The Real People Behind JeJoonWon (Part 2)

This is the second part of my article on Jejoongwon (Part 1 here), The SBS drama about the first western hospital and medical school in Korea in 1885. The drama revolves around three main characters, Hwang Jung, Yu Sukran and Baek Doyang. The drama is a “Who’s Who” list of the early American missionaries who helped lay the foundation of modernizing Korea. In this page, we will explore the real life people who were either featured in or provided the inspiration behind the characters found in Jejoongwon, the drama. As time goes on, I will try to update this page, but I have all the major characters. 

Park Seo Yang - Jejoongwon

Park Seo Yang, the real life son of a butcher and graduate of Jejoongwon in 1908. This is who the character Hwang Jang was modeled after.

The character of Hwang Jung was loosely based a real life person, Park Seo Yang 박서양 who lived from 1884-1940. Dr. Park was from the butcher class. He converted to Christianity and with the eventual support of Dr. Oliver R. Avison (see below), Park was admitted as a medical student in February 1896. He was among the first seven students who graduate from JeJoongWon/Severance Medical School in 1908.  Dr. Park went on to become a doctor and teacher. He then went to Manchuria as an independence activist and worked as a medical surgeon. He died in 1940.  

Esther Park - JJW

While having nothing to do with Jejoongwon Esther Kim Park was the first Western medical female doctor in Korea 1900 and perhaps the muse behind Sukran.

As I was researching the history of Jejoongwon, I went directly to the drama’s official SBS website and came across some old pictures of people. One of those was that of Dr. Esther Park (에스더 박). Her real name was Kim Jung Dong 김정동, but she is better known by her Christian name, “Esther” and following the western way of taking a husband’s last name, she took on “Park” which was her husband’s last name. Esther Park was the first female Korean medical doctor and the first Korean female to be educated in the United States. She received her medical degree from the Women’s College of Medicine in Baltimore, MD in 1900 and then returned to Korea. She died in 1910 from tuberculosis at the age of 34. I originally thought perhaps she was the muse behind Sukran, but she might in fact be the inspiration behind both Sukran and her Sukran’s best friend.

Seo Jae Pil

Seo Jae Pil (aka Philip Jasohn) 1898 – the first Korean western medicine doctor and first Korean to become a US Citizen.

Another picture I noticed on the official Jejoongwon SBS website was that of Seo Jae Pil (aka Philip Jaisohn) and I was like “Wait, I know that guy!” Seo Jaepil or Philip Jaisohn (January 1864 – January 1951) was the first Korean who became an American citizen in 1890. Seo Jaepil was from the yangban class who desperately wanted Korea to reform and embrace modern ideals. After taking part in the unsuccessful Gaspen Coup, he was exiled and made his way to the United States. Eventually he graduated from George Washington University in 1892 being the first Korean to receive a degree in western medicine. As a US Citizen, he made his way back to Korea as an advisor to the Joseon/Korean Empire government. I think the character of Doyang was in some ways inspired by Korea’s first doctor of western medicine, Philip Jaisohn.


King Gojong – the last king of Joseon

Emperor Gojong

Emperor Gojong of the newly established Korean Empire in 1897

King Gojong 공정왕/Emperor Gwangmu 광무제: (September 1852 – January 1919). King Gojong was the 26th and last King of Joseon dynasty and first king of the Kingdom of Korea, which he established in 1897. Gojong was crowned king at the tender age of 15, but he was really just a puppet to his father, the Regent. His wife, Queen Min, helped to strengthen his reign by proclaiming him the sovereign sole ruler when he was 22 years old.  King Gojong had the misfortune of being King in a rapidly changing world and had to dig Joseon deep out of the hole of extreme isolation that was built by past rulers. In an effort to neutralize the Japanese interests in Korea he signed a “friendship treaty” (The Shufeldt Treaty) with the United States in 1882 (ratified by the US in 1883) which gave the US the same trade rights as Japan. Among these rights included the establishment of schools and medical facilities. It was this treaty that allowed for the influx of American missionaries arrive in Korea which followed after its ratification.  After the assignation of his Queen in 1895 he went to Russian Embassy for protection.  In 1897 he left Russian protection and established the Kingdom of Korea thereby putting an end to the Yi Joseon Dynasty. This was done in an effort to end the tributary relationship Korea had with China and to make Korea peers of Japan and China on the world stage. Despite all the social reforms he did to improve Korea, he was not able to stop the various external forces wanting their own slice of the Korean pie. He was forced by the Japanese to abdicate the throne in 1907. He died abruptly under mysterious circumstances on January 21, 1919.


Queen Min – an advocate of Korean modernization

Queen Min /Empress Myeongseong 명성황후 (October 1851 – October 1895). Queen Min was the wife of King Gojong and the mother of King Sungjong. She is seen as a hero and a martyr due to her strong anti-Japanese stance. Early on, she was found to be more interested in politics and books than what was considered to be acceptable by some in the court. She placed a lot of her own family members in strategic positions. Joseon still held on to a policy a strict isolationism and were still high on the fume of past glories. She was shocked to see how much Japan had surpassed Korea in terms of modernization, economically, militarily and their strong stranding on the world political stage.  She was the support and advocate behind a lot of the reforms and modernization efforts that took place during King Gojong’s reign.  Because of her strong influence in court and with the king, she became a threat to Japanese expansion and was assassinated by the Japanese in her private palace in October 1895. Her assassination helped to fuel a growing Korean Independence Movement.

Min Young Ik

Min Young Ik – Western medicine saved his life

Min Yong Ik 민영익 (1860 – 1914) Min was the nephew of Queen Min and the first Korean diplomate to the United States where he was known as “Prince Min” which gave him a greater level of respect (Americans have always been fascinated by royalty).  Min was critically stabbed during the Gaspen Coup which took place in December 1884. During this time in Joseon, having that kind of stab wound have been the same as death.  Dr. Allen, who had recently arrived to Korea was called in to treat Min. The surgery was a major success and within months, Min fully recovered. This proved to the King and Queen the value of Western medicine and helped to lead to their full support for the establishment of Jejoongwon.


Dr. Allen would eventually be involved in so many facets of Joseon – from education, missions, translations, business, diplomacy to politics – making him the most influential American in Korea of his day.

Dr. Horace Newton Allen 안련 (April 1858 – December 1932) arrived in Korea in September 1884 becoming the first Presbyterian medical missionary in Korea.  In December 1884 the Gaspen Coup took place and Min Yong Ik, the nephew of Queen Min was seriously stabbed. Dr. Allen was called on to help and Min, who healed within months. This was the first time they had ever seen western medicine used like this. Call it “Fate” or “God’s Will” or simply a freak coincidence, but this event lead to two important outcomes: 1) it guaranteed the safety and continued support of American missionaries in Korea and 2) the establishment of Jejoongwon. In 1885, Dr. Allen became JeJoonwon’s first director and served as the King’s personal physician. As a result he had unprecedented access to the royal family and was the king’s trusted advisor.   In 1887 he left JeJoongwon at the King’s request to accompany Korea’s first diplomatic trip to the United States.  In 1897 he was appointed by the US as the Minister Resident/General Consul of Korea, and then in 1901 he was appointed as the US Envoy to Korea. Dr. Allen played a major role in bringing US companies into Korea to work on infrastructure projects and other commercial activities. President Theodore Roosevelt was pro-Japanese. Dr. Allen strongly criticized the US policy towards Korea and recognized that Japan was a threat to world peace. Dr. Allen warned the US that Korean sovereignty would be the only way to curb Japanese Imperialism. Well so much for that, he was fired in 1905 and moved back to his hometown in Ohio where he continued to write and speak about Korea.

Dr. Heron

Dr. Heron, 2nd Director of Jejoongwon

Dr. John William Heron 헤론 (June 1856 – July 1890) was a medical missionary who was sent to Korea by the Presbyterian Church in June 1885. He was assigned to work with Dr. Allen at Jejoongwon where he worked as a medical doctor and a teacher. Upon Dr. Allen’s resignation, Dr. Heron went on to serve as the director of Jejoongwon up until his death in July 1890. He died from dysentery while treating patients during the great dysentery epidemic.  He was the first of the Western missionaries to die in Korea.  He was only 34 years old. The sudden death of Dr. Heron posed a major logistical problem regarding his remains. Korea in late July is extremely hot and that year it was really hot. Plus they were in the midst of a major epidemic which made moving his body to another burial place nearly impossible. This prompted King Gojong to build a Korea’s first foreign cemetery right in Seoul overlooking the Han River, Yanghwajin Foreign Missionary Cemetery (양화진 외국인 선교사묘원).  Dr. Heron was the first person buried at the Yanghwaiin Cemetery and is also the burial place for nearly everyone mentioned on this page. For those who are really curious, you check out Yanghwajin’s database to see who’s been buried and exact burial locations.

Horace Grant Underwood 원두우 (July 1859 – October 1916) was the very first ordained Presbyterian missionary to arrived in Korea in April 1885.  He started working in as Jejoongwon as a teacher since still at that time they were not allowed to openly convert. In 1889, he meets and marries Dr. Lillian Horton in Korea. From 1887-1911 he was chairman of the Board of Bible translators, which included Henry Appenzeller. This group translated the New Testament into Korean in 1900, and completed the first fully translated Korean bible in 1911. In 1900 he established the Seoul branch of the YMCA. In 1915, founded Chosun Christian College, which changed it’s name in Yonhi College. Yonhi College merged with Jejoongwon/Severance to become what is now, Yonsei University. He helped to write the first ever Korean/English dictionary. His legacy in shaping modern Korea runs deep- in which four generations of Underwoods served in Korea over the span of over 100 years (The Yanghwijin Cemetery has an entire area with just Underwoods). It’s no wonder that

The Underwoods not only Presbyterianism is the largest protestant denomination among Koreans – but that the The Presbyterian Church of Korea has the largest membership of any Presbyterian denomination in the entire world.

Dr. Lillias Stirling Horton Underwood (1851–1921): Dr. Horton arrived as a medical missionary to Korea in 1888 becoming the first female doctor ever in Korea.  Her original plans was to go to India, but a request came in from Dr. Allen seeking a female physician, so the rest is, shall we say, history. She was assigned to Jejoongwon where she met her future husband, Horace Grant Underwood who was 8 years her junior.  A few months after arriving to Korea she was invited to become the personal physician to Queen Min and her court ladies. As time went on, arthritis began taking its toll. She spend most of her time behind the scenes helping her husband on various translation projects as well as her own writings. Their son, Horace Horton Underwood would also go on to become a prominent missionary in Korea.  Although much of her work has been over shadowed by her husband and their son, it’s great that the writers of Jejoongwon remembered just how much of pioneer and trailblazer she really was.

Dr Avison-JJW

Dr. Oliver Avison – 4th Director of Jejoonwon

Dr. Oliver R. Avison (1860-1956) was a Canadian medical missionary to Korea and the fourth and last director of Jejoongwon before it became Severance Hospital. It is said he is the most famous Canadian in Korean history. Dr. Avison and his family arrived in Korea in 1893 to take over as director of Jejoonwon. With a dream of having a modern medical facility, Dr. Avison managed to receive a generous cash donation of USD $10,000 in 1902 from Louise Severance (oil tycoon and founding member of Standard Oil Trust). This was so much money back then, especially in Korea, you could have purchased 10,000 cows. Severance Hospital opened in 1904 becoming Korea’s first modern hospital building. After Rev Underwood died, leaving behind his post as president at Yonhei, the college he helped to establish, Dr. Avison took on the role of president Yonhei College while continuing his role as president of Severance Medical College. He managed both roles from 1916 – 1934. After retiring, he moved back to the United States.

AppenzellerYou might be thinking, why I’m even writing about this person since he had only a bit part in the drama. The fact he had no historical involvement with Jejoongwon, but yet the writers made the very conscious decision to write him into the script is evidence that no story of early Korea would be complete with mentioning Rev. Henry Gerhard Appenzeller (February 1858 – June 1902), the first Methodist missionary to Korea.  In a strange quirk of fate, he traveled to Korea on the same boat as Rev. Horace G. Underwood.  Upon his arrival in 1885, he established a boys school, Paichai Hakdang 배재학당, with a proper school building completed in 1897.  Paichai Hakdang went on to become what is now Pai Chai University 배재대학교.  In 1887 he and other missionaries including Dr. Allen, Rev Underwood, Dr. Heron formed the Bible Translation Board, who in 1900, put out the first translated version of the New Testament.  The board went on to complete the very first fully translated Korean bible in 1911. In 1886 his wife, Ella assisted Mary Scranton with establishment of the first school for girls, Ewha Hakdang 이화학당, now Ewha Womans University 이화여자대학교, one of the world’s largest all female universities. His daughter Alice, who was the first white person born in Korea, went on to become president of Ewha Women’s University from 1922 – 1939. In 1902, Rev Appenzeller drowned in a steam-ship collision off the coast of Korea. He was only 44 years old. Despite his very short life, the legacy he left in Korea was huge and as a result, Methodist is the second largest protestant denomination amongst Koreans. 

Sources: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14  Read Part 1

Jejoongwon Past and Present

jjw-building picture

Original Jejoongwon

Severnce Hospital

Jejoongwon Severance Hospital 1904

Severance today

The legacy of Jejoongwon lives on today

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