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…