Two Korean women in East Gate Compound, Seoul

Gendering Modernity: Korean Women Seen through the Early Missionary Gaze (1880s–1910s)

Two Korean women in East Gate Compound, Seoul

Two typical Korean women in East Gate Compound, Seoul, early 1900s. Source: General Commission on Archives and History of the United Methodist Church, Madison, NJ.

There are many street shots that try to capture fleeting images of women from anthropological perspectives. In this picture, two women are posing on a path to the East Gate Church, seen in the photograph’s background. It is likely that they were recruited on their way to or from the church compound to pose for the camera. As the original label indicates, both women were viewed as representing types of traditional Korean women: the woman wearing a jang-ot (long jacket) on the left represents a typical upper-middle-class, premodern woman who is socially and physically restricted, whereas the woman with a baby on the right (possibly the child’s wet nurse) represents a lower-class woman. Paradoxically, although the lower-class woman likely suffered from a desperate struggle with daily labor and a restricted status, she possessed greater mobility than the upper-class woman. It is interesting that, instead of wearing a jang-ot, this woman is holding a black umbrella, which was used as a convenient modern substitute for the jang-ot, especially for schoolgirls when they were outdoors.