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Beginnings in India

By Eugene Stock, D.C.L.

London: Central Board of Missions and SPCK, 1917.

Chapter X. The First Work among Women

IT is a fact little realized that there are more women missionaries in the field than men. In the case of married couples, of course, the two sexes balance one another, and the single women are now more numerous than the single men. Are now more numerous: yes, it is a new fact. There is another fact, not a new one, but as old as the human race--viz., that half the population of the world consists of women; and this fact, familiar as it always has been, seems never to have been realized, or at least its bearing understood, in those earlier days. The common idea was that a missionary was normally an ordained man. "Lay missionaries" were unknown in the Church of England. A schoolmaster or an artisan might be sent out for some particular secular work, but he was not reckoned as a missionary, not even like the Roman "lay brothers"; and naturally women shared the disqualification. And all the while it was forgotten that in most non-Christian lands the women cannot be effectually reached by male missionaries, so how were half the population to hear the Gospel?

But were there not the wives? No doubt many of them actually did important work, but it was, so to speak, by the way. They were not counted; their primary occupation--rightly enough--was the care of husbands and children and households. At the Anglican Missionary Conference in London in 1894, one of the speakers said that he had asked a wife what was her work in the Mission, and that her reply was, "I mind my missionary." Truly many missionaries have been saved from sickness and death by being thus "minded." But meanwhile, what of half the population of the world? And, again, many missionaries are unmarried, a condition which has its own disadvantages as well as advantages.

Let us see how the great change has come about, so far at least as India is concerned.

It was in 1815 that the C.M.S. received its first offer of missionary service from women. Three ladies at Clifton offered to go anywhere in any capacity. Daniel Corrie, the East Indian chaplain, who was at home at the time, and who showed a sense of vision in this as in other matters, urged that there was work in India waiting to be done; but the Society declined to send unmarried women abroad, except sisters accompanying their brothers. Twenty years later than this, Bishop Wilson "objected on principle to single ladies coming out, with the almost certainty of their marrying within a month." "I imagine Tryphena and Tryphosa, and the beloved Persis, remained at home." He conveniently omitted Phoebe, who certainly did not stay at home!

From early days an exception was made in the case of girls' schools. If possible, a missionary's sister or daughter was thus employed; but other women had also to be found, and we have already seen how Miss Cooke began in Calcutta in 1820, following the good example of the wife of Marshman of Serampore. When other girls' schools were opened, Eurasian teachers were engaged for them. But any direct evangelistic work among adult women seems never to have been thought of. In 1834, the first Society, formed mainly by Churchpeople in England, for sending women into the Mission Field, was only "for the Promotion of Female Education in the East"; and the next, many years later, was called "The Indian Female Normal School and Instruction Society." However, many excellent women sent out by these two Societies, who lived to be veterans, by no means confined their efforts to school work. Through the children they reached the mothers.

Apparently the first to attempt definite missionary work among adult Indian women was a lady quite independent of any Society. This was Miss Bird, sister of R. M. Bird, Commissioner of Gorakhpur, one of the most trusted of Anglo-Indian officials--"a born leader of men," says Sir R. Temple--who helped to train John Lawrence and William Muir. She and her brother were aunt and uncle of Mrs. Isabella Bishop (nee Bird), so famous in later days as an intrepid traveller and brilliant advocate of Missions. Miss Bird was a delicate woman, but a devoted worker from 1824 to 1834, when she died of cholera. Whether she ever succeeded, or tried, to enter a zenana--the only way of reaching the higher castes--does not appear. Leupolt of Benares used to say that his wife, an Englishwoman sent out by the Female Education Society, was the first to pass within the strictly guarded curtains. Not a few of the F.E.S. ladies did marry, as Bishop Wilson foretold; but they mostly married missionaries, and this did not stop their work. So also did the daughters of veteran messengers of Christ, like Miss Sandys, whose father was a C.M.S. man at Calcutta, and who became the wife of R. R. Winter, the distinguished S.P.G. missionary at Delhi, and did noble service there. In the middle of the century, the question of educating Indian women who were already married became urgent. It had been disreputable for a Hindu lady to read or write, as the only women who could do so were the nautch girls. In this matter the Parsees of Bombay and the Christians of Tinnevelly were ahead of the Brahmans and wealthy Hindu landowners. Certainly the Missions in the South had quite thrust out of date the old saying, "From the beginning of the world it was never known in Tinnevelly that a woman could read." But the high caste boys who had received a good English education on Duff's system wanted their wives to be not wholly illiterate. The Rev. Krishna Mohun Banerjea, to whom they listened despite his Christianity, did good service in calling their attention to the importance of women's education. The Government opened a school for caste women, who were carefully conveyed to and fro in closed carriages; but this proved a failure, and it became clear that they must be taught, if at all, in their own homes. To train Eurasian teachers for this special work a Normal School was opened at Calcutta in 1852, and it was from this effort that the I.F.N.S.I.S. above referred to was developed. But it was an English teacher in this School, Miss Toogood, who, knowing Bengali well, first obtained entrance to a Calcutta zenana, being engaged for the purpose by the first Hindu to open his house, Babu P. Cumar Tagore, in 1854. A little later, Dr. Duff opened a High School for girls, like the official one that had failed, but avowedly teaching Christianity with Miss Toogood as head mistress. Many Hindus sent their daughters to it, recognizing its high moral tone, and after the first year an examination was held in the house of a Hindu millionaire, before the elite of native society.

A curious incident occurred in 1860. Three sisters from Dublin went out independently to work under Mr. and Mrs. Leupolt at Benares. Their coming to that great centre of Hindu idolatry caused a sensation. "They don't wish to marry," said a Hindu gentleman to Leupolt; "they don't want money, nor fame; yet they are at work night and day: what did they come for?" But one of them became seriously ill, and all three went home.

At last, in 1861, the first steps were taken, by the I.F.N.S.I.S., to send out English ladies definitely for Zenana visiting and teaching. Seven years later, when the first public meeting of the Society was held in London, with Sir Bartle Frere as chief speaker, it was reported that nine English women, twelve Eurasians, and thirteen Brahman widows were at work; and from that time progress was steady, especially after the formation of the Church of England Zenana Missionary Society in 1880. Many devoted women went out, one of whom was Miss Charlotte Tucker, the "A.L.O.E." of young people's literature, and sister of a former Commissioner of Benares. She was already past middle life, yet she laboured zealously as an honorary missionary for eighteen years, and died at her post, Eatala in the Punjab, in 1893. The Bishop's chaplain, Mr. (now Archdeacon) Brook Deedes, said that she "realized Kingsley's beautiful conception of the Fairy Do-as-you-would-be-done-by among the water-babies." Another lady, Miss Bielby, seems to have been the first to engage definitely in medical work, beginning in 1876 at Lucknow, where in her first year she paid over 1,000 visits in 150 houses besides seeing other patients at her own quarters. One of the Christian Indian helpers was Miss Golak Nath, daughter of a highly respected minister of the American Presbyterian Mission, who became the wife of the Rajah of Kapurthala, Sir Harnam Singh, K.C.S.I.

Meanwhile the S.P.G., at its principal stations, was also beginning work. Mrs. Winter at Delhi, and Mrs. Caldwell in Tinnevelly, were especially effective; and in 1863 the former organized zenana visiting by Indian Christian women, and also began simple medical treatment of the Indian ladies she visited. It was soon after this that the Society at home took the matter in hand energetically, and "The Ladies' Association" was formed in 1866. The Hon. Secretary, Miss Bullock, daughter of the chief Secretary of the Society, devoted more than a quarter of a century's valuable labours to its service. It sent its first women missionaries to India in 1868. They gradually engaged in all branches of work among women. Zenana visiting was diligently carried on; High Schools for girls rivalled those for boys; and the school at Nazareth in Tinnevelly was the first in South India to send pupils to the matriculation examinations of Madras University. Boarding schools for Christian girls also provided many teachers for elementary schools. Zenana hospitals were planned, and eventually proved a blessing to both bodies and souls. Village visitation was undertaken in many districts. Indian school-teachers, Bible-women, nurses, were trained. Miss Angelina Hoare's self-sacrificing toil in the swamps of the Sundarbans, south of Calcutta, should be specially remembered. The Society has also helped the Mission among Eurasian women carried on at Lahore by the St. Hilda's Community. Several other Communities and Sisterhoods are at work elsewhere.

All this time the C.M.S. continued to regard the sending forth of women missionaries as outside its province, relying on the existing Women's Societies already mentioned. But in 1887 it was compelled by the needs of other Mission Fields in which these auxiliary associations were not at work, particularly Africa, to consider the many offers of service from ladies well educated and experienced in home Mission service. It had then about twenty single women in the field, most of them widows or daughters of old missionaries, who had always been welcomed. In the past thirty years it has sent out nearly 1,000 women, and 450 are at work to-day. At first, while they were sent to Africa; China, Japan, and other fields, India was still left to the auxiliary associations, but the continually increasing demands from the Missions there again forced the Society's hands, and have since claimed nearly a third of the whole number. As all the C.E.Z. ladies, and several of the Z.B.M. ladies work in connection with C.M.S. Missions, the total number of single women engaged in them in India is about 300.

Meanwhile, let not the devoted work of the missionaries' wives be forgotten. Some of them find mention in other chapters. It would be invidious to pick out individual names here.

This chapter began with the remark that women are one-half of the population of the world, and that therefore they deserved a full proportion of our evangelistic efforts. But in India, at least, they enjoy, and exercise, much more than half the religious influence. It is they, in a Hindu household comprising perhaps thirty or forty people, who see that the family gods are daily worshipped, and who teach even the children in arms to worship them. It is they who see that the ever-recurring festivals are observed; that the birth, marriage, and funeral rites are duly performed; that caste is not broken. It is the influence of wife and mother that keeps multitudes of men who are convinced of the truth of Christianity from publicly acknowledging it. To win the women would be to win India.

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