Historical Markers
Pearl S. Buck Historical Marker
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Pearl S. Buck

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
Green Hills Farm, 520 Dublin Road, Perkasie

Dedication Date:
June 25, 1995

Behind the Marker

"I feel no need for any other faith than my faith in human beings… Like Confucius of old, I am so absorbed in the wonder of earth and the life upon it that I cannot think of heaven and the angels... If there is no other life, then this one has been enough to make it worth being born, myself a human being."

                                                                                    -Pearl Buck, 1939

King Gustav of Sweden is shown presenting the Nobel Prize for Literature to Pearl Buck.
King Gustav awards Pearl Buck the Nobel Prize for Literature, Stockholm, Sweden,...
In the 1930s many American writers attempted to express in words the plight of the anonymous millions who suffered most during the Great Depression. At the end of the decade, John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath would give faces and names to the "Okies" displaced by the Dust Bowl. In 1941, writer James Agee and photographer Walker Evans showed Americans the respect and dignity of southern sharecroppers in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.

The best selling book of the decade, however, told the story not of the American poor, but of a poor Chinese farmer. At the Nobel Prize banquet in Stockholm, Sweden in 1938, Stockholm Observatory director Bertil Lindblad told Nobel Prize winner Pearl S. Buck, "you have taught us by your works to see the individuals in that great mass of people. You have shown us the rise and fall of families, and the land as the foundation marker upon which families are built." In response to critics who opposed her selection by the Nobel Committee, Buck explained populist nature of her writing in a lecture she marker delivered a few days later.

Buck was born June 26, 1892 in Hillsboro, West Virginia. When just three months old, she was taken to China by her missionary parents, Absalom and Caroline Sydenstricker. After early schooling in China, she attended Randolph-Macon College in Lynchburg, Virginia, then returned to China.

In 1917, she married John Lossing Buck and moved to the rural Anhwei (Anhui) province. From 1920 to 1933, the Bucks lived in the city of Nanking, where they both taught at a local university. There, Pearl began to write stories and essays about the Chinese people for both Chinese and American magazines.

Exterior of the Pearl Buck residence, Bucks County, 1935.
The Pearl Buck farmhouse, Bucks County, PA, 1935
It was her second novel The Good Earth, published in 1931, that brought her lasting fame. Soon translated into more than thirty languages, The Good Earth made Buck one of the most popular American authors in the world. In 1932, The Good Earth won a Pulitzer Prize, in 1933 it became a Broadway play, and in 1937 Irving Thalberg's film version won actress Luise Rainer an Oscar for Best Actress. In 1938, Buck became the first American woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, for the 1936 biographies of her parents, The Exile and Fighting Angel.

In 1934, Buck moved back to the United States so that her mentally disabled daughter Carol could receive institutional care. The next year, Buck divorced her husband, married book publisher Richard Walsh, and purchased a dilapidated Bucks County homestead and its surrounding forty-eight acres at the Depression-deflated price of $4,100. It was here, at Green Hills Farm, that she raised six adopted children, managed her organizations for disadvantaged children, and wrote more than seventy books, including novels, poetry, biographies, dramas, and collections of stories.

Pearl Buck receiving a check from First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt for the China Relief Legion, December 16, 1940.
Pearl Buck receiving a check from First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt for the China...
The Good Earth became one of the most popular books of the 1930s largely because of its appeal to Depression-weary Americans. In it, Buck wrote about a Chinese peasant family's connection to the land - a connection that many Americans felt had been lost through the mechanization of farming. Wang Lung and O-lan cultivate their small plot with human labor, animals, and coarse tools, never sowing more than they can harvest. The Good Earth showed Americans the virtue of a way of life that had remained largely unchanged for thousands of years, at a time when the Dust Bowl was demonstrating that even the most advanced technology could not protect Americans from the ravages of nature.

The Good Earth also offered American readers a glimmer of hope. Even while Wang Lung and O-lan suffered in the fields and had their hard-earned stores raided by brigands, the gift of rain or a day of sunshine reminded them of the natural cycles of renewal.

An elderly lady sits on a couch as she reads a book to a group of children surrounding her. A young boy is sitting on her lap.
Pearl Buck sitting among children at her Welcome House, circa 1968.
Although Buck set many of her stories in China, she succeeded in drawing out the universal qualities that found avid readers around the world. Her devotion to the disadvantaged extended to her personal life, as well. In 1941 she founded the East and West Association, which she intended to help "ordinary people" on one side of the world to understand ordinary people from the other side.

Buck became a controversial figure during World War II, criticizing, among other things, the military's policy of ordering African Americans to fight overseas to preserve a democracy that did not exist for them in the United States. When the federal government began placing Japanese Americans in concentration camps, Buck condemned a democracy that would imprison its citizens based solely on their race.

While Buck never subscribed to Communist doctrine, she did admire the Communist commitment to improving the lives of the poor. Buck's vocal advocacy of equal rights, and her disgust with racial prejudice, caused the FBI to investigate her as a "dangerous character."

After the end of the war, Buck's popularity declined. She paid increasing attention to the plight of unwanted Asian-American babies, largely the products of unions between American soldiers and Asian women. In 1949, outraged that existing adoption services considered mixed-race, disabled, and older children unadoptable, Pearl established Welcome House, the first international, inter-racial adoption agency, which has since assisted in the placement of more than 6,000 children. To fund the struggling enterprise, Buck appealed to fellow Bucks County residents markerOscar Hammerstein II, markerJames Michener, and Lois Burpee, all of whom took an active role in getting the organization off the ground.

In 1964 she started the Pearl S. Buck Foundation to help sponsor Asian children who suffered from civil rights discrimination and violence. Upon her death in 1973, Green Hills Farm became part of the Buck Foundation, which combined with Welcome House in 1991 to form Pearl S. Buck International. Today, Green Hills Farm is a National Historic Landmark, open to the public, and continues to serve as the organization's headquarters.
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