Competing Kingdoms: Women, Mission, Nation, and the American Protestant Empire, 1812-1960


Competing Kingdoms rethinks the importance of women and religion within U.S. imperial culture from the early nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth. In an era when the United States was emerging as a world power to challenge the hegemony of European imperial powers, American women missionaries strove to create a new Kingdom of God, helping to shape a Protestant empire based on American values and institutions. In this important collection, an international and interdisciplinary group of scholars bring ...

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Competing Kingdoms: Women, Mission, Nation, and the American Protestant Empire, 1812-1960

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Competing Kingdoms rethinks the importance of women and religion within U.S. imperial culture from the early nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth. In an era when the United States was emerging as a world power to challenge the hegemony of European imperial powers, American women missionaries strove to create a new Kingdom of God, helping to shape a Protestant empire based on American values and institutions. In this important collection, an international and interdisciplinary group of scholars bring under-utilized evidence from U.S. and non-U.S. sources to bear on the study of American women missionaries abroad and at home. Focusing on women from several denominations, the contributors build on the insights of postcolonial scholarship to incorporate the agency of the people among whom missionaries lived. They explore how people in China, the Congo Free State, Egypt, India, Japan, Ndebeleland (colonial Rhodesia), Ottoman Bulgaria, and the Philippines perceived, experienced, and negotiated American cultural expansion. They also consider missionary work among people within the United States who were constructed as foreign, including African Americans, Native Americans, and Chinese immigrants. Competing Kingdoms expands the field of U.S. women's history into the international arena, increases understanding of the global spread of American culture, and offers new concepts for analyzing the history of American empire.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“In Competing Kingdoms, Barbara Reeves-Ellington, Kathryn Kish Sklar, and Connie A. Shemo bring together a group of emerging and established historians in an innovative project of bringing insights from American mission women’s history into the framework of American cultural imperialism. . . . This collection offers fertile directions for scholars concerned with American imperialism and more generally with the thorny questions of gender, missions, and empires. We can look forward to many of these historians producing book-length accounts where they can develop their research findings more fully. The editors are to be congratulated.” - Patricia Grimshaw, Journal of Church and State

Competing Kingdoms presents fresh and wide-ranging scholarship on gender and mission, linking it to American cultural expansionism (1812-1960).” - Maina Chawla Singh, International Bulletin of Missionary Research

“[A]n important and welcome collection of essays. . . . The attempt to connect gender and foreign relations succeeds thanks to the breadth of scholarship in this volume and the diverse but focused essays that comprise it. . . . [A] groundbreaking contribution to US history.” - Johanna Selles, Missiology

Competing Kingdoms achieves through the inclusion of many authors what few have been able to achieve singly: the internationalization of American women’s history. It focuses on a group of culture agents who were at the avant-garde of America’s emergence into global influence: women missionaries.”—Ann Braude, author of Sisters and Saints: Women and American Religion

“This rich, diverse collection of essays illuminates women’s pivotal role in the Protestant missions that were at the center of Americans’ interactions with Asia, Africa, and the Middle East in the nineteenth century and early twentieth. Throughout the pieces, readers witness the women that made missions possible—not only as missionaries, but also as sponsors and audiences—navigating the tensions and intersections between ideals and practices of spiritual equality and those of patriarchy, empire, and race, enlisting and challenging gendered conventions in the process. This volume will prove an indispensable guide in the effort to bring gender analysis, religious culture, and women’s agency into an internationalized historiography of the United States.”—Paul A. Kramer, author of The Blood of Government: Race, Empire, the United States and the Philippines

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Barbara Reeves-Ellington is Associate Professor of History at Siena College in Loudonville, New York.

Kathryn Kish Sklar is Distinguished Professor of History at the State University of New York, Binghamton.

Connie A. Shemo is Assistant Professor of History at the State University of New York, Plattsburgh.

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Women, Mission, Nation, and the American Protestant Empire, 1812-1960


Copyright © 2010 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-4658-6

Chapter One


American Identity and Christian Internationalism

Jane H. Hunter

The events of the early twenty-first century present a challenge to historians of the United States as well as to scholars in political science, international relations, and the history of the Middle East. While the world history movement has swept up our colleagues in European, Asian, and African history, Americanists have too often remained stuck within the stories of the American continent, content to take advantage of the oceans on the east and west to disregard the global context which has governed American history, just as it has the histories of other nations around the world. Though most American historians today would disavow any notion of American exceptionalism-any notion that the nation's founding political documents have somehow sanitized American national projects-the failure of American historians to engage with larger international frameworks has allowed their students and readers to retain naive notions about the unique righteousness of the American role in the world. American historians now confront an urgent responsibility to insert American power, both hard and soft, back in the national story so that all Americans can develop a fuller understanding of its global consequences.

The erasure of the history of American foreign relations from the stories historians tell is an unfortunate and paradoxical result of the new American history. During the late twentieth century, the historical study of the American people was revolutionized, illuminated by the penetrating insights of social history and, more recently, by the creativity of a new group of cultural historians. The social historical turn, then the linguistic turn and the new cultural history have been enormously fruitful, but they have often restricted their focus to Americans' national land mass, indeed the site of ample drama and conflict. This golden age of American history has come at a cost. With the exception of continued attention to the century's wars, including the Cold War, American history textbooks have cut back their attention to what has been considered old-fashioned diplomatic history to showcase the dramatic insights of social history. The events of 9/11 and thereafter have shown American historians, along with other academics, the cost of Americans' ignorance about their country's global presence.

One exception to American ignorance has been the ongoing obsession of Americans with the Vietnam legacy-a scab that American writers, filmmakers, and politicians continue to pick at, even as the Vietnamese people themselves move on. The question of what Americans should have learned from the Vietnam War remains contested terrain, especially salient for a nation confronting the agonies and errors of Iraq. Certainly it influenced historians who came of age during the years of the Vietnam War. A generation of Vietnam scholars reflected on the ways in which the framework of the Cold War distorted the vision of American policy-makers, who misinterpreted the nationalist desires of a people subjected to a series of colonial masters. David Halberstam's The Best and the Brightest (1972) summarized the puzzlement of my parents' generation upon discovering that the best minds in the United States were inadequate to the task of understanding the ongoing conflict in Southeast Asia.

This was the context in which I wrote my decades-old missionary book, Gospel of Gentility: American Women Missionaries in Turn-of-the-Century China (1984). In part it emerged from my experience in the British colony of Hong Kong in the early 1970s, refracted through the emerging field of women's history. It was also preeminently a Vietnam-era book, a work of cultural self-scrutiny. Its focus was on American women missionaries themselves, and although the book sympathized with the courage and the eloquence of many of its subjects, it argued against the blinding arrogance of their worldview. Martin Marty, the historian of religion at the University of Chicago, noted that it shared in the late twentieth-century "horror" of cultural imperialism, and I concur.

I would not dispute that analysis now, but I consider it both too easy and incomplete. For in judging the intent of missionary work to dominate and transform, I did not adequately assess indigenous uses. Lacking sources and access to China itself, I told only one part of the missionary story. In the post-Vietnam era, too, I was in a small group writing about religious expansionism. Although the story of the United States in Buddhist Vietnam had religious resonances, religion played a minor role in historians' reflections on Vietnam's Cold War legacy.

In the twenty-first century, though, the nation has been mired in a different conflict, one that has its most proximate origins in radical Wahabi Islam and in the astonishing events of September 11, 2001. This book contributes to the process of telling a history for this new age. Armed with language skills and the predilections of social historians, these scholars attend to the role of religion at home and abroad. They examine both the sending and the receiving end of the missionary exchange. They resist the temptation to simplify, acknowledging that American religious expansionism interacted with the forces of modernization and nationalism around the world to create a rich cultural milieu not susceptible to easy interpretation. The arrival of American missionaries in the Middle East and in South and East Asia in the nineteenth century inspired curiosity and encouraged modernizers in those parts of the world, but also contributed to stories and lessons disseminated throughout the United States by a vast missionary publishing enterprise.

The history represented here attempts to be multiarchival, history told not just from one side but from several. These essays look at missionary actors, but in addition they address the richly varied ways in which local elites, congregations, Bible women, college students, and political opportunists responded to the missionary message, skillfully deploying it for local ends which might or might not bear resemblance to the original intents. They open a swirling force field composed of competing loyalties to nation, God, class, and self. They suggest that one would do well neither to simplify these relationships between unequals nor to exaggerate the power of missionary proselytizers in this cultural exchange. These complex, nuanced portraits offer insights into the past and present alike.

The essays share another theme. They focus on gender, looking especially at the interaction between religious and political culture and American women. American women were the majority of churchgoers from the late colonial period through the rest of American history, but only since 1920 have they been welcome at the ballot box. American religious history can lay more claim than political history to representing the agency of American women. Despite their limited personal wealth, women were extraordinarily successful fundraisers in the church because of their important role in congregations around the country. Often considered a subordinate, dependent class within their societies, American women were only indirectly represented in the actions of the American government during the nineteenth century and early twentieth, the time focus of these essays. Yet, paradoxically, when women's political right to direct influence on American foreign policy was at its most limited, their symbolic meaning in the culture was perhaps at its highest. When Alexis de Tocqueville contemplated the reasons for the success of the upstart new republic in the 1830s, he concluded that much of it could be explained by "the superiority of their women," by which he meant the extreme virtue and selflessness attributed to mothers and wives in the culture of the time. The essays address the relationship between that ideology (promoted by men and women) and the expansionism which extended the American Republic to the Pacific Ocean and took American missionaries around the globe. How did that distinct culture built on professions of selflessness interact with American imperial projects?

Historians have referred to women's culture as the ideology of women's separate sphere, or of domesticity, and initially empire and home seemed to exist at opposite cultural poles. Recent work, including much represented here, has suggested otherwise, arguing in fact that imperialism was dependent on domesticity as a way of inspiring, legitimating, and redeeming its projects. I concur with that analysis but consider it too simple. For in a constantly recalibrating system, American women's culture and its expression in American missionary projects were not static. Women's foreign missionary experience fed back into American culture and ideology in the interwar years and ultimately represented a source of challenge to the dominant nationalist culture. This fluidity in the past is suggestive for those who might see gendered activism as a source of hope in a divided present.

One of the earliest insights in U.S. women's history appears frequently in the work offered here: the importance of a sentimentalized Christian domesticity in defining nineteenth-century women's desired field of action. For a long time, historians have known that domesticity was important to women's sense of their mission. More recent work, however, has suggested how important that sentimentalized domesticity was to the American imperial project writ large. So-called Manifest Destiny saw American expansionism as a divine force of history, introducing progress and civilization as it went. Recent work, including a number of essays in this volume, reference an article by the literary studies scholar Amy Kaplan entitled "Manifest Domesticity," in which the author suggests how the sentimental press used the purity of women's sphere to strengthen and clarify American imperial projects. The elastic stretching of national boundaries westward across the continent did not exist apart from the American hearth and parlor but instead transported it and indeed used it as justification for military conquest.

Kaplan begins her essay by focusing on an article from 1847 in the influential women's magazine Godey's Lady's Book. Illustrating "Life on the Rio Grande" is an engraving of an idealized American family gathered in a clearing, their campfire creating a small locus of domestic life in the midst of a forest of towering trees. Kaplan points out that it was not only the towering trees that were looming over the tiny family group. When the piece was published, the Mexican-American War was raging, and the Rio Grande itself was at issue in a newly imposed and more encompassing border. Yet that context does not appear in the story or in the engraving accompanying it. Kaplan nonetheless argues the significance of that family group to the goals of the war. As the accompanying text suggests, the domestication of the wilderness and the superior claims of Anglo-American civilization helped to justify the conflict. It is important to the virtue of this endeavor that the small American family be oblivious to it. Picnicking as they are, in all innocence, this family group with its women and children preferred not to see the violence just beyond the picture's frame. Indeed it is that insistence on seeing no evil-that resolute fixation on the ideal at the end-that justifies and sanctions empire.

Clearly sentimental literature helped to script the midcentury social imagination that united domestic culture with the bigger themes of empire. Its interweaving of ideas of empire and domesticity was born out in the broader culture, the culture Godey's represented and encapsulated. Those themes were not always entirely divorced from each other. One such midcentury example appears in a newspaper written by students at the graduation of North Granville Ladies' Seminary in New York State in Life on the Rio Grande, engraving by W. H. Ellis for Godey's Lady's Book, 1847. Courtesy of the Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts. 1866. In their student newspaper, the Granville graduates initiated a ritual which by late century would become part of the common culture of school graduations around the country: the class prophecy. What did this group of religious young ladies imagine lay in their future? They envisioned themselves reuniting twenty years hence and reported on their heroic if careworn lives, nearly all married and operating within precisely the sphere of manifest domesticity described by Kaplan. Virtually all had married, they assumed, but they had married an expanding American empire along with their husbands. One's husband was a minister to France and had recently returned to Washington, where he was secretary of state. Another, after teaching in the West, lived "in the City of Mexico," where her husband was the governor of "this new American possession." Yet another appeared "dignified and matronly." ("She was so sure she would never marry.") In fact, she had married a missionary and lived in Australia. Her house was humble-just a log cabin, "but the vines and roses climbing over the verandah about it make it a beautiful home." What is extraordinary is the geographical and indeed imperial reach of these domestic fantasies from one group of ordinary young girls in New York State just after the Civil War.


Excerpted from COMPETING KINGDOMS Copyright © 2010 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction Barbara Reeves-Ellington Kathryn Kish Sklar Connie A. Shemo 1

I Re-Visioning American Women in the World

Women's Mission in Historical Perspective American Identity and Christian Internationalism Jane H Hunter 19

Woman, Missions, and Empire New Approaches to American Cultural Expansion Ian Tyrrell 43

II Women

Canonizing Harriet Newell Women, the Evangelical Press, and the Foreign Mission Movement in New England, 1800-1840 Mary Kupiec Cayton 69

An Unwomanly Woman and Her Sons in Christ Faith, Empire, and Gender in Colonial Rhodesia, 1899-1906 Wendy Urban-Mead 94

"So Thoroughly American" Gertrude Howe, Kang Cheng, and Cultural Imperialism in the Woman's Foreign Missionary Society, 1872-1931 Connie A. Shemo 117

From Redeemers to Partners American Women Missionaries and the "Woman Question" in India, 1919-1939 Susan Haskell Khan 141

III Mission

Settler Colonists, "Christian Citizenship," and the Women's Missionary Federation at the Bethany Indian Mission in Wittenberg, Wisconsin, 1884-1934 Betty Ann Bergland 167

New Life, New Faith, New Nation, New Women Competing Models at the Door of Hope Mission in Shanghai Sue Gronewold 195

"No Nation Can Rise Higher than Its Women" The Women's Ecumenical Missionary Movement and Tokyo Woman's Christian College Rui Kohiyama 218

Nile Mother Lillian Trasher and the Orphans of Egypt Beth Baron 240

IV Nation

Embracing Domesticity Women, Mission, and Nation Building in Ottoman Europe, 1832-1872 Barbara Reeves-Ellington 269

Imperial Encounters at Home Women, Empire, and the Home Mission Project in Late Nineteenth-Century America Derek Chang 293

Three African American Women Missionaries in the Congo, 1887-1899 The Confluence of Race, Culture, Identity, and Nationality Sylvia M. Jacobs 318

"Stepmother America" The Woman's Board of Missions in the Philippines, 1902-1930 Laura R. Prieto 342

Conclusion Doing Everything Religion, Race, and Empire in the U.S. Protestant Women's Missionary Enterprise, 1812-1960 Mary A. Renda 367

Selected Bibliography 391

Contributors 397

Index 401

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