Soh Jaipil

Soh Jaipil or Seo Jae-pil (January 7, 1864 – January 5, 1951), also known as Philip Jaisohn, was a Korean-American political activist and physician who was a noted champion of the Korean independence movement, the first Korean naturalized citizen of the United States, and founded Tongnip Sinmun, the first Korean newspaper in Hangul.[1]

Philip Jaisohn
Seo Jae-pil 1947.jpg
Born(1864-01-07)January 7, 1864
DiedJanuary 5, 1951(1951-01-05) (aged 86)
Burial placeNational Cemetery of South Korea, Seoul, South Korea
Nationality United States
  • Lady Yi of the Gyeongju Yi clan
  • Lady Kim of the Gwangsan Kim clan
  • Muriel Armstrong
  • 1 daughter, 1 son; second marriage
  • 2 daughters; third marriage
  • Seo Gwang-hyo (father)
  • Lady Yi of the Seongju Yi clan (mother)
  • Queen Jeongseong (7th great-grandaunt)
  • Seo Gwang-beom (distant relative)
  • Seo Gwang-ha (adoptive father)
  • Lady Kim of the Andong Kim clan (adoptive mother)
FamilyDaegu Seo clan
Korean name
Revised RomanizationSeo Jae-pil
McCune–ReischauerSŏ Chaep'il
Pen name
송재, 쌍경
松齋, 雙慶
Revised RomanizationSongjae, Ssanggyeong
McCune–ReischauerSongjae, Ssanggyŏng
Courtesy name
Revised RomanizationYun-gyeong

Soh was one of the organizers of the failed Gapsin Coup in 1884 and convicted for treason, seeking refuge in the United States where he became a citizen and earned a medical doctorate. Soh returned to Korea in 1895, becoming a chief advisor of the Joseon government where he advocated for democracy, leaving the Chinese sphere of influence, and numerous civil rights and suffrage movements. Soh was forced back to the United States in 1898, from where he participated in the First Korean Congress and advocated for the March 1st Movement and U.S. Government support for Korean independence. Soh became a chief advisor to the United States Army Military Government in Korea after World War II and was elected as an interim representative in South Korea in the 1946 legislative election. Soh died in 1951 shortly after returning to the United States during the Korean War, and in 1994 his remains were reburied at the National Cemetery of South Korea in Seoul.


Early yearsEdit

Seo Jae-pil was born on 7 January 1864 in Boseong County in southern Jeolla, Joseon Korea, into a noble family; the Daegu Seo clan. Soh was the third son of Seo Gwang-hyo, who was a local magistrate in Boseong County, but was raised by his relatives, in Seoul. Soh was the eight generation descendant of Seo Jong-je, the father of Queen Jeongseong. She was the wife of King Yeongjo of Joseon, the 21st king of Joseon. He is also distantly related to Seo Gwang-beom. At eight years of age, Soh was adopted by his father's second cousin, Seo Gwang-ha and his wife, Lady Kim of the Andong Kim clan.[2] Soh studied at Kim Seong-geun and Park Kyu-su's private school during his adolescence, and was a teenager when he had already been exposed to the reformist ideals of Kim Ok-gyun.

Political activistEdit

Soh passed the civil service exam at the age of 18, becoming one of the youngest people to ever pass this exam, and as a result became a junior officer in 1882. Thereafter he was appointed to Gyoseokwan Bujeongja (교서관 부정자; 校書館 副正字) and Seungmunwon Gajuseo (승문원 가주서; 承文院假主書). In 1883 he was appointed to Seungmunwon Bujeongja (승문원 부정자; 承文院 副正字) and Hunryunwon Bubongsa (훈련원 부봉사; 訓鍊院 副奉事). In the following year, he was sent to Japan where he studied both at the Keio Gijuku (the forerunner of the Keio University) and the Toyama Army Academy. In July 1884, his adoptive mother died, but he quickly returned to public service under special orders.

In his reports to the king, Soh explained that in the new world Korea's armed forces were useless and obsolete. This annoyed powerful conservatives, but it made Soh widely known and respected among like-minded young intellectuals. By that time, a small but growing number of young intellectuals understood that fundamental reform had to occur or Korea would fall victim to the neighboring imperialist powers of Qing China, Japan, or Russia.[3] He was appointed to Joryeon-guk Sagwanjang (조련국 사관장; 操鍊局 士官長) shortly after.

In December 1884, Soh, following Kim Ok-gyun, was involved in the Gapsin Coup, a radical attempt to overturn the old regime and establish equality among people. Soh and Kim Ok-gyun, Park Yeong-hyo, Yun Chi-ho, Hong Yeong-shik, and others had planned a coup for seven months, from July to December 1884 (which had horrified Empress Myeongseong as she supported the progressives and the conservatives for their ideas). He was appointed the Vice-Minister of Defense. The coup was defeated in three days, as China intervened by sending military troops. As a result, his older half-brother, Seo Jae-hyeong, and younger brother, Seo Jae-chang, were killed. His biological father, Seo Gwang-hyo, and biological mother, Lady Yi of the Seongju Yi clan, were executed under a guilt-by-association system. His second wife, Lady Kim of the Gwangsan Kim clan, was sold into slavery, but committed suicide. His 3 year old son had also died in 1885. Convicted of treason, Soh Jaipil lost half of his family and had to flee Korea to save his life. His only remaining family was his older brother, older sister, younger brother, and younger sister. Along with his eldest daughter and her husband. But his older brother soon died due to suicide poisoning in 5 September 1888.

The majority of the 1884 revolutionaries fled to Japan. Unlike them, Soh moved to the United States. He saw Japan as essentially a conduit for Western knowledge and ideas, but preferred to deal with what he saw as the source itself.[3]

Exile in the United StatesEdit

Graduation from Columbia Medical College (1892)
Philip Jaisohn and Muriel Armstrong, 1930s

In 1885, early in his stay in America Soh worked part-time jobs. In 1886, Soh lived in Norristown, Pennsylvania, and attended the Harry Hillman Academy (Wilkes-Barre, PA) thanks to the help of John Welles Hollenback. He began to use the name "Philip Jaisohn" at that time. In 1890, he became the first Korean immigrant to acquire United States citizenship. He studied medicine at Columbia Medical College (now George Washington University School of Medicine & Health Sciences), and became the first Asian-American Doctor when he received his medical degree in 1892.[4][5][6]

In 1890, he became a U.S. citizen and from then he was often referred to by his American name Philip Jaisohn.

In 1894, he married Muriel Armstrong, a distant relative of the former president of the United States, James Buchanan, and daughter of George B. Armstrong, credited as the founder of the U.S. Railway Mail Service.[7] They had two daughters, Stephanie and Muriel. In 1895, he was pardoned by the Joseon government, but he flatly refused to return.

The IndependentEdit

The Independent
Soh, his daughter Muriel, and Kim Kyu-sik in Incheon in 1947.

In 1894, Japan defeated China in the First Sino-Japanese war which occurred on the Korean Peninsula. The Korean cabinet was filled with reformists. Along with these political changes, the treason of the Gapsin Coup was pardoned enabling Jaisohn's return in 1895. In December 1895, he went to Incheon. The Joseon government wanted to appoint him to Foreign Secretary but he refused to take the position. In Korea, he endeavored to politically educate people. Jaisohn published a newspaper, The Independent (독립신문), to transform the Korean population into an informed citizenry. He was the first to print his newspaper entirely in Hangul to extend readership to lower classes and women.

Sowing the ideals of independence and democracyEdit

In the 1896 to 1898 Civil rights movement and suffrage movements. Soh's goal was to ensure that Korea would drift away from the Chinese sphere of influence but without falling too heavily under the influence of Russia or Japan. He was also behind the construction of the Independence Gate, which was initially meant to symbolize the end of Korea's ritual subordination to China.[3] Apart from his journalistic and political activities, he delivered regular lectures on modern politics and the principles of democracy.[3]

He promoted national independence as the principal political ideal and emphasized neutral diplomatic approaches to protect Korea from China, Russia and Japan. He also underscored the importance of public education, modernized industry and public hygiene. The Independence was particularly critical of misconduct by government officials, which caused strong reactions by the conservatives. Under the aegis of the Independence Club (독립협회; 獨立協會), Jaisohn organized the All People's Congress, an open public forum to debate over political issues. The Congress was hailed by young reformers and began to establish nationwide chapters.

In November 1897, Soh enabled the construction of the Independence Gate (독립문;獨立門).[8] At this time he also ended the policy of Yeongeunmun (영은문;迎恩門).[9] Yeongeunmun was the Korean policy of welcoming the Chinese envoys, Yeongeun roughly translates from Korean to English as "Welcome to beneficent Envoys of suzerain's."

In 1898, conservatives accused Jaisohn and the Club of seeking to replace the monarchy with a republic, and the Korean government requested Jaisohn to return to the US. After his return, the Korean government ordered the Club to disband and arrested 17 leaders including Rhee Syngman.

Clerk and Company manageEdit

In April to August 1898, he accompanied an army to the Spanish–American War. In 1899 he found employment as clerk for the University of Pennsylvania Hospital.

In 1904, worked with Harold Deemer, who was a year younger, to create the "Deemer and Jaisohn shop". It was a stationery and printing industry store. In 1915, the shop became called the Philip Jaisohn Company, and specialized in the printing industry.

Independence movementsEdit

In the United States, Jaisohn conducted medical research at the University of Pennsylvania and later became a successful printer in Philadelphia. When he heard the news of the March 1st Movement (1919), a nationwide protest against Japanese rule in Korea, Jaisohn convened the First Korean Congress, which was held in Philadelphia for three days on April 14–16, 1919.[10] After the Congress, Jaisohn devoted his energies and private property to the freedom of Korea.

He organized the League of Friends of Korea in 21 cities with the help of Rev. Floyd W. Tomkins, rector of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Trinity, Philadelphia on Rittenhouse Square and established the "Korean Information Bureau." He published a political journal "Korea Review" to inform the American public of the situation in Korea, and to persuade the U.S. government to support the freedom for Koreans.

In the 1920s, Soh, who had just turned 60, returned to research and spent his 60s and 70s working as a specialist doctor and micro-biologist, as well as occasionally publishing in peer-review academic journals.[3]

Five years later in 1924, Jaisohn went legally bankrupt due to his political engagement and had to resume practicing medicine to make a living. At age 62, he became a student again at the University of Pennsylvania to renew his medical knowledge. After this, he published five research articles in the medical journals specializing in pathology. During World War II, he volunteered as a physical examination officer with the belief that the victory of the U.S. would bring freedom to Korea.

Last days in KoreaEdit

Jaisohn returned to Korea once again after Japan's defeat in World War II. The U.S. Army Military Government in control of the southern part of Korea invited him to serve as chief adviser. In December 1946, he was elected to the Interim Legislative Assembly (남조선과도입법의원; 南朝鮮過渡立法議院). In May 1945, liberal and moderate socialist intellectuals selected him as candidate for presidency, but he declined. When the date of the first presidential election was confirmed by the United Nations, Jaisohn was petitioned to run for presidency by 3,000 people including a young Kim Dae-jung, but he refused in the end.

Jaisohn felt that political unity was needed for a new nation despite his uneasy relationship with the president elect Syngman Rhee. He decided to return to the United States in 1948. Suffering a heart attack a week earlier on December 29, Jaisohn died on January 5, 1951 during the Korean War, just two days before his 87th birthday.

His body was cremated, and his ashes were buried in Bib church in Philadelphia. In 1994 his remains were repatriated to South Korea. His ashes were buried in the National Cemetery of South Korea in Seoul.


  • Grandfather
    • Seo Sang-gi (서상기, 徐相夔)
      • Adoptive grandfather: Seo Sang-yo (서상요, 徐相堯)
  • Grandmother
    • Lady Kim of the Ulsan Kim clan (울산 김씨)
      • Adoptive grandmother: Lady Kim of the Andong Kim clan (안동 김씨, 安東金氏) (? - 1884)
        • Adoptive great-grandfather: Kim On-sun (김온순, 金蘊淳) (1812 - ?)
  • Father
    • Seo Gwang-hyo (서광효, 徐光孝) (22 August 1800 - 19 December 1884)
      • Adoptive father: Seo Gwang-ha (서광하)
  • Mother
    • Lady Yi of the Seongju Yi clan (성주 이씨, 星州李氏) (1830 - 19 December 1884)
      • Adoptive mother: Lady Kim of the Andong Kim clan (안동 김씨, 安東 金氏)
        • Maternal Grandfather: Yi Gi-dae (이기대, 李箕大) (4 October 1792 - 18 March 1858)
        • Maternal Grandmother: Lady Im of the Jangheung Im clan (장흥 임씨)
  • Sisters
    • Older sister: Lady Seo of the Daegu Seo clan
      • Brother-in-law: Jeong Hae-eun (정해은, 鄭海殷) of the Yeonil Jeong clan (연일 정씨, 延日 鄭氏)
    • Younger sister: Seo Gi-seok (서기석)
      • Unnamed brother-in-law
  • Brothers
    • Older half-brother: Seo Jae-hyeong (서재형, 徐載衡) (1851 - 13 December 1884)
    • Older brother: Seo Jae-chun (서재춘, 徐載春) (4 March 1859 - 5 September 1888)
      • Sister-in-law: Lady Song of the Eunjin Song clan (은진 송씨) (1860 - 14 February 1916)
    • Younger brother: Seo Jae-chang (서재창, 徐載昌) (1866 - 13 December 1884)
      • Sister-in-law: Lady Jo (조씨, 趙氏)
    • Younger brother: Seo Jae-woo (서재우, 徐載雨) (5 September 1868 - 24 January 1929)
      • Sister-in-law: Lady Kwon of the Andong Kwon clan (안동 권씨)
  • Wifes
    • Lady Yi of the Gyeongju Yi clan (경주 이씨, 慶州 李氏) (1860 - 1880)
    • Lady Kim of the Gwangsan Kim clan (광산 김씨, 光山 金氏) (1862 - 12 January 1885)
      • Father-in-law: Kim Yeong-seok (김영석, 金永奭) (1837 - 1902)
      • Mother-in-law: Lady Park of the Bannam Park clan (반남 박씨, 潘南 朴氏)
        • Daughter: Lady Seo of the Daegu Seo clan
          • Son-in-law: Kim Du-jin (김두진, 金斗鎭)
        • Unnamed son (1882 - 12 January 1885)
    • Muriel Mary Armstrong (Muriel Josephine Armstrong) (1871 - August 1944)
      • Father-in-law: George Buchanan Armstrong (27 October 1822 - 5 May 1871)
      • Unnamed brother-in-law
      • Brother-in-law: George Buchanan Armstrong (1848 - 1915)
      • Brother-in-law: Guy Halifax Armstrong (1868 - 2 January 1915)
        • Daughter: Stephanie Jaisohn Boyd (1896 - 5 April 1991)
          • Son-in-law: Paul C. Boyd
            • Unnamed grandson (1923 - ?)
          • Son-in-law: Mr. Hedican (? - 1982)
            • Grandson: Philip Hedican (? - March 1993)
        • Daughter: Muriel Jaisohn (1898 - 16 June 1987); did not marry and lived as a painter while helping her father


  • Hansu's Journey
  • My Days in Korea and other Essays
  • My compatriots in the homeland (고국에 계신 동포에게)


  • Order of Merit for National Foundation, Republic of Korea Medal (1970)



  • 1864 (January 7): Born in Bosung, Korea as the second son of Soh Kwang-Hyo.
  • 1871: Adopted to Soh Kwang-Ha, Soh Kwang-Hyo's second cousin.
  • 1882: Passed the Civil Service Examination.
  • 1883-1884: Attended the Toyama Army Academy in Japan.
  • 1884 (December 4): Staged the Kapsin coup with Kim Ok-gyun. The attempt was aborted in three days and Jaisohn had to emigrate to Japan.
  • 1885: Arrived in San Francisco with Park Young-hyo and Soh Kwang Bum and worked at a furniture store.
  • 1886-1889: Attended the Harry Hillman Academy (Wilkes Barre, PA). John W. Hollenback supported Jaisohn's living and tuition in entirety. Anglicized his name from 'Soh Jaipil' to 'Philip Jaisohn'.
  • 1889: Worked at the Army Surgeon General's Library in Washington D.C translating Chinese and Japanese medical books into English. Entered the Medical School at Columbian University (now George Washington University).
  • 1890 (January 19): Obtained American citizenship.
  • 1892: Earned a medical degree and opened a private medical office in 1894.
  • 1894 (June 20): Married Muriel Armstrong, daughter of George Buchanan Armstrong. Jaisohn later had two daughters (Stephanie and Muriel).
  • 1895: Left Washington D.C. at the request of the Korean government.


  • 1896 (April 7): Started to publish The Independent.
  • 1896 (June 2): Founded the Independence Club.
  • 1897 (May 23): Built the Independence Hall.
  • 1897 (August 8): Began a public forum called 'All People's Congress'.
  • 1897: Erected the Independence Gate.
  • 1898: Proposed the constitution of Congress. Russia and Japan pressed the Korean government to dispel Jaisohn.
  • 1899-1903: Worked at the Wistar Institute, University of Pennsylvania.
  • 1904-1913: Operated a publishing and stationary business in Philadelphia with his friend, Harold Deemer.
  • 1914-1924: Operated the Philip Jaisohn & Co. in Philadelphia.
  • 1919 (April 14–16): Convened the First Korean Congress in Philadelphia after receiving the news of nationwide resistance in Korea.
  • 1919 (April 22): Established the Korea Information Bureau.
  • 1919 (May 16): Founded the League of Friends of Korea in Philadelphia with Rev. Floyd W. Tomkins. The League thereafter established 24 chapters in U.S., and one each in London and Paris.
  • 1921 (September 29): Korean Provisional Government in Shanghai appointed Jaisohn as the vice-representative to the Washington Naval Conference.
  • 1922~1935: Contributed a number of articles to Dong-A Ilbo, Chosun Ilbo, Shin Min, New Korea (Shin Han Min Bo), Peace & Liberty.
  • 1924: Philip Jaisohn & Co. went bankrupt.


  • 1925: With Yu Ilhan, Jaisohn founded the New-Ilhan & Co., but the business was not successful.
  • 1925: Attended the Pan-Pacific Conference in Hawaii as a Korean delegate.
  • 1925: Established residence in Media, Pennsylvania.
  • 1926: Entered the Medical School of the University of Pennsylvania.
  • 1927-1936: Worked at the Jeans Hospital, St. Joseph Hospital, Charleston General Hospital and Chester Hospital.
  • 1929-1934: Published five research articles in pathology journals.
  • 1936: Opened a private medical office in Chester, Pennsylvania.
  • 1937-1940: Contributed various columns such as "My Days in Korea" and "Random Thoughts" to The New Korea.
  • 1941: His wife, Muriel Armstrong died.
  • 1942-1945: Volunteered as a physical examination officer for the US Army during World War II.
  • 1945: Awarded a medal from the US Congress in honor of contribution to the US Army.
  • 1947 (July 1): Returned to Korea as the Chief Advisor to the US Military Government and as a member of the Korean Interim Legislative Assembly. Jaisohn made strenuous efforts toward democracy and the unification of Korea.
  • 1948: Petitioned to run for presidency.
  • 1948 (September 11): Returned to the U.S.
  • 1951 (January 5): Died at the Montgomery Hospital, PA during the Korean War (1950~1953).

After 1951Edit

Philip Jaisohn Memorial HouseEdit

Philip Jaisohn Memorial House

The Philip Jaisohn Memorial House in Media, Pennsylvania was Dr. Jaisohn's home from 1925 to 1951. This house was bought when Dr. Jaisohn was in great financial difficulties, while his house in Philadelphia was pledged due to his devotion to the Korean independence. His Media home was acquired by the Philip Jaisohn Memorial Foundation in 1987 and opened to the public in 1990. Since then, the Jaisohn House has been visited by many students and politicians from Korea such as former South Korean president and Nobel peace laureate Kim Dae-jung as well as Korean American immigrants and community neighbors.

On May 21, 1994, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and the Philip Jaisohn Memorial Foundation dedicated a historical marker for Dr. Jaisohn, stating:

American-educated medical doctor who sowed seeds of democracy in Korea, published its first modern newspaper (1896-98), and popularized its written language. The first Korean to earn a Western medical degree and become a U.S. citizen. He worked for Korean independence during the Japanese occupation, 1910-45. Chief Advisor to the U.S. Military Government in Korea, 1947-1948. This was his home for 25 years.

See alsoEdit

Further readingEdit

  • Oh Se-ung, Dr. Philip Jaisohn's Reform Movement, 1896-1898: A Critical Appraisal of the Independence Club, University Press of America, 1995, ISBN 0819199141


  1. ^ 서재필 박사 60주기 추모제, 8일 보성 기념공원서 열려 The Segyenews 2011.04.07 (in Korean)
  2. ^ Soh Jaipil (in Korean)
  3. ^ a b c d e (20) Seo Jae-pil: pioneering reformer, independence fighter koreatimes 2011.12.28 (in English)
  4. ^ "The Life of Philip Jaisohn(1864-1951)". The Philip Jaisohn Memorial Foundation. Archived from the original on 2018-11-07. Retrieved 2018-11-05.
  5. ^ "Seo Jae-pil: pioneering reformer, independence fighter". The Korean Times. 2011-12-28. Archived from the original on 2018-11-07. Retrieved 2018-11-05.
  6. ^ "Jaisohn Was Champion for Korean Independence". LAFAYETTE MAGAZINE. 2011-11-18. Archived from the original on 2018-11-07. Retrieved 2018-11-05.
  7. ^ "A Fast Start, 1864–1875". Smithsonian National Postal Museum. Retrieved 2018-09-03.
  8. ^ 역사속의 오늘-독립문 완공 imail 2007.11.20 (in Korean)
  9. ^ 독립문에 대한 오해와 진실 Archived 2012-09-20 at the Wayback Machine The Hanguk Ilbo (in Korean)
  10. ^ First Korean Congress held in the Little Theatre, Philadelphia 1919

External linksEdit