(518) Founder of The Korea Times
Kim Hwal-lan, also known as Helen Kim, is widely remembered in Korea nowadays. A religious activist, the first Korean female Ph.D. holder, a politician and an educator, she was the first native to be appointed head of Ewha College.
She also was a close associate of President Syngman Rhee, and chosen by him to address the nation after the North Korean invasion in June 1950.
But far less known is the fact that she also founded the paper you are reading right now. Indeed, she was the founding mother of The Korea Times.
She suggested founding such a paper in October 1950 when the Korean War had become truly international, involving forces from over a dozen states.
She felt the need to start a publication that would be able to explain Seoul's policy to the allies. With her support, the first issue of The Korea Times went on sale on Nov. 1, 1950.
Kim played a decisive role in launching the newspaper, but she did not stay with it for long. In less than a month, she left to become a Cabinet minister.
However, she did not stay in government for long either, and soon resumed her duties as president of Ewha Womans University.
Initially, The Korea Times was published six times a week, with Monday off. The paper was small: The Korea Times of 1950 consisted of merely two pages in the small ``tabloid'' size.
It was typical of those days: The overwhelming majority of newspapers in war-torn Korea was published as tabloids and only had a few pages. In 1952, the number of pages increased to four, but it wasn't until 1961 that The Korea Times became a broadsheet.
The newspaper cost 100 won, with a monthly subscription coming in at 1,500 won. Wartime inflation, however, led to numerous price hikes, so by 1953 it cost 300 won to buy a copy.
The major audience of the newspaper was U.N. military personnel, since the number of English-speaking Koreans remained very low.
She believed that the newspaper would be necessary, first of all, to explain the Korean official position to the allied forces, even though, as we shall see, The Korea Times was not merely a government mouthpiece.
Throughout the Korean War, the newspaper circulation was between 5,000 to 10,000 copies, most of which were bought by agencies for subsequent free distribution among the U.N. personnel and other foreigners.
The first issue contained a lengthy article dealing with the policies of a unified Korea. Indeed, by early November, everybody believed that the South had won the war. But this was not the case, and in merely a few weeks the Communist forces (this time, Chinese rather than North Korean) began to approach the nation's capital.
On Jan. 1, 1951, The Korea Times published its last Seoul issue and on Jan. 3 the staff boarded a train to Busan, the provisional capital of the South. Seoul felt to the Communist armies the very next day.
The first Busan issue of The Korea Times was published on Jan. 17, 1951. The editorial office remained in Busan, even after Seoul was retaken in March 1951 (of the major newspapers, only the Chosun Ilbo, in a symbolic gesture, moved its headquarters to Suwon, in the vicinity of Seoul).
The first Busan issues were produced on a typewriter and then photocopied. Only in mid-February, with the arrival of typesetting equipment, did the newspaper return to more traditional printing technology.
For the first months of the Busan sojourn, The Korea Times staff lived in the same building as the editorial office: Busan was crowded with refugees and finding normal accommodation was next to impossible.
Professors of English departments played a major role in the editing of The Korea Times during its early years. Incidentally, this was the case with many Korean English-language papers of the post-liberation decade.
Kim herself, in spite of her numerous religious and political activities, was first and foremost an educator. However, as she did not stay long with the paper, from late 1950, Kim Sang-yong, her close associate and fellow Ewha professor, published The Korea Times.
Of the seven other members of the paper's first editorial board in 1950, four were professors, while two more eventually became professors.
Even though she could not manage The Korea Times on a daily basis, she remained emotionally attached to her project. Perhaps this attachment saved the newspaper from demise in 1951-52 when a grave political crisis erupted in Busan.
At that time, The Korea Times editors sided with the groups who opposed President Syngman Rhee's dictatorial rule. Rhee was not famous for his tolerance toward opposition, and The Korea Times could have been closed down.
However, she used her personal influence with the President to save the paper, and the government limited itself to inflicting a lesser punishment: The purchase of The Korea Times by official agencies was discontinued. This put The Korea Times (from 1952, an independent company) in serious financial trouble, but the paper survived.
However, by the mid-1950s The Korea Times had to change its ownership, reflecting the major upheaval in the Korean media world.
Prof. Andrei Lankov was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, and now teaches at Kookmin University in Seoul. He has recently published ``The Dawn of Modern Korea,'' which is now on sale at Kyobo Book Center and other major bookstores. The book is based on columns published in The Korea Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.