Evelyn Becker McCune (1907-2012)
Evelyn Becker McCune was born in Pyongyang, Korea, the daughter of Methodist missionaries. She was raised primarily in Korea, but received her university education in the United States. She attended Albion College in Michigan, and Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia before earning a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of California, Berkeley in 1930. After completing her studies, she returned to Korea and taught at Seoul Foreign School from 1930 to 1932. In 1933 she married George McAfee McCune, who was also born in Korea to missionary parents. The couple relocated to the United States, and in 1941 George earned a Ph.D. in Asian history from UC Berkeley. After his death in 1948, Evelyn returned to Berkeley, completing a master’s degree in history in 1950, with a focus on Korea.
Because of her background and expertise, McCune held a number of positions as an Asian specialist for the U.S. government. In 1945 she served as a volunteer assistant in the Far Eastern Section of the Committee on the Protection of Cultural Treasures in War Areas, assisting in the preparation of maps and lists of cultural monuments in Korea. The Committee was established by the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) in January of 1943 and, along with the American Defense—Harvard Group, was a leading force in the establishment of the Roberts Commission. The lists prepared by the two organizations, and the maps compiled by the ACLS Committee, were transmitted through the Roberts Commission for use by the War Department. That same year, in addition to her work with the ACLS Committee, McCune worked as a technical assistant for the Army Map Service.
During the Korean War McCune was sent to Seoul where she located artifacts from the National Museum of Korea that had been abandoned by the North Koreans after the 1950 Battle of Pusan Perimeter. Back in Washington, she served from 1951 to 1952 as chief of the Korean Unit, Orientalia Division of the Library of Congress. In 1952 she traveled to Korea and Japan to inspect war-damaged libraries and art collections for the State Department and the Library of Congress. She served as a liaison officer for the United Nations Korean Reconstruction Agency from 1953 to 1954, and between 1962 and 1963 conducted research on North Korea for the Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research.
McCune’s teaching career took her to Occidental College in Los Angeles in 1940, and Polytechnic School in Pasadena from 1941 to 1942. She lectured in the history department of the University of California Overseas Program in Korea and Japan from 1954 to 1955, and taught at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, California from 1956 to 1978. She is author and co-author of an extensive list of books, articles, and reviews, including the 1962 landmark text The Arts of Korea: An Illustrated History. She has donated works to the Korean collection of the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, and donated her own personal papers, as well as those of her husband and other members of the McCune family, to the Center for Korean Studies at the University of Hawaii, Manoa. In 1982 she was awarded an honorary Ph.D. by Yonsei University in Seoul, Korea.
*The Foundation wishes to express thanks to Kathleen Kenyon for her contribution to this biographical profile.