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The Queen Who Began Educating Girls in Korea

Yesterday, we went for lunch at a house that was built by King Go-Jong of the Jeosan Dynasty for Queen Om. Today, when we went by Sook Myeong Women’s University after or Bible class, my son in law informed me that Queen Om began Sook Myeong Women’s University. That made me ask more questions because his dad had told me that they were related to this Queen Om. I learned a lot of interesting things.

A picture of her house before it was restored

The first Om came to Korea from China at the end of the Shilla Dynasty, in the end of the 13th Century, the beginning of the 14th Century. He came here to teach the Chinese characters (Hanmoon) to the Royal family of Korea. Everyone in the Om family came from this one man. Om is not a very common name in Korea, so if you meet someone named Om, or at times spelled in English, Um, they are all part of the same family. My son in law called his dad to clarify what his dad told me yesterday about this queen being his grandmother. My son in law’s father told me that she was his grandmother, but he didn’t quite mean that he was her direct descendant, but that she was a couple of generations before him, and that she was part of his family. He was probably trying to compensate for my low level of communication in Korean. My son in law’s father has carried on the family tradition because he was raised to teach Hanmoon (the Chinese characters that the Koreans use). He has tried to raise my son in law in the same line of thinking as their ancestors, but even though my son in law has studied those characters, he doesn’t want to be a Hanmoon teacher. He has learned to read them because he likes to read the ancient texts. Every Korean can’t read the ancient texts, but these guys can. The Om family was a noble family when nobility counted in Korea, but the system has changed to Democracy, and everyone is the same now like in America. I have tried to convince my son in law that if he has an opportunity to teach the Hanmoon he knows he should teach them because it is part of his heritage that the rest of the world is interested in. If you look in my precious blogs, I actually interviewed someone else in this family because he is one of Korea’s old wise men.

Queen Om and my son in law’s father actually show a family resemblance.

This Queen Om was the second wife of King Go-Jong. Her son didn’t become a king. In Korea, the women retain their names even after they get married. In America, she would have changed her name to her husband’s name, and people in the generations after her may not of even realized she was a relative. However, everyone named Om in Korea is related. It is not like the Kim name or the Park name where there are man Kim families and Park families in Korea. The Oms are unique, and they all claim one another and can trace where they came from and who is related. Queen Om’s son didn’t become king. The son of the first queen became king, the last king of Korea.

A door leading to one of the parts of her house from the courtyard after her house was restored/ Her house is a hanok, a traditional style Korean house, so it has a court yard with building all opening into the court yard.

This queen was born on February 2, 1854. She would have been slightly older than my oldest grandfather, so she didn’t live that long ago. She died July 11, 1911 at the age of 57 of typhoid fever. Her son carried the king’s name, but the other relatives who survived her were named Om. My son in law found pictures of her for you to see. He says they are on the web, but they are not on an English website, only Korean websites.

A picture of Queen Om in western style clothing, but a very Korean hairdo.

Queen Om was the first one to decide that women needed educated in Korea. She began Myeong Shin Girl’s School with just five girls On May 22, 1906. On December 1, 1906, that girl’s school became Sook Myeong Women’s College. On May 22, 1948, Sook Myeong Women’s College became Sook Myeong Women’s University. The first location of the school was Yong Dong Palace. The king’s son donated money from the harvest from three different prefectures of Korea to help the school. If you look in English, the only thing it says is that the university was begun by the family of King Go-Jong, but if you look in Korea, they are specific that she began the school. The reason King Go-Jong built Queen Om the house where we ate yesterday was because she was such a wonderful worker in palace business and a very supportive and helpful wife. From what I understand, she began even more schools than Sook Myeong Women’s University. The king appreciated her efforts.

a picture inside her court yard
another picture inside her court yard/Her house has been restored.

I have been to Sook Myeong Women’s University about three times for KOTESOL Conventions. KOTESOL is Korean Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. The university is located in Yong-san gu, close to the American military base that is just closing. I was asked to speak at one of the workshops I went to there, and they published some sentence patterns I had put together to teach my students to write sentences in English. I have spoken for KOTESOL at other universities too, and I have also spoken for other educational institutions in other countries too. I was actually asked to be the Key Note Speaker at an educator’s convention in Thailand, but I don’t do that kind of thing anymore. Sook Myeong Women’s University is a huge university. Many universities in Korea were begun by missionaries from other countries, but Sook Myeong is a completely home grown Korean university. Today it educates more than women, but it was begun because Queen Om thought women should also be educated, not just men.

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