Dr. Rosetta Sherwood Hall was born in Liberty in Sullivan County, NY on September 19th, 1865, grew up on the family farm and attended the Chestnut Ridge School and the Liberty Normal Institute.
After receiving her teaching degree from Oswego, she taught in local schools for a few years before entering the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, graduating in 1886, and becoming a missionary doctor in Korea in 1890.
Her pioneering work with deaf and blind Korean children and her founding of what eventually became the Korea University College of Medicine in Seoul.
In the middle part of the 19th century, Liberty’s Walnut Mountain was commonly referred to as Mount Sherwood, and Fanton Sherwood owned it and much of the land in its vicinity. According to the July 5th, 1895 edition of the Sullivan County Record newspaper, Fanton Sherwood gave his son, Roosevelt Rensselaer Sherwood, “50 acres of land, along with a yoke of oxen, horse, sheep and a year’s provisions valued at $1,000” when he reached 21 years of age, and Roosevelt began to farm the land, eventually marrying three times and fathering seven children, the youngest of which was Rosetta.
Rosetta’s mother, Phoebe Gildersleeve Sherwood, was a devout and active member of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Liberty, and Rosetta was raised with strong ties to the religion, so it was no surprise that she became involved with the United Methodist Women, working in a clinic they ran in Manhattan.
It was while she was working in the clinic that she met a Canadian medical doctor, William Hall, whom she married in 1892. By that time, the couple was two years into what was supposed to be a five year mission to Korea.
It turned out to be considerably more than that, and although it was difficult for her to say good bye to her family and leave the comfort of her Liberty home, Rosetta Sherwood did just that in August of 1890.
“I was up at 5 a.m. and dressed,” she wrote in her diary that day. “Miss Lewis of the New York Deaconess Home and I ate a lunch, and then it was time to say goodbye, that long goodbye, for five years or and perhaps longer. Mother and I said it out in the kitchen, as we kissed each other with tears in our eyes — and hearts too, I feel. Then came Father, and I couldn’t say one word. He hoped I would be happy in my work and asked me to remember him in my prayers.”
During the couple’s work in the Korean city of Pyongyang, Dr. William Hall contracted typhus and died in 1894, leaving Rosetta alone to raise their son, Sherwood, believed to be the first Caucasian child ever born in Korea, and an at that time still unborn daughter.
“After burying her beloved husband, Rosetta returned to New York with her infant son and a daughter in her womb,” Hyun Sue Kim wrote in the introduction to the 2015 publication of the “Diary of Rosetta Hall 1890.” “While in the states, she furthered the work she undertook in Korea. She oversaw the education of Esther Pak Kim, Korea’s first female doctor of medicine, who received her M.D. degree in 1900 at the Baltimore Woman’s Medical College; she raised funds and established the Hall Memorial Hospital in Pyongyang in February, 1897; and she published a biography of her husband in August 1897. It was during this time that Rosetta visited the New York Institute for the Blind and drew from New York Point to begin development of Korean Braille.”
Dr. Hall returned to Korea in 1897, and went to work again in the mission in Pyongyang where she and her late husband had served before. Unfortunately, not long after she arrived at the mission, her daughter, Edith Margaret, died of dysentery.
“In the summer of 1901, Dr. Rosetta Hall returned to New York for the second time, physically and mentally exhausted. After recuperating at the Castile Sanatorium for eight months, she again returned to Korea in the spring of 1903. Until her retirement in 1933, she remained steadfast in her work,” Kim wrote. “She founded the Women’s Medical Training Classes in Pyongyang and Seoul; her class in Seoul would later become the Women’s Medical Institute, the precursor to Korea University’s College of Medicine. She established four hospitals: the Baldwin Dispensary in Seoul (1892), The Woman’s Hospital of Extended Grace in Pyongyang (1894), the Hall Memorial Hospital in Pyongyang (1897), and the Chemulpo Women’s Hospital (1921).”
In addition, Dr. Hall’s work with the blind and deaf in Korea was groundbreaking, and many advances were made through her efforts. She was instrumental in establishing the first Convention on the Education of the Blind and Deaf of the Far East, in 1914, as well as the Children’s Welfare Clinic in Seoul and the Edith Margaret Children’s Wards in Pyongyang. In all, she spent 44 years in Korea, effectively revolutionizing medical care there, particularly for children and the disabled.
Rosetta Sherwood Hall died on April 5th, 1951. She is buried in the Yanghwajin Foreign Missionary Cemetery in Seoul.
Photo of Dr. Rosetta Sherwood Hall.