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F. E. Stafford and Ellen Marie "Nellie" Stafford

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Stafford, Francis Eugene (1884–1938) and Ellen Marie “Nellie” (Jessen) (1883–1968)

By Michael W. Campbell


Michael W. Campbell, Ph.D., is North American Division Archives, Statistics, and Research director. Previously, he was professor of church history and systematic theology at Southwestern Adventist University. An ordained minister, he pastored in Colorado and Kansas. He is assistant editor of The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia (Review and Herald, 2013) and currently is co-editor of the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Seventh-day Adventism. He also taught at the Adventist International Institute for Advanced Studies (2013-18) and recently wrote the Pocket Dictionary for Understanding Adventism (Pacific Press, 2020).

First Published: June 1, 2023

Francis Eugene Stafford and Ellen Marie “Nellie” Jessen Stafford were Seventh-day Adventist missionaries to China. Francis served as a printer, and later as a pastor and administrator; Nellie worked as a book binder. Together they were among the earliest Adventist missionaries to serve in Shanghai, China. Francis’ Chinese name is 施塔福 (pinyin Shī Tǎfú).

Nellie Ellen née Jessen was born August 3, 1883, in San Francisco, California.1 Her parents were Danish immigrants, and she grew up attending public schools in San Francisco. She was baptized by E. E. Andross in 1897.2 She began employment at the Pacific Press Folding Room department in the Fall of 1901.

Francis was born in Boulder, Colorado, February 3, 1884. He grew up attending public schools in Boulder. Converted at age 13, he was baptized by F. M. Wilcox in the lake in front of the Boulder Sanitarium in 1900.3 He attended one year at Union College (1899-1900) and then went to work for Pacific Press (1900-1906). Here, he became the foreman of the photoengraving department and was well-known for his photographic skills. The couple met while working at Pacific Press, and the two married in 1904. When fire destroyed the Pacific Press buildings from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, he worked for the San Jose Engraving Company until 1909. While at Mountain View, he married Nellie Jessen. The couple’s first child, Clarence Eugene, was born on Oct. 22, 1906.

Francis accepted a job with the Shanghai Commercial Press, the largest printing establishment in China with over 1,000 employees, with a contract to install equipment for the photo engraving department and to teach workers to run the department.4 The Press paid for all of their expenses and retained them on salary beginning the day they left San Francisco on Nov. 16, 1909, on the S. S. China. 5

They happily discovered there were 29 other missionaries on board, including fellow Adventist missionaries, Brother and Sister C. Sparks.6 Upon their arrival, they noted the benefits of having the headquarters of the denomination’s work in Shanghai, a central point for mail, freight, and communication. Francis noted how the “possibilities of foreign inventions,” especially “the railroad, telegraph, telephone, etc.” could help facilitate the proclamation of “the Gospel message” to the 400 million inhabitants of China.7 He was especially appreciative of the new monetary system, which replaced the old local provincial currencies, or Mexican money, which had become a common unit of exchange.8

In the summer of 1910, the Staffords spent time with fellow Adventist missionaries in Mokanshan, which means the “haven of rest.”9 It was away from the noise and heat of the city, and it gave them an opportunity for a retreat in nature. They described using several modes of transportation ranging from a newly built train line to house boats, and in the last part, riding in “sedan chairs” on the shoulders of “coolies.” They described this latter form of transportation:

“The sensation of this ride is both exhilarating and delightful. At every step the bamboo poles spring, and we go literally bouncing up the hill. At times the path is very steep and rugged, and the coolies must step carefully or we would go tumbling down on the rocks. We go straight up as steep as it is possible to walk, until we are landed safe at our destination.10

In this mountain retreat, they appreciated fresh, pure cold water from mountain springs (a relief from having to boil water). The nearby bamboo forests contained beautiful waterfalls. There were an estimated 200-300 missionary homes from various denominations. The Adventist mission bought a piece of property with a treatment room and church. “It is indeed a strength to our work,” he wrote, “to have a place like this in our midst where sick workers can be treated . . . and would undoubtedly save the lives of many of our workers, who are stricken with the tropical diseases and are not able to secure proper treatment to overcome them.”11 While there, the missionaries continued their study of the Chinese language, held “instruction in Bible studies,” and studied about how to prevent “tropical conditions” and other preventable diseases. From Aug. 24 to Sept. 3, 1910, they held a workers’ meeting so that the China Union Mission Committee, meeting with Elder I. H. Evans, could consult together to make strategic plans for further missionary outreach.12

He became proficient in the Shanghai dialect. The Staffords played a significant role in the opening of the first Adventist “street chapel” in Shanghai. It was located about a half mile from the Adventist press and far enough away from the downtown area, in a more residential district so that it wasn’t as noisy. They refurbished the building, added new glass doors, creating a “very inviting appearance.”13 They hung out a “great white sign” on which was stated “Foo-iung-dong” (福音堂) meaning “Gospel Hall.”14 As they planned to open on New Year’s Day, they printed “neat invitations with gold ink on red paper” for the people in the community. People lined up to come in, and once they opened the doors, they were quickly filled to overflowing.15 They described the experience: “After singing a few hymns we explained to the people the purpose of opening our chapel and gave each one an invitation to the preaching service in the evening. We also distributed some of our Chinese tracts called ‘God’s Love for Man’ and ‘Know Thy Creator.’”16 They repeated the program all afternoon. That evening, they opened evangelistic meetings conducted by Brother Woo. They continued with three public meetings each week, with afternoon meetings for women. Within the first month, two individuals made a commitment to start keeping the seventh-day Sabbath.

In 1911, he became director of the Kiangsu Mission, a position he continued to serve in until 1915 when poor health contributed to their return to the United States. While there, they had their second child, Frances Eleanor (b. December 7, 1912). On May 18, 1915, the Staffords left from Hong Kong for the United States.

He recovered and spent the next 16 years in Hawaii. He had a special burden for reaching the Chinese people there. He helped start a radio work among Seventh-day Adventists.17 He worked for the Hawaiian The Star-Bulletin as a photo engraver for ten years.18 He also served as director of Oriental Language Schools in the territory of Hawaii (1926-1927), and then as instructor of Chinese for McKinley High School in Honolulu (1925-1932). Also, from 1926 to 1931, he pursued extension work at the University of Hawaii. He considered his time in Hawaii as a self-supporting missionary.

On September 23, 1932, the Staffords left San Francisco on the S. S. President Hoover for another term of mission service in China. They arrived October 14.19 This time, he would be connected for a time with the Shanghai Publishing House.20 While there, he was ordained.21 This term of service was short lived due to poor health. On July 20, 1934, the Staffords left on the S. S. Taiyo Maru on permanent return to the United States.22

Francis died in Pasadena, California, on February 11, 1938; Nellie died January 2, 1968, in Glendale, California. Francis was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale; Nellie was buried at Valhalla Memorial Park in North Hollywood, California.23 An extensive collection of the Stafford’s photographs in China are preserved as part of the Hoover Institution Library and Archives at Stanford University.24


Obituary, ARH March 17, 1938, 23. Abbreviated version in PUR Feb. 23, 1938, 13.

Full version appears also in China Division Reporter, April 1938, 6.

“F. E. Stafford Dies on Coast.” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, March 1, 1938.

Obituary. ARH, March 7, 1968.

Stafford, F. E. “Missionaries’ Rest at Mokanshan.” The Signs of the Times, November 8, 1910; November 15, 1910.

Stafford, F. E. “On the Way to China.” The Signs of the Times, April 12, 1910.

Stafford, F. E. “Our Work in China.” The Signs of the Times, March 28, 1911.

Stafford, F. E. “Progress in China. I. Our Work in Shanghai.” The Signs of the Times, August 2, 1910; “Progress in China. II. The Reform Movement,” The Signs of the Times, August 9, 1910; “Progress in China. III. The Chinese National Exposition.” The Signs of the Times, August 16, 1910.

Stafford, F. E. “Progress in China. National Reform—Cue Cutting.” The Signs of the Times, April 4, 1911.

Stafford, F. E. “Revolution in China.” The Signs of the Times, December 5, 1911.

Stafford, F. E. “A Visit to Nanking, the Ancient Capital of China.” The Signs of the Times, August 30, 1910; The Signs of the Times, September 6, 1910.

Stafford, F. E., “Word from China.” Youth Instructor, October 25, 1910.


  1. Obituary, ARH, March 7, 1968, 27, 30.

  2. Biographical Information Blank, July 4, 1912, General Conference Archives.

  3. Biographical Information Blank, September 22, 1932, General Conference Archives.

  4. “F. E. Stafford Dies on Coast,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, March 1, 1938, 3.

  5. [F. E. Stafford], “Word from China,” Youth Instructor, Oct. 25, 1910, 5-6.

  6. F. E. Stafford, “On the Way to China,” The Signs of the Times, April 12, 1910, 14-15.

  7. F. E. Stafford, “Progress in China. II. The Reform Movement,” ST, Aug. 9, 1910, 14-15.

  8. Ibid.

  9. F. E. Stafford, “Missionaries’ Rest at Mokanshan,” The Signs of the Times, Nov. 8, 1910, 14-15.

  10. Ibid.

  11. F. E. Stafford, “Missionaries’ Rest at Mokanshan,” The Signs of the Times, Nov. 15, 1910, 14.

  12. Ibid.

  13. F. E. Stafford, “Our Work in China,” The Signs of the Times, March 28, 1911, 13.

  14. Ibid.

  15. Ibid.

  16. Ibid.

  17. “F. E. Stafford Dies on Coast,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, March 1, 1938, 3.

  18. Ibid.

  19. “Arrivals,” The China Division Reporter, November and December 1932, 8.

  20. “Sailings,” ARH, October 13, 1932, 24.

  21. Obit. ARH March 17, 1938, 23.

  22. “Departures,” The China Division Reporter, July and August 1934, 10.

  23. and [accessed 12/20/22]

  24. see also: [accessed 12/20/22].


Campbell, Michael W. "Stafford, Francis Eugene (1884–1938) and Ellen Marie “Nellie” (Jessen) (1883–1968)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. June 01, 2023. Accessed May 24, 2024.

Campbell, Michael W. "Stafford, Francis Eugene (1884–1938) and Ellen Marie “Nellie” (Jessen) (1883–1968)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. June 01, 2023. Date of access May 24, 2024,

Campbell, Michael W. (2023, June 01). Stafford, Francis Eugene (1884–1938) and Ellen Marie “Nellie” (Jessen) (1883–1968). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved May 24, 2024,