Pioneering female missionary teachers in China
The Woolston sisters graduated from Wesleyan Female College in Wilmington, Delaware, and became teachers. Answering an appeal from the mission board of the Methodist Episcopal Church to begin “woman’s work” in China, they sailed for Foochow (Fuzhou) in 1858.
They were supported by the Ladies’ China Missionary Society of Baltimore, founded in 1848 as one of the earliest women’s missionary societies in America. The Woolstons in 1859 founded a girls’ boarding school in Foochow to train teachers. Known as Uk Ing, the school continued through the Nationalist period, graduating many physicians, teachers, and pastors’ wives. In 1871 the Ladies’ China Society merged into the Methodist Episcopal Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society and the Woolstons became its first missionaries.
After their furlough, they led other single women missionaries to China. They itinerated and supervised day schools in the country and edited the Child’s Illustrated Paper in Chinese. In 1877 the Woolstons attended the Shanghai Missionary Conference, where Sarah’s paper “Feet Binding” was read and the women missionaries resolved that missionaries should discourage the practice. They resigned from the mission in 1883 because they opposed the introduction of English and the Chinese classics into the curriculum of the boarding school. The Woolstons believed that learning English would render the pupils unfit for return to village life as mothers and day-school teachers. The Woolston sisters returned to the United States for their final years.
By Dana L. Robert, Professor of International Mission, Boston University School of Theology, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of The Gale Group; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved. It is taken, with permission, from the Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity.
The Woolstons contributed articles to Heathen Woman’s Friend.
A sketch of Beulah Woolston appears in Eminent Missionary Women by Annie Ryder Gracey (1898).
See also Frances Baker, The Story of the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1869-1895 (1896, 1987).