Highly Educated American & Canadian Missionaries

university students in classroom 1919

The American and Canadian missionaries who worked for the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missionaries (ABCFM) were highly educated. I’m not talking about taking a few courses in Christianity at a religious institute like Moody’s in Chicago. Although some of them, like Susan Wealthy Orvis, did spend a few months there before shipping out on their overseas assignments. No, I’m talking about obtaining a degree—often more than one—from a bona fide college or university. Susan herself had three: from Grinnell College (still known in her graduating year as Iowa), University of Chicago, and Oberlin College.

What makes this so astounding is that around 1900, less than 1% of the American public had a higher education. And since it was more common for men to get an advanced education, the percentage for women was even lower. It’s probably not that surprising though, because the ABCFM consisted mainly of Congregationalists, who held education in high regard.

Of 177 missionaries who were stationed in Turkey circa 1908-1922 with degrees, there were 239 degrees among them. Most of the men were ordained ministers, though some were medical doctors. There were a few women doctors, too, which was very rare that early in the 20th century. Most of the women were teachers, and some were nurses. Not included in the list below were the few teachers who only attended a normal school for their certification, and the few nurses who graduated from a nursing school alone.1

Here’s a list of the alma maters of the ABCFM staff in Asiatic Turkey during that time, and the number of degrees granted (c = college, i = Institute, u = university, s = seminary):

3
3
5
1
2
12
8
3
9
1
2
2
1
1
4
3
2
1
1
1
1
1
8
6
11
1
2
1
2
1
2
2
1
6
8
1
3
1
14
1
1
22
5
4
1
4
1
7
8
1
1
2
6
1
1
1
13
1
1
6
1
6
1
1
4
2
8
1
Amherst c
Andover c
Auburn c
Bates c
Beloit c
Boston u
California Berkeley u
Carleton c
Chicago u
Columbia u
Cornell u
Dartmouth c
Denver u
Doane c
Elmira c
Emerson c
Fairmount c
Fargo c
Gordon s
Goshen c
Goucher c
Granville c
Grinnell c
Harvard u
Hartford s
Illinois u
Iowa state u
Kansas u
Kansas state u
Lafayette c
Lennox c
Manitoba u
Marietta c
McGill u
Michigan u
Middlebury c
Minnesota u
Missouri u
Mt Holyoke c
Nebraska u
New York u
Oberlin c
Olivet c
Pacific u
Pennsylvania u
Pomona c
Pratt i
Princeton u
Queen’s u
Radcliffe c
Rice u
Rush u
Smith c
Syracuse u
Toronto u
Texas u
Union s
Vassar c
Vermont u
Washburn c
Washington u
Wellesley c
Wellesleyan u
Wheelock c
Williams c
Wisconsin u
Yale u
Yankton c

How many of these schools did you know? Probably not all, as a few of them no longer exist.

  1. A normal school later became known in North America as a teachers’ college. Most nurses before the 1960s were graduates of nursing schools affiliated with city hospitals.

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Photo: Students in 1919 in classroom at the University of British Columbia, which, alas, is not on the list above. However, the classroom was typical of those in North American colleges and universities.

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