Gustavus Ohlinger: A Man of the World

Essay by Patrick Cook (November 2013)

Photograph of Gustavus OhlingerPhotograph of Gustavus Ohlinger

Gustavus Ohlinger was born into extraordinary circumstance. His parents, Franklin and Bertha Ohlinger, served as missionaries in Foochow, China. It was in Foochow on July 15, 1877, that Gustavus was born to his Methodist missionary parents more than seventy five hundred miles from where he came to rest. Perhaps it was just the mere fact of being born so far from the country of his parents that led Gustavus Ohlinger to travel the world, practice federal law, author books, serve in the United States Army, and lecture at the Universities of Toledo and Michigan.

Perhaps it was the dedication of Reverend Franklin Ohlinger, Gustavus’ father, to his translation, linguistic, and missionary work that led Gustavus Ohlinger to be such a contributing member and appreciator of the world in general. Franklin Ohlinger came from humble backgrounds in Sandusky County, Ohio, and entered the German-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio to be ordained in the Methodist Church in 1868. Shortly after he learned of the mission fields and left for China for his first mission, where he learned Chinese and began a newspaper called “Zion’s Herald” in Shanghai. He later returned to the United States and married Bertha Schweinfurth before they both returned to Foochow and continued in Missionary work as well as the co-founding of the Anglo-Chinese College in Foochow where Franklin was the first president and Bertha taught. With these and other accomplishments, such as the founding of the Korean Religious Tract Society and creation of the first publishing house in Korea, how could Gustavus, their firstborn, not want to succeed and be as driven as his parents had?

David and Gustavus Ohlinger, brothersFranklin and Bertha Ohlinger together had four children including Gustavus. Wilhelma Bertha Ohlinger, born in 1884, and David Birchard Ohlinger, born in 1881. Both were lost to illness in 1893, whereupon they were buried in Korea where they resided at the time. Their last child was Constance Ohlinger, born in 1901, who traveled around with her parents, particularly her mother, across Europe and Asia. By this time, Gustavus had already graduated from high school and began college in the United States.

Gustavus Ohlinger started out his education in China at the high school in Chefoo where he graduated in 1898. During this time, Gustavus’ main means of communicating with his family was only through letters, most of which reside at the Ward M. Canaday Center for Special Collections. Inside he often makes mention of his exceptional grades as well as the various activities he takes part in.

Below is a page of one of the earlier letters from young Gustavus to his father Franklin, written while attending the Protestant Collegiate School in Chefoo, China. The whole content of the letter discusses Gustavus’ learning of Latin and Practical Geometry, and his lamentation that they are not learning Greek instead.

With such windows as these into his young life, it becomes apparent that Gustavus Ohlinger’s schooling played a large role in his later successes. The early focus on education, even in a foreign country, allowed Ohlinger to progress on to his attending college. In 1899 Gustavus returned to the United States from China in order to attend the Law department of the University of Michigan. As though following in his father’s footsteps, Gustavus was the original proposer of the Michigan Law Review in 1901. It began publication afterwards in 1902, which marks it as one of the oldest law journals in the country. This year was also the one in which Gustavus Ohlinger graduated with a Bachelor of Laws and Applied Baccalaureate.

After graduation, Ohlinger began his law practice and also travelled the world. The journals retained by the University of Toledo include entries while Ohlinger engaged in his travels at locations such as: Chicago, New York, Liverpool, London, Santa Cruz, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Walliter’s Kop, Rustenburg, Woodstock, Jacobsdal, Lichtenburg, Irutersdorp, Palmitfonteiu, Durban, Laurence Marquez, Galle, Colombo, Penang, Singapore, Hong Kong, Canton, Foochow, Amoy, Swantow, Manila, Baling, Ku Shan, Nan yang College, Hankow, Shanghai, Nanking, Kewkiang, Taku, Peking, Nagasaki, Kobe,  and Yokohama. This grand excursion took many years, from 1902-1905, as he also practiced law in Shanghai with a partnership with T. R. Jernigan as well as representing the Russian government during war settlements and reparations in 1904. Perhaps it is a grand skill that Gustavus Ohlinger was able to work and be on vacation at the same time.


An earlier letter from young Gustavus to his father Franklin, written while attending the Protestant Collegiate School in Chefoo, China

Protestant Collegiate School
Chefoo, 19th Sept. 1891

My dear Father-

The regatta is to take place

this afternoon. Three of the boys

and Mr. Murray are to row

in the school's four oared gig,

and J. Watts to steer.  They

have practiced before break-

fast several mornings now.

The gig race starts at a

point m front of Newman's

hotel ends at the " Firebrand."

The boys are going this after-

noon to see the races. I will

tell you more of the races in

the next letter.

We went to the Second

Beach last Thursday. The

boys spent their time find...

[Read the Complete Letter]

 In seriousness, his success at the law seemed to occur intermittently with his world travels, as many of his journal entries pertain to the writing of articles for print, as well as visiting other lawyers and courtrooms in other countries. Perhaps this firsthand look at foreign law practices allowed for his success at specializing in federal law when he later returned to the United States. A great measure of correspondence written during the end of his time abroad concerns his affairs of the law, as can be seen in the example below:

Written a letter to Tuck Shun Hung explaining the circumstances which they will undoubtedly show to you. Mr. Jernigan is confident, if the Appeal is taken, that a substantial Sum will be recovered- if not the whole At any rate between 15 and 20,000 taels. It is of the utmost importance, how-ever, that they put up the fee of $250, and I hope you will succeed in getting them to see it that way. It will, of course, be difficult for us to put the appeal through after this delay, but Mr. Jernigan says it can be done. I send you therefore the appeal Petition to file with the $250.

Sincerely yours,

Gustavus Ohlinger

P.S. If the $250 is deposited and there Is any trouble about entering the appeal, [] here at once.

       Upon returning to the United States, Ohlinger established an independent law practice in Toledo, Ohio.



"About Us - History." In Michigan Law Review. Accessible: information/about/history

Card, Nan. "Reverend Franklin and Bertha Ohlinger: Methodist Missionaries of Foochow, China." In Ohio's Yesterdays: Stories about Ohio's people, places, and events inspired by the Manuscripts Collections of the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center. June 24, 2009.  Accessible at

"Finding Aid." In Guide to the Franklin and Bertha Schweinfurth Ohlinger Papers. Yale University Divinity School Library, 1996. Accessible at

"Finding Aid." In Gustavus Ohlinger Papers, 1821-1987, MSS-013. Ward M. Canaday Center for Special Collections, The University of Toledo Libraries. Accessible at

Ohlinger, Gustavus. The German Conspiracy in American Education.  New York: George H. Doran company, 1919.

Ohlinger, Gustavus Wister Owen. Their True Faith and Allegiance.  New York: Macmillan Co., 1916.




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