Pearl S. Buck Birthplace – Hillsboro, West Virginia - Atlas Obscura

Hillsboro, West Virginia

Pearl S. Buck Birthplace

The first American woman to win the Nobel Prize in literature came from the foothills of Appalachia. 

Pearl Sydenstricker was born on June 26, 1892 in her maternal grandparents’ home in Hillsboro, West Virginia. A mere three months later, her parents whisked her off to China, where they were stationed as missionaries.  

Pearl was steeped in Chinese culture in the cities of Nanking and Zhenjiang, where she witnessed the collapse of the Qing Dynasty and the emergence of a fledgling republic. She attended college in the United States, but returned to China soon after her graduation. In 1917, Pearl married an agricultural economist named John Lossing Buck and moved to the rural Anhwei province.

These experiences inspired her best known work, The Good Earth, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1931 for its honest and humanizing look at the lives of rural Chinese in the early 20th century. Her copious and popular publications earned her the Nobel Prize for literature in 1938. 

After returning to the U.S. in 1935, Pearl devoted herself to promoting civil rights, women’s rights, and child welfare issues. She co-founded Welcome House, an international adoption organization, and later started the Pearl S. Buck Foundation, which provides humanitarian aid and intercultural education for children throughout Asia.

In 1960, she began raising money to preserve the Hillsboro family farm as a museum and cultural center. Her grandparents’ cabin, where her father Absolom Sydenstricker was born, was moved to the site in 1982. Visitors will see the house as it was in the late 19th century Items from Pearl’s travels are on display, including a copy of the Bible her father translated into Chinese, along with descriptions of the restoration and reconstruction process.

Know Before You Go

Between Mother’s Day and the last weekend in October, the museum is open Monday, Friday, and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. The museum shop is filled with first editions of Pearl’s books as well as signed copies of special editions published for her 80th birthday.

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