Beirut, Syria (now Lebanon)

Rev. Frank Stiles Woodruff in Beirut, Syria–Late 1800s

American University of Beirut (Wikipedia copyright-free image) view of Mediterranean

One of Francis Woodruff‘s younger brothers was Ogden Woodruff (1832-1918). Ogden was married to Phebe Asenath Bonnell and between 1860 and 1884, the couple had twelve children–eight boys and four girls. Frank Stiles Woodruff (Jan 29, 1863 – May 26, 1893) was the second-born child in the family, and we have a letter written by him in 1892, the year before he passed away, to his cousin William E. Woodruff, Francis’s son. William E. Woodruff, my great grandfather, and his wife Wealthy Ann Angus had six daughters, the youngest being Bertha, who has been mentioned in previous posts. She would have been about four when the letter was written. William was about fourteen years older than his cousin Frank.

Frank Stiles Woodruff led a short but very interesting life. He attended Princeton University, graduating on June 17, 1885, with academic honors. The New York Herald of June 18, 1885, lists his name and honorary thesis/oration, “General Excellent Poem, ‘The Battle of Princeton’.” While a student, he won the Dickinson Prize in 1884 and the Science and Religion Prize in 1885. In 1885, he was also listed as one of the Baird Prizemen, having won in the category of Poetry. (The previous details can be found in John Roger Williams’s Academic Honors in Princeton University (p.8.)). He later returned to Princeton and graduated from the Theological Seminary.

On March 28, 1887, The Princetonian mentioned: Frank S. Woodruff, who is now in Syria, has written a poem on the “Cedars,” which has been favorably commented upon as showing much true poetic genius.

The New York Times “City and Suburban” section of June 30, 1891, printed a small article on Frank Stiles Woodruff’s ordination as a Presbyterian minister to Beirut, Syria. The ceremony took place on June 29, 1891 at the Third Presbyterian Church in Elizabeth, NJ: At the Third Presbyterian Church in Elizabeth last night Frank Stiles Woodruff of Linden was ordained as a Presbyterian minister to Beirut, Syria. The Rev. Dr. J. Garland Hammer, Moderator of the Elizabeth Presbytery, presided, and the charge to the candidate was delivered by the Rev. Dr. James G. Dennis of Beirut. The Rev. Dr. Gillespie, Secretary of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church, preached the sermon.

Also in 1891, an article written by Rev. Woodruff appeared in the much-beloved children’s publication St. Nicholas (Vol. XVIII, No. 1-6, Nov 1890 – Apr 1891, Part One, pp. 471-476). The article, “Busy Corners in the Orient,” appears below.

On September 30, 1891, Rev. Woodruff was once again mentioned in The Princetonian: The Rev. Frank S. Woodruff was ordained to the ministry in Elizabeth, New Jersey, June 29. Mr. Woodruff has been elected to the professorship of the English Language and Literature in the Syrian Protestant College* at Beirut, Syria, and sailed for his field of labor early this month.

*Now known as the American University of Beirut.

Sadly, Rev. Woodruff died very young, at just 30. His New York Times obituary dated May 27, 1893, stated: The Rev. Frank S. Woodruff of Elizabeth, who for three years was a teacher in the Presbyterian College of Beyroot, Syria, and later was Professor of English Literature there, died suddenly yesterday at his parents’ home in Elizabeth from a hemorrhage. He left Syria in bad health, but felt much better after reaching home. He was twenty-nine years old. Having been graduated from Princeton College in the class of ’85, he went to Syria, where he taught for a while. Returning, he entered the Princeton Theological Seminary and was ordained in 1891. Soon after he went to Beyroot again and remained there until forced to leave his work by failing health.

Woodruff’s work in Beirut was also mentioned in the book, That They May Have Life: The Story Of The American University Of Beirut, 1866-1941: Another Princeton man called back to a professorship was Frank S. Woodruff, who came first to Beirut in 1885 as tutor of English and was made head of the English Department in 1891 after his graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary. Unfortunately Professor Woodruff’s health forced him to withdraw early in 1893 and he died in America in May of that year, shortly after his return from Beirut. He was buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Hillside, NJ, alongside his parents and some of his siblings, Lucetta, William, Carrie, Edward, and Mary. For a view of his grave marker and the family plot, click here.

I was able to find the ship record for his last journey home–he sailed from Genoa, Italy, on an English vessel called the Kaiser Wilhelm II, arriving in New York on May 9, 1893.

The letter to William Woodruff appears below in the photo gallery. As the handwriting is very legible, I won’t go to the trouble of transcribing it here. In it, Rev. Woodruff mentioned the frailty of his health but firmly believed he was in Beirut for a reason–that it was the place he was meant to be. Looking out at the azure waters of the Mediterranean, as he likely often did, Rev. Woodruff must have reveled in his exotic location and in being in such close proximity to places at the heart of the Christian faith. And to all those back in New Jersey who knew him, he must have seemed quite literally a world away.

In the last paragraph of his article for St. Nicholas, Rev. Woodruff pondered whether the technology of Western civilization would impact “Beyroot” by the year 2000 A.D., akin to one of us imagining what changes may take place in our own geographic locations by 2120.  Surely that he himself would be the subject of a blog post in the 21st century would never have crossed his mind–but I hope he would be pleased to know that his work and life have been remembered, among other places, here.

Link to Frank Stiles Woodruff’s grave on Find a Grave

Categories: Angus, Beirut, Syria (now Lebanon), Elizabeth, Union Co., Evergreen Cemetery, Hillside, NJ, Missionaries, Obituaries, Presbyterian, Woodruff | Leave a comment

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