Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Feminists of the 1800's

I will eventually have to restrict myself from reading many other blogs. It is too depressing to discover that some otherwise intelligent people have never heard of Elizabeth Fry and her large family, and assign Catherine Booth to being the wife of the man who.

And then there are the diatribes against the rise of feminism in the late 1800's. What were these ladies thinking of?

I have misplaced, or loaned out, one of my favourite books on early women missionaries to Canada, with a good section on Northern BC. As it happens none of the info in that book is available on the internet. These women might just as well have not existed.

In the meantime, I have found some other books which outline the rise of the Women's Missionary Societies and the history of women active in medical missions. I realized that I could, in fact, verify what I had been suspecting.

Women missionaries were at the forefront of the women in general who became university educated and entered professions previously restricted to men in the late 1800's.

This story from Australia about the first woman medical graduate from the Universtiy of Adelaide is similar to that of the many women in the book I am now reading about Baptist missionaries from Canada.

The next time you read about the rise of feminism in the late 1800's think of women like Laura Fowler.
    She graduated in Medicine and Surgery in 1891, to become the University of Adelaide’s first woman medical graduate, also winning the Elder Prize along the way.

    After graduation, Laura Fowler was appointed House Surgeon at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital, and worked in that role until her marriage in 1893 to fellow physician Charles Henry Standish Hope, who had graduated MBBS in 1889 and MD in 1891.

    Following their marriage, the couple went to India on a mission to provide medical assistance to the Indian people. From the start they saw themselves as self-sufficient doctors rather than missionaries, but their first visit did not prove successful in that they were unable to find sufficient work to support themselves.

    After a period back in England, they returned to India in 1895 and settled in Bengal, and would go on to devote thirty years of their lives to Bengal, despite the deleterious effects of the climate on their health, particularly that of Charles.

    They worked for a variety of church missions in various parts of Bengal, alternating that with spells of independent work. There were occasional visits back to England and South Australia and, during the First World War, a period of war work in field hospitals in Serbia.
    Their work was often high-pressure, given the enormous demand for medical services in India. In 1916, for example, when they were stationed at the Church of Scotland Mission at Kalimpong in North Bengal, Laura was in medical charge of a mission of 540 children and 73 staff.

    In 1933 Laura Hope retired and both she and her husband were honoured with the Kaisar-I-Hind gold medal for their work in India.
    It is Christian women like Laura Fowler who pioneered the way for other women to enter the medical profession. When you think of feminists think of her.


    Anonymous said...

    I don't blame you for your discouragement, but I can assure you that many Christian women have no idea about the Christian past of feminism. Fundamentalist women especially have absolutely no clue what their foremothers were free to do a century ago. All they ever hear from their pulpits is the condemnation of modern feminism with no hint that concern for equal rights was once a Christian activity.

    When I first learned that Frances Willard had actually been on the preaching circuits with Dwight Moody, I was shattered and angry for days that this part of my church's history was withheld from me for so long. Even though I have been a committed believer in Biblical equality for years, I still keep finding out more about trailblazing Christian women whose service is never mentioned today and wish I had been told about them when I most needed to know about them.

    Suzanne McCarthy said...

    Thanks for this tip. I didn't know Frances Willard. I am reading a wonderful book about the early Baptist women missionaries right now. I will try to share.