Any Korean would have at least had some basic understanding of the 1919 March First Movement. On that day, two million Koreans poured out into the streets across the entire peninsula to fight against the Japanese colonization that had been in place since 1905. Truly, the March First Movement was the symbol of Koreans’ awareness of their fate—similar to a candle flickering in the wind. In the heart of such a movement, there was Ewha and its students.
Several key student members from Yimunhwae, an association of clandestine female protestors against the Japanese, were from Ewha. Ha Nancy and Lee Sung-hwae were Ewha alumnae and central figures of Yimunhwae encouraging students at Ewha to go out to the streets in their school uniforms and join their movement, including their regular meeting on February 28, 1919.
Also, Ewha was home to one of the independent movement’s most famous martyrs, Yoo Kwan-soon. Enrolled in Ewha at age of 15, Yoo was a passionate and patriotic student until her death in 1920. As a member of Yimunhwae and the founder of the Five Secret Corps, which played a leading role during the protest, Yoo was at the forefront of fierce protests against Japanese soldiers during the movement. She also made propaganda statements encouraging people to join the movement for greater influences.
Consisting of student members namely, Seo Myung-hak, Guk Hyun-sook, Kim Bun-ok, Kim Hee-ja and Yoo Jum-seon, the Five Secret Corps was a group of Ewha girls who fought against Japanese under the leadership of Yoo. They formed their association when teachers at Ewha Hakdang, the former name of Ewha, forbade them to participate in the movement for their safety. On the day of the March First Movement, which took place on the first day of March, the corps was at the front line. According to the researcher at Independence Hall, a museum, where historical artifacts related to March First Movement are exhibited, the Corps members were arrested along with many other Ewha students and faculty, many of whom were later tortured.
Yoo died in the Seodaemun Prison after being brutally tortured; her body was cut into pieces and sent to Ewha Hakdang’s President, Lulu Frey in an oil barrel. “I am sure the importance and phenomenal influence of Martyr Yoo is needless to say. She was one of the most brave and patriotic women in Korea’s history,” said a researcher at the Independence Hall.
Ha Nancy is another figure who devoted herself to the independence movement. Ha was a teacher at Ewha Hakdang at the time of the Japanese colonization. Her real name is unknown but she is known by her husband’s last name and a Christian name she used when studying at Ohio Wesleyan University. She was the first student ever to study abroad on her own expenses and also the first female undergraduate in Korea. Ha founded Yimunhwae along with Lee Sung-hwae, in order to awaken students in the midst of ignorance and passiveness. She also encouraged many students to fight for their country since 1906, the beginning of her teaching. She was the only female representative sent abroad to introduce Korea and explain the current situation to foreign diplomats, asking for donations and help. Ewha Centennial History notes that Ha passed away while in Beijing preparing to attend the Paris Peace Convention as a female representative of Korea.