A Massacre Halfway Around the World

Last summer when I began researching historical figures for UMF’s 150th Anniversary display, the Alumni House folks gave me a tour of their facility to show me their collection of artifacts.  In the basement were some huge old frames stacked against some dusty boxes of files.  “I can’t remember what these are,” my guide said as she pulled out one of the heavy wooden frames to reveal a portrait of a serious young woman dressed in prim 19th century garb, pin curled hair framing her forehead.


The photo was labeled  “Miss Mary S. Morrill, Graduated at Farmington State School” and underneath that was written “Missionary. Died in China 1900.”

The notation startled me, and I was eager to find out more.  So far I’ve discovered that Mary and fellow Mainer Annie Gould were serving as missionaries in the North China plain in 1900 when the Boxer Rebellion erupted. I found a picture online of Annie, also looking very serious, her hair pulled back severely from her face:


Mary had graduated from the Farmington State Normal School in 1884 and had taught for several years in southern Maine before becoming a missionary in 1889. That same year Normal School principal George Purington wrote that Mary was “anticipating much happiness in her chosen work. She is to be gone ten years.”  But only a year later the Chinese Empress Dowager authorized war on foreign powers, and the Boxers unleashed their violence on Christian Missionaries from the West. Mary and Annie were forced from their compound and into the city where they were jeered by mobs, subjected to a mock trial and then savagely beheaded.

Such a sad but fascinating story!  What motivated Mary and Annie to become missionaries and live in such a foreign culture half way around the world? What was life like for these two single women at the turn of the century?

Mary’s portrait still haunts me. I want to learn more…


About Luann Yetter

"Do you remember lying in bed with the covers pulled up over your head, radio playing so no one could see?" (The Ramones) Yes, I do. And I remember the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. And I believed in the magic of rock ‘n roll. Funny thing is, I still do. Somehow I never grew out of my fangirl phase. In recent years I’ve enjoyed writing local history books. But after three successive publications, I took a break. And then I realized that without deadlines or contracts, what I really want to write about is music.
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5 Responses to A Massacre Halfway Around the World

  1. Laura Naas says:

    Hey Luann! I absolutely love reading all your writings and it wasn’t too long ago that I ordered and read your book as well. My cousin — the author!! 🙂 Your post above was particularly intriguing to me since I’m a Christian and have been very involved in missions, as you know. I did a little hunting and found some interesting info about Mary and Annie which may give you some insight into their reasons for going to China. You may have already discovered all of this but here goes: Enjoy! I did!
    Your cousin Laura LUANN 😉



    And best of all page 419 of:
    The China Martyrs of 1900: A Complete Roll of the Christian Heroes Martyred in China in 1900, with Narratives of Survivors (Google eBook)
    Robert Coventry Forsyth
    Fleming H. Revell Company

    • Luann Yetter says:

      Oh, how moving! Annie Gould sounds every bit as interesting as Mary Morrill, doesn’t she? Thanks so much for sending me these links. I don’t know how I missed them. You’re a good researcher! I remember your missionary work in Russia, and I can imagine you have a special place in your heart for missionaries present and past. It’s nice to know I have family reading my blog. (Actually, it’s nice to know when anyone reads anything I write!) Great to hear from you, Laura, and I hope all is well with you and your family! (P.S. I have a velvet-covered jewelry box you made for me when we were girls. I still use it regularly and think of you!)

  2. Mary morrill says:

    Kinda freaky I see some of my physical traits in this photo

  3. Luann Yetter says:

    I guess you wouldn’t be a direct descendant since she never had children, but do you and the first Mary share an ancestor?

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