Mary Lyon and the Mount Holyoke Missionaries


Series: Religion in America

American women played in important part in Protestant foreign missionary work from its early days at the beginning of the nineteenth century. This work allowed them to disseminate the Prostestant religious principles in which they believed, and by enabling them to acquire professional competence as teachers, to break into public life and create new opportunities for themselves and other women. No institution was more closely associated with women missionaries than Mount Holyoke College. In this book, Amanda Porterfield examines Mount Holyoke founder Mary Lyon and the missionary women she trained. Her students assembled in a number of particular mission fields, most importantly Persia, India, Ceylon, Hawaii, and Africa. Porterfield focuses on three sites where documentation about their activities is especially rich-- northwest Persia, Maharashtra in western India, and Natal in southeast Africa. All three of these sites figured importantly in antebellum missionary strategy; missionaries envisioned their converts launching the conquest of Islam from Persia, overturning "Satan's seat" in India, and drawing the African descendants of Ham into the fold of Christendom. Porterfield shows that although their primary goal of converting large numbers of women to Protestant Christianity remained elusive, antebellum missionary women promoted female literacy everywhere they went, along with belief in the superiority and scientific validity of Protestant orthodoxy, the necessity of monogamy and the importance of marital affection, and concern for the well-being of children and women. In this way, the missionary women contributed to cultural change in many parts of the world, and to the development of new cultures that combined missionary concepts with traditional ideals.
  • Oxford University Press; October 1997
  • ISBN: 9780195354508
  • Read online, or download in secure PDF format
  • Title: Mary Lyon and the Mount Holyoke Missionaries
  • Series: Religion in America
  • Author: Amanda Porterfield
  • Imprint: Oxford University Press

In The Press

"...Amanda Porterfield provides a much-needed analysis of the religious ideas that spurred Anglo-American Protestant women into mission work in the early part of the nineteenth century."--The Journal of American History
"The story is an intriguing one, to which Porterfield brings many thought-provoking interpretations. It will be of much interest to graduate students and other scholars of American religious history."--Choice
"Porterfield's accounts of the educational work of these missionary women are fascinating. Her analysis of the effects of her efforts to change women's roles through education and the impact this had on these cultures is thought-provoking. Her perspectives will surely impact future research into the cultural impact of missions in these three locales...Porterfield is to be commended for giving us a provocative book on the subject."--Church History
"...Porterfield makes a good case for the significance of missionary women who were trained at Mount Holyoke. She presents a well-balanced treatment of women missionaries....she adds not only to the history of Christian evangelicalism but to that of American women as well."--The Journal of Interdisciplinary History