American Protestant missionary couples first arrived in Yokohama in 1859 when the U.S.-Japan treaty to establish diplomatic relations went into effect. Among these pioneers were Dr. and Mrs. James Curtis Hepburn, a missionary doctor and his wife who became influential in the Tokyo-Yokohama early missionary circle. This American missionary community, which originated in Yokohama and expanded to Tokyo, upheld the contemporary American gender hierarchy and ideology. The following letter written by Dr. Hepburn in response to a question posed by Dr. J. C. Lowrie, the secretary of the Presbyterian foreign mission board, about the "expediency of sending out single ladies as missionaries to Yokohama" reveals the conservative nature of the American gender ideology that was in operation in the Tokyo-Yokohama missionary circle. Although Dr. Hepburn might be viewed as "liberal" for his time, because of his "very high opinion of woman's work in the mission field," he saw women missionaries primarily as valuable as married "helpers" of male missionaries; single women were problematic because of their need for male "protection." The letter shows what American women reformers in Japan were up against working in Japan in this period.
Yokohama, August 21, 1872
Rev. J. G. Lowrie, D.D.
My dear friend,
I have received your letter of June 24th in which you request my views as to the expediency of sending out single ladies as missionaries to Yokohama.
I shall endeavor to give you my thoughts upon the subject though in somewhat of a rambling and undigested manner, and as plain too as I can put them.
I have a very high opinion of "woman's work" in the mission field: first, as wives who manage the domestic affairs of the household, and relieve their husband's of family cares, and thus by enabling him to give his time and strength to his work, assist him most materially. Most mission wives do also engage in more direct work, especially in teaching, even if it is but a few young girls or boys in their own home. A good wife is one of the very best helpers a missionary can have in his work, and her influence is extensive and powerful in many ways.
But the question is, is there work for single women? There is doubtless much work for them to do, in teaching the young of both sexes, teaching female schools, superintending and managing orphan asylums, and nursing
[p. 2]the sick in hospitals. In this matter, we may learn much from the work of the [Romish?] Church. The "Sisters of Mercy," or "Sisters of Charity" are most useful instruments, in carrying on their work, at all their large and important stations.
To make the work of unmarried or single women useful, in the highest-degree, it should be organized and carried on in companies of two or three or more according to the exigencies of the place. They should live together in a comfortable home of their own, and in a building suited to their work. The usefulness of such establishment, if properly conducted, could not be measured. Their operations need not be confined to the walls of their own home but often times carried in outside as well, in teaching schools, and in visiting in private families, or from house to house. There would be no limit in this direction to the good they might accomplished. This, I hold, is the only way in which the labors of unmarried women can be made truly useful, and societies that engage in such work should be liberal in providing buildings suitable for them, and in supporting them.
To send out unmarried ladies alone is, I think an unwise experiment. The only cases in which
[p. 3]it should be done is when the lady is going under the protection of a brother or a married sister, in whose family she may find a home. When this is not the case, the position of a single woman is very trying, and uncomfortable. I know this from their own testimony, as well as my own observation. It is a waste of money, to say the least, so far as the work of missions is concerned, to send out a young unmarried woman, who is not likely to know much either of herself, the world, or the work she is going for. The best thing such as one can do, is to get married as speedily as possible, as they generally do, and if they do not marry a missionary they are lost to the work of missions. Still there are occasionally exceptions even here, but they are rare.
There is, at the present time, great opportunities for "woman's work" in this country, especially in our large cities. The Japanese have awakened to the necessity of education for their females, and have pressed almost every available woman into the service, if this zeal continued, which it is likely to be, though perhaps somewhat moderated, then it will be a fine field for female workers. And I think the Board would do well to engage in it, but
[p. 4]only in the way mentioned above. You should provide a good home with school-rooms and dormitories, which not including the price of the lot, would cost about $4,000. The salaries of the ladies should not be less than $600 a year. The cost of education for the children would be but nothing, as the Japanese who send their children would prefer paying for it. In the case of orphans alone, would there be any expense.
If you engage in this work, try and be careful to send experienced women, and if they are not very handsome, don't let it trouble you, it will be all the better, especially if they are earnest devoted Christians, who have known something about the work at home and are self-reliant, and judicious.
I know you can't pick, but better not send any [illegible] persons you are afraid won't do. This is a good rule by the way, which would work well in both sexes, the male missionary as well as the female, I wonder sometimes you don't apply it!
My Dear Friend, I am truly sorry to learn of your poor health, I have no doubt you need rest and relaxation. This form what the Dr. says will set you up again. Come over to Japan & China, and see how we are getting on. In this way you can combine rest, relaxation, and the best kind of work. Think of it. But I must stop.
As ever your attached friend,