouragingly. Later,
in 1929, Miss Hahn sold two stories
to the New Yorker. Her work has
been  appearing regularly in the
pages of that magazine ever since.
  Miss Hahn feels that her writing
can be classified as somewhat of a
"nervous habit." "I work all the
time," she says. For this reason, she
feels that her living in England has
been extremely helpful in assisting
her writing career. There, the
Boxers have domestic help which
frees her from many of the routine
duties that go with being a house-
wife and a mother.
  Most of her work is non-fiction.
"I prefer to write on fact," she says
and attributes this preference to her
engineering background. Currently,
she is working on two new books:
one on the history of the bohemian
movement among the artists in this
country, and the other on zoos.
  If Emily Hahn has a motto for her
approach to her work and her life,
it is perhaps characterized by this
remark: "I'm always exploring."

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