GC was a women's college in Nanjing opened by Christian missionaries in 1915 and the first college to grant American BAs to women in China. It became a sister college of Smith, and a lot of information and photos may be found in the Smith archives online, as well as those of the Yale Divinity School.
For more about the overall place of Ginling in Lily's life, please read her biographies here and here.
"Ginling" 金陵 was an ancient name for Nanking/Nanjing, and is pronounced with a soft "G" and sometimes written as "Jinling".
Ginling and the many other schools and hospitals started chiefly by American missionaries in the 19th and early 20th centuries are surely the most significant and positive legacy of foreign imperial ambition in China. Their direct social "uplift"––to use a word of the time period––and broad cultural influence were far greater than the actual number of converts to Christianity, measured as a percentage of China's vast population.
Inevitably, histories of Ginling show students dressed in quaint sports wear––the emphasis on physical education at Ginling and other female institutions is an almost hackneyed example of the American values that were instilled. Then again, China at the time was gravely concerned about its inferior world status, and for many, the physical delicacy of Chinese women (and men) directly correlated with national weakness.
While it's easy to view Ginling as merely a finishing school that turned out polite young ladies, Ginling must be seen in the context of its times. Lily herself was on more of an enlightened housewife track, but the school's alumnae bulletins also tell of many graduates who went on to careers in education and the sciences.
Lily's Years, 1919-1923
Lily at far left
Ginling graduated its first students in 1919. The Class of 1919 was a tiny cohort of five students, one of whom, Wu Yifang, went on to become president of the college in 1928 (more below).
Lily entered in 1919 and graduated in 1923. One of her sisters, Ivy, graduated in 1928. Their youngest brother, Guy, graduated from GC's brother school, the University of Nanking (sometimes called Ginling Men's College). Ivy's husband, Harry Taam, was also a graduate.
Lily front row, 3rd from right
Lily studied music, and in photos we often see her in performance settings. After Ginling, she taught piano for several years, then in 1927 went to the University of Southern California where she got a master's degree in music (and met her future husband).
The following screenshots are details from photos on the Yale Divinity School site (search on "Ginling") showing Lily. Captions: #2: Ginling group - taken Nov. 18, 1921, #3: Class in Comparative Anatomy - study of bones, #4: P.E. class, #5: Faculty and Seniors, and #6: Faculty Luncheon for Class of 1923.
In Lily's day, the college occupied two old mansions with an oft-mentioned trellised rose arbor. In 1924, after she graduated, Ginling moved into buildings designed by an American architect with Chinese tiled roofs and details. This became standard Chinese collegiate style––as seen below, although I'm not sure if the buildings are Ginling or the University of Nanking.
This photo shows the joint Ginling College-University of Nanking glee club, some years after Lily's graduation.
Lily's sister, Ivy (Ginling '28), is fifth woman from left in the dark dress. Her future husband, Harry Taam, stands behind her, in a white gown, tall, with a thick head of hair.
Maida Kuo Yuen, from Ivy's class but one of Lily's best friends, is the woman on the far left behind another woman.
The Ginling Faculty
As mentioned in Lily's biography, she kept up relationships with many teachers as well as classmates for her entire life. Her Ginling teachers were a formative influence on her, and indeed, they were as well educated and credentialed as women of the time could be.
Matilda Calder Thurston (德本康夫人), one of Ginling's founders and its first president, was a graduate of Mount Holyoke, with a decade's experience as a China missionary.
Frederica Mead (later Mrs. Walter Hiltner, and often mentioned in Lily's letters) held a joint master's degree in English and Religious Education from Columbia Teacher's College and Union Theological Seminary.
Ruth Chester received her Master's degree in Chemistry from Smith and headed Ginling's chemistry department for thirty years, later going on to teach in Pakistan.
Wilhemina Vautrin, another China veteran and Columbia graduate, joined Ginling in 1919. This was the same year that Lily and her classmates entered, and the Class of 1923 seems to have held a special place in Minnie Vautrin's heart. There are several mentions of seeing Miss Vautrin in Lily's diary from 1934-35.
Sadly, Miss Vautrin is now best remembered for her role during the Rape of Nanking in 1937-38, when she and other Ginling staff turned the college into a refuge for thousands of women and girls. Despite her heroism––Mariel Hemingway plays Miss Vautrin in the 2007 movie "Nanking"––Miss Vautrin was haunted by the horrific experience that left hundreds of thousands dead. She committed suicide in 1941.
Ms. Vautrin far right, with Lily center. Other faculty are unidentified, perhaps Mrs. Thurston second from left.
In 1928, Wu Yifang (吳貽芳), an alumna from Ginling's first graduating class, replaced Mrs. Thurston as Ginling's president after the Kuomintang government mandated that colleges be put under Chinese control. In her mid-thirities, Ms. Wu became China's first female university president. After Ginling, she got a PhD in biology from University of Michigan.
If you care to click on the hyperlinks, each of their stories deserves more time. Much has been written in recent years about the incredible career opportunities that missionary and education work in China opened up for American women (see, for example, The Gospel of Gentility by Jane Hunter––love that title!). In remote missionary outposts, life was difficult, and harder still if one were a single woman under the thumb of male colleagues. But an all-female organization like Ginling would have been on the other end of the spectrum, often with opportunities beyond what a woman could find in ostensibly more progressive America. China was in great flux in the early part of the 20th century and many value systems were juxtaposed. In the biography A Thousand Miles of Dreams, medical student Amy Chen arrives in Illinois in 1925 to find even fewer women in her class at Western Reserve than there had been at Peking Union Medical College. In 1919, British feminist Dora Black traveled to China and was surprised at the openness of students' questions about free love and sexuality.
The Class of 1923
Lily's graduating class had ten women. In 1985 classmate Blanche Ching-Yi Wu, who became a biology professor and taught for a time at Ginling, wrote a memoir called East Meets West, filled with lively details about Ginling days. About Lily she said, "artistic, attractive and charming, appeared the youngest". Blanche notes that their class chose "Service'"as its motto and blue and white as its colors. They also presented the school with what she calls a "temple-quality" bellto ring between classes.
About the others, she said: 1. Chen Djoa-Chun: She was on the go to various places, in religious work; married late to Dr. C. W. Chang; retired and settled in Laguna Hills, California, USA. Interesting, lively and humorous in her letter for our 50th reunion year, she wrote, 'How I wish that I could join you on this social occasion and we four could at least sing a quartet together ... and we four beauties might take a picture of ourselves.'
2. Chong En-Chung: Went to North China to teach after graduation.
3. Djiang Ruh-Djao: Went to Kiangsi to teach in her own province, Kiangsi.
4. Huang Wen Yu: Quite a character! Happy go lucky! The oldest in our class and an experienced teacher. Later she married Mr. Chu, a banker in Shanghai.
5. Rwan I-Djen: A major in Biology, the first one to be married in our class. Husband was a Professor in Biology. She died of scarlet fever soon after childbirth. The first one lost. Sad!
6. Swen Dji-Shuh: Also a Biology major, taught for a while. Soon she married a Nanking University man, Dr. K. C. Chen, used to work in China Institute, N. Y. Now they live in New Jersey.
7. Wei Shin-Djen: A Physics major, teaching Physics and English in Nanking. 'A filial daughter in every sense, nursing a sick mother for years. Then she nursed her father until he passed away at the age of 94'-- so said her relative in America. So glad to see her again in Nanking, China, in 1976.
8. Wu Ming-Ying: She was more than a mere classmate but an ideal roommate, a close friend and so-called 'aunt' because her mother was a dear friend of my mother. What a double and triple relation! She married a wealthy relative and lived in Shanghai. I am greatly concerned for her. Nobody seemed able to tell me anything about her when I inquired again and again afterwards.
Nanking Alumnae Gatherings, 1934/1935
Below and in the main photos are several gatherings that took place in 1934/1935 when Lily visited Nanjing (for the last time) with two of her children.
In the next photo, Lily is standing in the back center. In front of her and slightly to the right with her eyes closed is an unidentified classmate recognizable in at least three other photos on this page.
In the front row towards the right, clutching a purse, is Grace Zia Chu, not an alumna, but a former Ginling PE instructor, who settled in the US and famously introduced a generation of Americans to Chinese cuisine through cookbooks and lessons.
To her left is someone labeled elsewhere in Lily's albums as "Ru-djen" and seen again with Lily, in a coat so beautiful that I hope one day to have a tailor copy it.
It clearly mattered to Lily to always be impeccably turned out. In her diary from her stay, in addition to many references to shopping for fabric to make clothes and homewares to take back to the US, she also regularly mentions getting a shampoo and "marcel". Indeed, she sports a fine example of the era's crimped hairdo, while noticeably few of her Ginling friends do.
Ginling Association in America
Lily was active in the "GAA" and gladly hosted much of the association's first Los Angeles reunion in 1964, despite the recent death of her daughter Jeannette. She loved to entertain and would have been happy to show off the Quons' spectacular Beverly Hills house. Guests were treated to flowered leis––a nod to Lily's attachment to Hawaii where she was born and where many relatives still lived.
A cake was inscribed in purple––Ginling's color, with the school motto "Abundant Life 厚生" (hou sheng) in both English and Chinese.
The birthday "girls" are former teachers Ruth Chester and Frederica Mead Hiltner, and alumnae Mrs. New Way Sung (nee Zee Yuh-Tsung), Hannah Phang, and Gloria Nyi.
It's not clear when these two Ginling events took place.
The next photo is from a reunion on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in June 1973. Lily was not a participant, as she died in October 1972, just before her 70th birthday.
Photo courtesy of Wei Peh-t'i, daughter of alumna Lois Wei/Liu Ying-bao.