Dr. Homer Hulbert

Homer Hulbert

There is a great deal of history interspersed throughout Seoul’s urban landscape.  Sometimes, when I’m out taking Grigsby for a walk, I walk past the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts and pass through Ju Si-Gyeong Garden.  Ju Si-Gyeong is an extremely important figure in Korean history.  He is well-known for coining the term “Hangeul,” establishing the Korean Language Society, and being one of the founders of modern Korean linguistics.  However, the eponymous garden also contains a statue memorializing another figure who contributed to the advancement of Korean linguistics – Homer Hulbert.  I recently had the opportunity to meet with Mr. Kim Dong-Jin, Chairman of The Hulbert Memorial Society, in Ju Si-Gyeong Garden to learn more about Homer Hulbert and his role in Korean history.

Chairman of The Hulbert Memorial Society, Kim Dong-Jin, presenting me with a copy of “Samin Pilji”

Homer Hulbert was born in Vermont, my wife Robyn’s home state.  He graduated from Dartmouth College before coming to Korea in 1886 to teach English at the Royal English School.  During his time in Korea, he founded the magazine The Korea Review, wrote multiple textbooks that saw wide circulation, and supported the Korean independence movement.  He gained the trust of Emperor Gojong and traveled to the United States as the Emperor’s emissary to protest Japan’s colonial advances.  However, his most prominent role was in advancing Hangeul and the modern Korean language.

Hulbert devoted a great deal of his life to learn about Korea and its language.  He wrote many English-language articles and books about the country, and dedicated his life to understanding its language.  His research took him deep into the history of Hangeul and the orthography and phonology of the Korean language, and wrote the first Korean Hangeul textbook, “Samin Pilji.”  Ju Si-Gyeong was, in fact, his student, receiving his initial scholarly understanding of the Korean language from Hulbert.  The two also collaborated on the publication of “Dok-rip Shinmun” (meaning “Independent Newspaper”).  Hulbert’s work, along with the work of Ju Si-Gyeong, would eventually become the academic foundation for modern research of the Korean language.

Learning about Homer Hulbert’s book, “Samin Pilji,”—the first Hangeul textbook from Chairman Kim

In 1907, Hulbert was forced to return to the United States after being expelled from Korea by the Japanese resident-general.  Hulbert continued to inform the American people about what was happening in Korea during this time.  He finally returned to Korea in 1949 at the invitation of President Syngman Rhee.  One week later, while he was here in Korea, Homer Hulbert passed away at the age of 86 and was buried at Yanghwajin Cemetery.

Reading the text inscribed on the memorial

It was great to learn about Homer Hulbert’s life, his work, and the role he played in fostering the relationship between our two nations.  I want to thank Kim Dong-Jin and the other members of The Hulbert Memorial Society for their great passion and hard work in keeping this important part of history alive.

Photo with the members of The Hulbert Memorial Society

If you are ever in the area, I encourage you to walk through Ju Si-Gyeong Garden and take a moment to visit the statues of Ju Si-Gyeong and Homer Hulbert with the knowledge of the impact they had in Korean history.

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