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Dr. Syngman Rhee

March 26, 1875 ~ July 19, 1965


George Washington University (B.A.)

Harvard University (M.A.)
Princeton University (Ph.D.)


Dr. Rhee was the first president of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea as well as the first president of South Korea and has been credited for leading South Korea during the Korean War. However, many are not as well aware of his Christianity. When President Rhee was a young man, he had ailing eyes. An American medical missionary helped to heal Dr. Rhee and restored his vision. As a young scholar, Dr. Rhee was imprisoned for organizing reform causes. Dr. Rhee was imprisoned in Korea in the KyungMoo Cheong prison (경무청; 警務廳) on January 1899. He became a Christian during his imprisonment in Japan. He also converted 40 of his inmates to Christianity.


After he was released from prison, Dr. Rhee went to America to implement a treaty with the United States; however, he was unsuccessful as Japan had already made an agreement with the United States. Missionaries helped to support Dr. Rhee’s education in the U.S. and he obtained a Bachelor of Arts from George Washington University, a Master of Arts from Harvard University and a Ph.D. from Princeton University.

He later returned to Korea as a chief secretary of the YMCA and as a Christian missionary. He returned to the U.S. in March 1912 and founded a Christian school for Korean immigrants in Hawai‘i. Dr. Syngman Rhee was very active in the local Korean-American community in Hawai‘i.


Dr. Rhee was instrumental in establishing the Korean Christian Church on December 23, 1913 and through the Korean Mission he planted three other churches: Wahiawa, on the island of Oahu; Hilo, on the Island of Hawai‘i; and in Los Angeles, California.


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