Project Canterbury

Hannah Riddell

Known in Japan as "The Mother of Lepers"

By Jingo Tobimatsu

[Kumamoto: Kaishun Hospital], 1937.


More than a few words are necessary to describe how greatly European and American friends have affected modern Japanese culture and civilization. There are countless examples of their participation in our progress, and of their gift of very valuable services in the government, in the schools and in the introduction of social welfare work, as advisers, instructors and leaders. And of all the wonderful services they have rendered, the work of Miss Hannah Riddell must be regarded as one of the most remarkable.

At the age of thirty-four, Miss Riddell decided to become a missionary and to come to the Orient. She travelled all the way to Japan with the conviction that she had been called by God to spread the Gospel among the people of Japan, and reached the land of her work in 1889. Ever since that time she had been isolated in an out-of-the-way place for a period, of over forty years, doing hard work in social service as a pioneer in an unknown field, to which nobody had ever paid the slightest attention. During this long period she has actually fought for the work, sacrificing everything of herself, and in spite of all kinds [i/ii] of indescribable inconvenience and difficulties, she persevered until the end. She not only successfully prosecuted her own special work, but at the same time carried on a campaign to arouse public interest in a much needed bit of public service. Her efforts and work have come to be recognized by the people, and the Imperial Household has honoured her by the bestowal of Imperial gifts upon several occasions.

The first time I saw her was at Osaka., when she came to consult with us about her plan for building a laboratory for bacteriological investigation of leprosy in the Kumamoto Kaishun Hospital. Eighteen years have passed since then, but the impression I received from that interview was so strong that I still remember very vividly the things that happened at that time. Among other things, one man suggested that she should use newspaper publicity in order to gain support. I recollect that she said to him after a pause: "I am doing my work in the spirit of a Japanese myself; I certainly do not like to see the papers report that a foreigner is doing relief work for miserable, unhappy beings whom people and society here have neglected. For the sake of Japan, I should not like to see such reports in the Japanese and Foreign press."

[iii] I also remember another occasion when she spoke at a special meeting held at the Governor's residence. Men listened to her plans and to her description of the work she was doing, with tears in their eyes.

Miss Riddell had a very wide vision of her aims. It was not only to keep lepers well treated and comfortable, but also to eradicate leprosy from the land. She moved towards this goal step by step, making use of every opportunity as it arose. She adopted methods used in all parts of the world, in the care and treatment of the lepers. She conceived many plans and zealously laboured to realize them. She called upon Government officials time after time, and co-operated with them in plans for the eradication of this terrible disease.

Every word she spoke was with the utmost sincerity, and those who listened to her were always deeply moved. She spent, summers at Karuizawa in the latter part of her life, but even then she came often to Tokyo to call upon officials and to advise with them. At last her earnestness was rewarded, and her work was recognized by the Government; Legislation was enacted for the development of the work of caring for the lepers, and many government [iii/iv] institutions have been erected, so that we have to-day, as the result of her zeal, many organizations and institutions for this work in different parts of Japan.

Now the Kaishun Hospital plans to compile her biography, and publish a book in her memory on the third anniversary of her death, and asks me to write an introduction. As I read through the manuscript of the book I see therein practically everything of her life, both its more widely-known fads, and many hitherto unknown details, and it gives us a very clear picture of her character and work.

H.M. the Empress Dowager is most graciously interested in this work, and under her encouragement a Leprosy Prevention Society has been organized with the co-operation of the Government and private individuals. A definite National policy for (the eradication of leprosy and its prevention is now established. At this stage of the gradual realization of Miss Riddell's ideal, a memorial publication is not only useful to stimulate interest in the work so dear to her heart, but is most fitting as a tribute to her life and character.

September, 1934.



Far back in our history, the gracious mercy of the Empress Komyo established the work of caring for lepers as a noble ideal; but during the thousand years and more since that time it is difficult to say that her words or example have been followed to any extent.

Forty years ago the spirit of loving humanity was rekindled by the enthusiasm of Miss Hannah Riddell, and this has led to the establishment of the Kumamoto Kaishun Hospital, and encouraged the beginning of leper relief work on a national scale.

It is unnecessary to say hew difficult the work of her first enterprise was, how many obstacles she had to overcome, in the establishment and management of her hospital for lepers. But in spite of all the difficulties she had to face, she made her way under the loving guidance of Almighty God. At length she began to receive public recognition of her work, public sympathy and material support, and in 1907 the Government enacted legislation for the erection of inter-prefectural leper colonies in several locations. In 1930 the National Leper Prevention Society was [v/vi] organized, and National Leper Asylums have been established with the gracious encouragement of the Empress Dowager.

It was really Miss Riddell's noble character that people admired. It wais by her earnest religious faith that people were drawn to her, and it was her indomitable will and flaming spirit of love that made it possible for her to realize her first ideal.

It is generally recognized that we may rightly say that God sent her here as the pioneer of social service work, and she truly delivered God's message to our people. To-day hundreds of lepers gather around the Hospital where there are food, medicine and care; and where they can enjoy the life which has been given them by God. Even though they cannot see their benefactor herself now, her great work remains, a.nd they can admire her as "the Mother of lepers."

We have many lepers in this Prefecture, and it is my duty to look after them. This is by no means an easy task} but Miss Riddell's life-work is a great help and inspiration to me. I believe that this book is a true record of her life and work, and those who are interested in the same efforts for suffering humanity will find k of great value to them.

[vii] As Governor of this Prefecture where Miss Riddell established her Hospital and set us the example of efficient relief work for lepers, I write this introduction with great pleasure and gratitude.

September, 1934.

Governor of Kumamoto Prefecture.


It is with much pleasure that I send out this little book eagerly waited for by many friends who knew my Aunt Miss Riddell, and who so lovingly helped her and are still helping the work she so loved and for which she gave her life.

It has been prepared by one of her faithful Japanese workers closely associated with her for many years. All who received the Japanese of it have liked it so much, (that I felt her many friends would like to have it in English.

So I am venturing to send it forth praying that the grain of wheat sown on that memorable day now many years ago, when she first saw lepers at the Hommyoji Leper Temple, and which has brought forth so much and great fruit for lepers all over Japan, may yet result in the completion of the Endowment of the Hospital, and that of the Church wkhin it! What a beautiful and Tasting memorial this would be to her, so lovingly called by those for whom she lived and worked and died "the leper's mother"!

For the translation into English and much c*her labour of love, my most grateful thanks are due [viii/ix] to the Rev. C. H. and Mrs. Evans, and the Rev. J. and Mrs. Chappell.


December, 1936.


Although since the inauguration of relief work for lepers by the Empress Komyo, such work has not been entirely neglected in Japan, the opening by Miss Riddell of the Hospital of the Resurrection of Hope marked an epoch in the history of such efforts.

The completion of the Hospital and its formal opening took place on November 12th, 1895, but the inception of its work was on the 3rd of April, 1890, when Miss Riddell, visiting Kumamoto at the time of the cherry blossom festival, first saw the miserable lepers on the steps and in the grounds of the Hommyoji (temple.

Miss Riddell's overwhelming pity for lepers and her great work at the Hospital were productive of great results, not the least of which can be counted the promulgation of the great Law XI, and the establishment of numerous Governmental Asylums throughout the country. Therefore it is proper to say that Miss Riddell stands in the very forefront of the whole modern movement for the amelioration of the condition of lepers, and the eradication of leprosy, in Japan.

Therefore I have had the courage and [x/xi] determination to undertakes a short account of her illustrious life and work. Far this purpose there was no lack of material in some directions, but Miss Riddell's modesty was such that although she gave her whole life as a sacrifice for the work of relieving the suffering lepers, she would have probably deprecated our use of the foregoing words to state this fact. She said of herself: "I am not a social service worker, but am only working in accordance with the Will of God." And so she always refrained from any emphasis on her part of the work, and looked with disfavour on any attempts to praise her for it. She even did net leave behind her a diary.

But there is much concerning Miss Riddell and her great work that must be written, and in order that no inaccuracies nor mere fond memories should creep into his narrative, the compiler of this History has sought information from many of the important persons who had known her in the course of her long career, as well as from his elders in the work. He has been especially assisted by the present head of the Hospital, Miss Ada H. Wright, the beloved niece of Miss Riddell. To all this he has added from his own experience in his long and close association with this devoted servant of God.

[xii] For any errors or omissions in this work of his, or any failure to portray correctly the Life he has undertaken to record, the fault and responsibility are wholly the writer's, for which he would ask the forbearance of the readers.


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