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James Hepburn

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  • Birth: March 13th, 1815
  • Death: June 11th, 1911
  • Full Name: Dr. James C. Hepburn


James C. Hepburn, born in Milton, Pa., in 1815, graduated from Princeton College in 1832, and from the Medical Department of the University of Pennsylvania in 1836. He went as a missionary physician to China in 1840. After residing in Singapore two years during the war between England and China, went up to China and resided about three years in Amoy, where he opened a hospital and dispensary in conjunction with Dr. W. H. dimming, where he also compiled a complete vocabulary of Fokeen colloquial dialect; but his own health, as well as that of his wife breaking down, he returned to the United States. He commenced the practice of medicine in New York City, where he resided some thirteen years.

When Japan was opened to foreign residence and trade, he resigned his work in New York and sailed for Japan in April, 1859, arriving in Kanagawa in October of the same year. He resided in Kanagawa, studying the language, until the winter of 1862, when he removed to Yokohama and opened a dispensary for the free treatment of the sick, and teaching the Christian religion. Meanwhile, his wife Clara ran a school, teaching English. James also constructed a grammar of the Japanese language and compiled a Japanese and English dictionary, which he published in 1867 in Shanghai, there being no facilities for doing it in Japan. The result was the Hepburn style of romanization of Japanese words.

Dr. Hepburn also assisted materially in the translation of the Holy Scriptures into the Japanese language, besides publishing the first Christian tract; also a Bible dictionary in that language. He was one of the founders of the Christian College, known as the Meiji Gakuin, in Tokyo, of which he was the first president, and to which he contributed largely in funds. He was elected a member of the Japan Medical Society of Tokyo and added largely to its library, and was one of the first presidents of the Asiatic Society of Japan. On account of age and increasing physical infirmity, he retired from his work in Japan and returned to the United States.

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