Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien
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Women Missionaries' Activities and Christian Education for Girls in early Meiji Japan
December 4, 2002 / 6:30 P.M.
Mara Patessio, University of Cambridge
From the beginning of the 1860s many American and European missions began their work in Japan by sending male missionaries (accompanied by their wives) and added female missionaries in a later phase, when they realised that, in order to baptise as many persons as possible and spread the Christian faith, women were indispensable. Since male missionaries were not allowed to freely engage in conversation with Japanese women, female missionaries were often the only ones who could reach and talk with them, and then persuade them to avoid “evil customs”, to believe in Christ, and eventually pass the religious teachings to their children, so that their newly acquired faith would be transmitted to the next generation.
Missionaries soon realised that they would reach better results by offering informal classes for children as an adjunct to proselytisation. When these were no longer sufficient because of the large demand, they were faced with the necessity of opening schools where children could learn subjects taught in the West, especially English. Among those children were many girls eager to learn what missionaries could teach them, and therefore, girl schools were opened in the major cities.
My presentation will explore the ways in which Western women missionaries, their classes and lifestyles influenced early Meiji girls and women, so much that their presence notably intensified various women’s movements of the 1880s. Other researchers have already described the achievements of particular missions or the lives of individual missionaries but my concern is rather with the larger framework in which female missionaries worked, girls learned, and women organised themselves. By looking at this reality, I am convinced that it is possible to understand more not only about girl schools, but also about what early Meiji girls wanted, how they tried to achieve their goals, what were the results, and how these changed Meiji society.