Elizabeth Kirkland Roys was uniquely suited to undertake a study of Asian gardens. The daughter of Presbyterian missionaries, she was born in Weihsien, China in 1905, and lived in northern China until she was fifteen.
Her parents genuinely loved the Chinese people, culture, and languages, and they no doubt instilled this appreciation in their daughter.
Elizabeth was the eldest of three girls to be born to Dr. Charles K. Roys and Mabel Milham Roys (Smith College class of 1900). The Royses were passionately attached to their work in China and devoted themselves to learning Chinese in the early years. Their experiences were marked by deep joy as well as profound sorrow. Mabel filled her days writing reports for newspapers and colleagues at home and helping with the charitable, medical, and religious work of the mission. In 1910 the death of their second daughter Carolyn dealt a great blow, lessened slightly by the birth, only weeks later, of their third daughter Mary.
As chief surgeon at the teaching hospital in Weihsien, Dr. Roys touched many lives. In 1916 the family moved to Tsinan, where Dr. Roys was appointed professor of anatomy at the new Cheloo Medical College. His work was cut short by a brain tumor, and the family was forced to return to the United States for his treatment in the Mayo Clinic. Dr. Charles Roys died in 1920 when Elizabeth was fifteen.
Grief-stricken but unable to abandon the lifelong project she had shared with her husband, Mabel Roys soon accepted her appointment
as General Secretary of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, becoming the first woman to carry administrative responsibility for the foreign field. She toured Asia in 1926-27, inspecting the missions under her charge. The longest portion of the trip was spent in China, largely for nostalgic purposes: as Mabel Roys considered the years spent there as the happiest of her life. Elizabeth Roys accompanied her mother, revisiting sites from her remarkable childhood and reliving memories of her beloved father.