In 1920 Dr. Lois Pendleton, a 26-year-old American physician, sailed for China to serve as a surgeon in a mission hospital in Shantung province. It was the beginning of a remarkable life—one that combined healing with study of the Chinese language and culture. It was also a life of commitment and courage.
Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1894, Lois Pendleton was an infant when her family moved to Saratoga, California, in 1895. Lois attended Campbell Union High School, eight miles from Saratoga. She was interested in science from a young age and decided that she wanted to be a public health nurse or a physician.
Pendleton's family belonged to the Saratoga Congregational Church, which had long supported missionary work and had set up a settlement to assist returned missionaries. As a young girl she met missionaries who had returned to the United States after working abroad, and their stories inspired her to become a missionary.
Lois Pendleton enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley in 1912. She received her bachelor's degree in 1916, and her doctor of medicine degree in 1920 from the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine.
A few months after graduating from medical school, Dr. Pendleton and a classmate were posted to China by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. When she arrived, she had a few months of language training in Peking (now Beijing). Proficiency in Chinese was essential, as all communication with patients, hospital staff, and nurses was in Chinese.
Dr. Lois (as she became known) settled into work at a mission in Tenchow, and found that her responsibilities included emergencies, critical patient care, and general surgery. She worked at the hospital from 7:30 each morning until 6:30 at night, and was on call all night and was responsible for the medical care of all the women and children patients, including surgery.
Life in Tehchow, in northeastern China, was a constant challenge as well. While Dr. Pendleton treated the patients that came to the hospital, civil war, bandits, guerrilla skirmishes, major floods, dust storms, famines, and epidemics often added to the challenge of the mission's work. In 1927, a battle raged between two warlords just two miles from the mission compound. Several of the doctors at the mission later told of bullets whizzing by the compound.
In 1927 the political conditions in Shantung became so dangerous and unstable, that Dr. Pendleton and her colleagues were advised to leave the mission for good. She withdrew to Tientsin (now Tianjin) on the coast, where she met Oliver Todd, a young American civil engineer. They became engaged and two months later they married. Dr. Lois Pendleton Todd and her new husband settled in Beijing. Oliver Todd continued his engineering work on projects throughout China, while Dr. Todd provided health care for missionaries and other Americans in Beijing. She also taught at Peking Union Medical College (Rockefeller Foundation Medical Center), and worked at the Presbyterian Hospital.
Dr. Todd and her husband had four children. When they were young, Dr. Todd worked as a school physician at the Peking American School, providing medical care and immunizations to the students.
When the Japanese invaded northern China in 1938, Dr. Todd and her family were forced to give up their work and return to the United States. They settled in California, near Palo Alto. Dr. Todd worked as a student health physician at Stanford University, conducting physical exams on all new students, made rounds on any patients in the infirmary, and taught a class in personal health and preventive medicine. She retired in 1960 at age 65 after twenty-two years of service, and went into part-time private practice, until neurological ailments associated with Lou Gehrig's disease forced her second retirement.