The proper role of single women missionaries and missionary wives--including the propriety of women speaking in public--was an increasingly important concern for American missionaries working in the Tokyo-Yokohama area. Although American missionary women, who came from an "advanced civilization," transcended the gender hierarchy and ideology of Meiji Japan, they could not free themselves from similar prescriptions of the United States under the watchful eyes of the missionary circle members. The following letter, written in January 1875 by Mrs. Mary E. (Kidder) Miller, an RCA woman missionary, indicates that Miller, along with Mrs. Mary Puryn, a missionary of the Woman's Union Missionary Society of America for Heathen Lands (WUMS), was accused of preaching to a gender-mixed audience. Her conduct in Japan had soon come to the attention of Rev. J.M. Ferris of the RCA foreign mission board. After receiving a letter, presumably, of admonition from Rev. Ferris, Mrs. Miller conformed to the convention derived from Paul's injunction and pleaded her innocence. Recently married, both she and her husband's careers were at stake, and she had no choice.
Yokohama, Jan. 8th, 75
Rev. J. M. Ferris, D. D.
My letter of early November had not reached you when you wrote the letter which I received a few days since. I also sent you a letter in early Dec. so that now the condition of affairs here is quite changed: our school building is commenced and my husband is making a plan of both that [illegible] lot to send to you. The house is to cost $6500. And Dr. Brown and Mr. [Battagh?] thought that we must wait and get your permission before expending the extra $500. but we have waited so long for one thing and another that I feel that the patience of the pupils not to say my own was stretched to its utmost capacity and the [illegible] of my school is to great [illegible] upon its being built at once
[p. 2]so after duly consulting with Mr. Miller, we have pledged the $500 if the Board is not willing to pay it, and so the work has begun. We shall not require a thousand for furnishing as you seemed to think as I am sure it is better for the pupils to live in a Japanese style for the present. They must not be so educated that they cannot be comfortable in their own homes. Very few comparatively can afford to live as foreigners, even among the best classes. I think that $6000 will cover all expenses including the $500 extra for the house. The plan which Mr. Miller has drawn is on the same scale for [lot?] such house. And the house is to stand about where he has placed it on the lot. Although it is not very easy distinct you may be able to make it out. The outside is to be plaster like the most of the houses.
We had quite a laugh once your little speech to us in regard to our [spiritual?] relations. I exactly agree with you that the husband is master of the wife not only in theory but in practice, and we have exactly agreed in all our plans for missionary work. Mr. Miller told Dr. Hepburn plainly after his return to Japan that if I came over to their mission I could not take the school, that he would not permit it for he did not think it right. However although it was pleasant for me to remain in the school, we thought it not best and so concluded that as soon as some teachers were sent out I should have it and go with r. Miller. This was our only plan till the [illegible] about which I wrote you in Sept. come, which caused my husband to resign
[p. 4]his connection with the Pres. Mission.
I did not influence my husband to do that, indeed I felt badly about it, at the same time, I thought it was right and that it was a providential arrangement for me to be allowed to remain in my school.
Since that time we have gotten the [illegible] of the lot and things have changed themselves in regard to the school in such a way that it is nearly impossible for me to give it up. Mr. Miller has just received a reply to his letter of resignation in Oct. in which the fact of his resignation is ignored and the salary offered to him which he received before our marriage & the hope that still expressed that I would come over to the Pres. Mis.
I asked him what he would do to which he replied: That my having[or losing] my school was out of the question
[p. 5]and that he would tell his mission so, and then about himself, very likely they would not wish him ill. I remained in the Reformed Mission. Now I hope, if you can possibly do it, that you will take Mr. Miller with us into the Reformed Church Mission and that will end all the trouble. He has resigned to the Board at home and to the members of the Mission here. You may laugh over my letter but I asked Mr. Miller if I might write you what I pleased provided I would be very wise, to which he said, "yes." So I have written what I have. Mr, Miller has [received?] nothing whatever from the Pres. Mis. since the 1st Oct.
Your views in regard to women speaking or preaching in mixed gatherings exactly coincide with my own and I am sure that none of my pupils have done anything
[p. 6]that you would disapprove. When we were on a trip north in the summer we were staying with the relatives of some of my pupils. One of them, a girl of fifteen often helped me in talking to natives mostly men who came where we were staying to ask about our religion. This was nothing like preaching, we all sat down, they asked me questions and we answered them, sometimes talking hours in this way. Sometimes there were just one or two present and at other times twenty to thirty. That is all the preaching either myself or my pupils have done. After "Ko's" sister recovered from fever, Ko rose in a social meeting of both sexes held in Mrs. Puryn's school room, and thanked the members of the church for their prayers. That is the only time she has spoken in a mixed meeting.
That was simply Japanese etiquette and the only way that she could reach
[p. 7]them all. My pupils understand my sentiments on this matter and are not likely to do what you disapprove. I do not know exactly about Mrs. Puryn's pupils and of course have no influence on them.
I have just read my letter to Mr. Miller and he thinks perhaps I have not made the tone of the letter from the Pres. Mission quite plain. There was an attempted explanation of the former letter, and the whole tone of the letter was very kind.
He does not say that he disapproves anything that I have written so I conclude that the "wisdom" is apparent to him, at least. I hope we may hear from you very soon again.
I presume that Dr. Brown and Mr. Ballagh will write you by this mail. Miss Whittick[?] told me that she had written to you.
We had all our pupils at our house, gave them a feast of cakes and sweets and some little presents on Christmas afternoon. We had a delightful time with them. I wish you might have seen how beautiful they looked in their bright crepes and silks. Miss [illegible] was here yesterday. She is looking a little stronger--this bright winter weather but has not been well the greater part of the time since she came here. The climate does not seem to agree with her.
Mr. Miller sends very kind regards.
Yours very respectfully
Mary E. Miller
Many thanks for the package of papers. I find them most useful.