American Missionaries in Egypt, Gender Relations, and the Professional and Social Formation of Women, 1854–1967

In: Social Sciences and Missions
Heather J. Sharkey University of Pennsylvania USA Philadelphia, PA

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This article considers the impact that the American Presbyterian mission in Egypt (1854–1967) exerted on American and Egyptian women, by expanding career opportunities and roles in church life and promoting new ideas about gender relations, sexuality, and family. It uses American women doctors and Egyptian Bible Women as case studies for female professionalism. Questioning the premise that influence moved one way, from American missionaries towards Egyptians, this study rejects triumphalist narratives about American progress in the gender domain; develops the story of missionary encounters as a bumpy two-way street; and shows how American and Egyptian women struggled to seize opportunities amid persistent gender discrimination. The article discusses the dearth of sources about these women, a shortfall that widens the gender gap in historical representation, requiring us to read between the lines.


Cet article analyse l’ influence que l’ American Presbyterian Mission a exercé en Égypte (1854–1967) sur les femmes américaines et égyptiennes, par le biais des opportunités de carrière et de leurs rôles dans la vie d’ église, et par la promotion d’ idée nouvelles sur les relations de genre, la sexualité et la famille. Il utilise les cas des femmes américaines médecins et des colporteuses bibliques égyptiennes pour étudier la professionnalisation féminine. L’ article remet en question l’ idée que l’ influence fonctionne en sens unique, des missionnaires américains vers les Égyptiens. Il contredit les récits triomphalistes sur le progrès américain dans le domaine du genre; il décrit l’ histoire des rencontres missionnaires comme une route cahoteuse à double sens; et montre comment les femmes américaines et égyptiennes ont lutté pour saisir des opportunités, alors que persistaient les discriminations de genre. L’ article souligne le peu de sources disponibles à propos de ces femmes, un manque qui contribue à renforcer l’ écart entre les sexes dans la représentation historique et nous oblige à lire entre les lignes.

1 Introduction: Women, Gender, and the Reflexive History of Missions

During the late nineteenth century when the Protestant missionary movement was flourishing in the United States, women accounted for more than half of U.S. missionaries abroad. The American Presbyterian Mission in Egypt, which became the largest Protestant mission in Egypt, fit this pattern perfectly.1 Active from 1854 to 1967 and representing for most of this time the United Presbyterian Church of North America (UPCNA), the mission in Egypt had an American staff that was approximately 59 % female in 1895.2 In Egypt, as elsewhere, many of the mission’s activities benefitted women by providing them with services in education, healthcare, and more.

The pages below consider the history of women and the American Mission in Egypt by examining three ways that mission activities affected American and Egyptian women. First, the mission offered women salaried positions that enabled their professional advancement, as this study shows by focusing on the example of American women doctors and Egyptian Bible Women (meaning lay female evangelists who sold Bibles and who taught fellow women how to read them). Second, it expanded women’s roles in church life. And third, it promoted practices and ideals regarding companionate marriage, sexuality, and women’s relations with men, including in family planning.

Along the way, this essay recasts two questions about Christian missions and gender in the modern Middle East which originally guided contributors to this special issue of Social Sciences and Missions.3 These questions are: “How did missionaries influence everyday life (the quotidian) in Middle Eastern communities, among men and women; Muslims, Christians, and others; during the twentieth century?”; and “How did they influence social attitudes and expectations about gender roles, and ideas about masculine and feminine behavior?” Both questions implied that cultural transmission of gender norms came from the missionary side, in this case, from Americans and the United States, and went in one direction, towards Egypt and Egyptians. This article argues instead that Egyptian experiences influenced missionaries in ways that rebounded into U.S. society. It does so by developing the story of how American women found career opportunities outside the United States that enabled them to advance within American circles. At the same time, the article argues that the lack, and perhaps the destruction, of sources relating to the American and Egyptian women discussed below – relative to the greater abundance of sources written by or about their male counterparts – inhibits efforts like this one to overcome the gender gap in historical writing,4 while challenging historians as they try to listen to what Marilyn Booth has called the “faint strains” of Egyptian women’s voices wafting through texts produced by and about them.5

In the 1980s, scholars like Jane Hunter and Patricia R. Hill wrote seminal works on the impact of missions on American women; in the 1990s, scholars including Amanda Porterfield and Dana L. Robert wrote others.6 Together they showed how missions abroad offered professional opportunities for American women who were able to carve out careers – and to secure independent incomes – as teachers and more. This article builds upon their foundational scholarship, but stresses the transnational, mutually transformative nature of mission encounters, along with the significance of Egypt, in this case, in giving (again, not merely receiving) opportunities for social development. The difference from this earlier scholarship is, to some extent, a matter of tone, reflecting the more pessimistic political mood about social equity, relative to gender, race, and class, which prevails in the United States as the third decade of the twenty-first century begins.7 Simply stated, this article does not accept a priori that Americans in the period from 1854 (when the mission started in Egypt) until 1967 (when political circumstances in the wake of the Six-Day War forced the mission to dissolve) were intrinsically, consistently, or universally more progressive in attitudes towards gender than their Middle Eastern counterparts.8

This article, in short, does not accept the triumphalist claims of American missionary male leaders in Egypt, who once claimed that they were delivering enlightenment to Egypt, inter alia, by lifting Egyptian women out of what Charles R. Watson, son of the mission’s first chronicler and himself founder of the American University in Cairo, called in 1907 a pervasive state of “degradation”.9 These claims to modernity, progress, and exceptionalism vis-à-vis a degraded Egypt contributed to an American model of what Edward W. Said famously called Orientalism: a style of thought entailing authoritative statements made about the Orient that justified intervention in its affairs.10 In sum, this article questions the premise that influence moved only one way, from American missionaries towards Egyptians, and challenges narratives about American progressiveness in the gender domain. It develops the story of missionary encounters as a bumpy two-way street, and shows how American and Egyptian women mutually struggled to seize opportunities amid persistent gender discrimination.

Six sections follow in this article. The first sketches the history of American women in the Protestant missionary movement, and their pursuit of careers within it. The second discusses the history of the church that sent the mission to Egypt – the United Presbyterian Church of North America (UPCNA) – and considers the lack of archived sources on its women which inhibits efforts to overcome the gender gap in historical research. The third gives one example of American missionary women’s professionalization, in medicine, and considers how a field like Egypt offered American women opportunities that were available but still scarce in the United States during this period. Turning to consider the impact of the mission on Egyptians, the fourth section considers how American missionaries expanded social spaces for Egyptian women in Evangelical (Presbyterian) churches and in the professional arena as Bible Women. The fifth examines how American missionaries tried to influence gender dynamics and sexual behaviors – above all, among Egyptian Evangelicals, but to some extent, among other Coptic Christians and among Muslims as well, with regard to attitudes towards courtship and marriage, sex, family planning, and female genital cutting. The article concludes by considering the circuitous and bumpy path along which American and Egyptian women advanced, while pointing to the transnational, “reflex story”11 of the American mission in Egypt and its implications for U.S. society.

2 The American Women’s Missionary Movement

More American women than men worked for Protestant missions outside the United States in the late nineteenth century, and women continued to outnumber men throughout the twentieth century, too. In a now-classic study of women in American Protestant missions written in 1968, the historian R. Pierce Beaver attributed this trend to three changes that occurred in the aftermath of the U.S. Civil War (1861–1865). First, in the mid-nineteenth century, American women became increasingly well-educated – and therefore, he implied, ambitious – as secondary and tertiary education expanded across the United States. Second, women became more politically active in social movements, starting with the abolitionist movement against slavery before and during the U.S. Civil War. The missionary movement, with its strong elements of social service, was an important strand of this activist enterprise. And third, women increasingly looked to missions abroad to find careers, especially as teachers, but also in the healthcare professions of nursing and medicine where American women, unlike their male counterparts, could socialize with local women and children in contexts where gender segregation prevailed.12 Whereas before the war Presbyterian women typically entered missions as wives of missionary men, many women in the post-bellum United States entered the mission unmarried.13 At a time when mission activities were increasingly revolving around institutions like schools, and less around family units, and when women’s salaries tended to be lower than men’s, single women missionaries also had the advantage of being very mobile (i.e., unrestricted by the demands of husbands and children) and cheaper to hire.14

Whether male or female, American Protestant missionaries in this post-Civil-War-era were well-educated relative to the larger U.S. population. Missionaries represented, as William R. Hutchison pointed out, both the largest and the most highly educated American group to venture abroad in this period.15 The American Presbyterian missionaries who went to Egypt fit this pattern. Its female and male workers alike tended to be graduates of four-year post-baccalaureate programs – mostly from Presbyterian church-affiliated, liberal arts colleges in Midwestern states like Illinois, Ohio, and Kansas. A commitment to education anchored their home church’s doctrines, which stressed learning and knowledge as desiderata for membership.16

In a brilliant study entitled, American Women in Mission: A Social History of Their Thought and Practice, Dana L. Robert argued for the integral place of a distinct “women’s missionary movement” within the larger American Protestant missionary movement of this late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century era. She called it a “women’s missionary movement” not simply because it involved women, but also because it pursued women-centered agendas and aimed for expanding opportunities for females in missions, churches, and wider societies.

While it would be anachronistic to call this movement “feminist”, since that term only spread in the United States starting in the 1910s,17 the “women’s missionary movement” that Robert described was certainly proto-feminist in its emphasis on women’s empowerment. This movement tried to spread Christianity and to advance women’s aims under the guise of its pre-World War-I-era slogan, which was “women’s work for women”. Robert acknowledged, however, that this movement contained an element of Christian supremacy insofar as its members regarded non-Christian religions as oppressive to women without recognizing patriarchal tendencies within the predominantly Christian society of the United States. Robert added that supporters of the women’s missionary movement were “unable to see that its desire to liberate women from oppression was itself imbedded in a kind of cultural myopia, an inability to distinguish between its own social program and Christianity”.18

The “can-do” ethos of the American women missionaries in Egypt – meaning their adaptability and initiative in assuming diverse jobs and responsibilities within missions – propelled them as they modeled social and professional engagement outside the home. They did not simply promote a cult of domesticity, or what Jane Hunter called in her 1984 study of missions in China, a “gospel of gentility”.19 Nor did American women missionaries single-mindedly groom young Egyptian women for marriage so that they could become, in a Victorian mode, “producers of domestic bric-a-brac”.20 American women missionaries provided examples by constructing lives as productive, capable people involved in family, community, and society at large. The fact that so many of the American Presbyterian women remained single throughout their careers shows, moreover, that many of them modeled lives of social engagement in the absence of marriage.21

Two of the most common careers for missionary women abroad involved teaching and nursing. Both of these jobs were developing as important professions (with standards and expectations) for women in the United States, at a time when public school systems and modern hospitals were growing in number and organizational coherence.22 Mission fields reflected and in some ways amplified these growing opportunities for women, especially in countries where patterns of gender segregation enhanced the importance of women as conduits to fellow women and to male and female children who would grow in time to adults. Medicine was a less common career path for women in this period. And yet, its opportunities were beginning to open to women in ways that proved similarly significant. Before considering this example of medicine, I will briefly consider how the gaps in sources on women’s careers force us to read the history between the lines. On the way, I will also introduce a non-mission-affiliated archive – the records of a medical school – which can offer some new insights.

3 United Presbyterian Church History, Archival Sources, and the Gender Gap

Again, the Presbyterians who launched the American Mission in Egypt belonged to what became known in 1858 as the United Presbyterian Church of North America (UPCNA). This church, which had its headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, supported foreign missions in Egypt, northern India (parts of which became Pakistan after Partition in 1947), Sudan (including what became South Sudan in 2011), and Ethiopia. In fact, the UPCNA was one of several institutionally distinct American Presbyterian churches. Founded by heirs of a Presbyterian sect whose antiroyalist members had faced persecution in eighteenth-century Scotland for refusing to invoke the king’s name in sermons, the UPCNA in the mid-nineteenth-century United States rejected slavery and refused to include slave-owners as church members in the years before and during the U.S. Civil War. For this reason, the UPCNA had a weak presence in the southern U.S. states, aside from its work, after the U.S. Civil War, in establishing some schools and colleges for African-Americans in states like Alabama and Tennessee.23 The UPCNA was also distinct from the larger, New York-based Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (PCUSA), which did not explicitly condemn slavery, and which fielded important missions to greater Syria (including Beirut) and Iran in the same period. Eventually, the two churches (UPCNA and PCUSA) merged in 1958, making them both precursors to what is now the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), or PC(USA).24

Dana L. Robert’s book on American Women in Mission covered the PCUSA, but did not consider the UPCNA, although many of her observations about trends regarding women and missions apply broadly to this church. What is important to note here is that the UPCNA divided support and administration of foreign missions between two cities and two mission boards – an arrangement that had important, long-term consequences for record-keeping and available sources. The “Women’s General Missionary Society” or Women’s Board, which women led and largely funded, administered operations from Pittsburgh (in western Pennsylvania) and sponsored unmarried women missionaries abroad as well as medical and nursing work as performed by both women and men. It also led the church’s domestic, U.S.-based missions, among Native Americans, African-Americans, and immigrants.25 The Foreign Mission Board, meanwhile, covered non-medical missionary men abroad, and where applicable their wives (who often worked for the mission without getting salaries), from offices in Philadelphia (in southeastern Pennsylvania). The distance between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, which are roughly 480 km apart, helped to ensure the autonomy of the Women’s Board for many years, until it merged with the Foreign Board in 1956 on the eve of their church’s union with the larger PCUSA.

Unfortunately – and significantly for historians – the Women’s Board appeared not to pass on the bulk of its records at the time of the merger; either that, or someone threw them away. What this means is that, at least for Egypt, the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia, the major archive for Presbyterian mission and church records in the United States, has some twentieth-century records from the Foreign Mission Board (its nineteenth-century records being more limited), but relatively little about missionaries who worked in Egypt under the auspices of the Women’s Board in Pittsburgh. This situation obviously limits the ability of historians to reconstruct the history of the mission’s medical work or its work with Egyptian Bible Women, whom American women missionaries supervised.

An even bigger gap in sources affects Egyptian staff, about whom records are lacking, presumably because these records stayed within Egypt (where it is not clear that they survived amid the mid-twentieth-century dismantling of mission institutions). Recalling the argument that Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak advanced in her seminal postcolonial-studies article, “Can the Subaltern Speak?”, along with Marilyn Booth’s words about the faint echoes of Egyptian women’s writing, historians will need to listen to and look carefully at extant sources – including scattered references in missionary memoirs, journals, and other sources, to recover something of the history of Egyptian workers.26 Despite the challenge of finding evidence for the role of these Egyptian workers, as Jeffrey Cox has argued in a history of missions in the British Empire, “any accurate history must repeatedly look for and acknowledge those acts of participation” by the non-Western agents of mission societies, whose roles on the ground were substantial.27

In this article, I have tried to seek out some more traces of the story of women’s agency by using a small set of sources which, to my knowledge, historians of Egypt have not consulted before. These are records of the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, which functioned from 1850 until 1970 (when it began to admit men, and changed its name and “mission”). To be sure, the records of the Woman’s Medical College records are slim, consisting mainly of materials that the institution maintained for alumnae fundraising purposes. Records include short notes on alumnae and requests to them for donations; summaries of their career trajectories and appointments; and occasional obituaries. Remarkably, these records also include a few letters from the Egyptian feminist and medical doctor, Nawal al-Saadawy (b. 1931). Their limits notwithstanding, records from the Woman’s Medical College let us see, at least, some skeletal outlines of women in medicine in ways that can help us in our study of Egypt.

4 American Women and Professionalization in Egypt: The Case of Medicine

Medicine became a major focus of Protestant evangelical efforts abroad during the nineteenth century, for several reasons, and this trend was certainly true in Egypt.28 On the one hand, medical service appealed to missions because it evoked the historic Christian ideal of Jesus as a healer of lepers, the blind, and so forth, with the capacity for seeming miraculous. On the other hand, Protestant evangelicals came to believe in the nineteenth century that restoring bodily health (physical conversion) could accompany the saving of souls (spiritual conversion), partly by attracting people to clinics and hospitals and offering opportunities for evangelization. Then, too, in parts of Africa and Asia, there was the expectation that healing via modern and rational biomedicine could displace beliefs in irrational spirits, superstitions, and notions of magic while demonstrating the superiority of Western, including Christian, civilization and customs. Missions especially favored prioritizing the treatment of ailments where they could make a big social impact – such as the removal of eye cataracts in China, or in Egypt, the treatment of opthalmia and trachoma.29

The UPCNA was particularly well situated within the United States for expanding its efforts in medical missions abroad. This church, again, administered much of its foreign mission work from Philadelphia, which was a major center for the development of the U.S. medical profession and hospitals. Benjamin Franklin had founded the first American hospital in Philadelphia in 1751, while the University of Pennsylvania, in the same city, opened the country’s first school of medicine in 1765.30 With the establishment of the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1850, renamed the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (WMCP) in 1867, Philadelphia became one of the first places where American women could study medicine and secure recognized licenses to practice. The Protestant missionary movement as a whole benefitted greatly from the WMCP’s advances, as a French scholar, Arlette Butavand, wrote admiringly in her 1930 thesis for a medical degree at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Lyon.31 The UPCNA’s presence in Pennsylvania certainly optimized its access to women doctors.

Institutions like the WMCP emerged because mainstream medical schools in the United States refused to admit women. The first licensed woman doctor in the United States, Elizabeth Blackwell (1820–1910), had famously applied to twenty-nine schools which rejected her. She finally gained admission to one school after the male students reportedly voted to admit her on the grounds that they expected her to fail – and relished seeing that happen.32 Blackwell’s tenacity – and her success in graduating at the top of her class – inspired other women in years that followed. And yet, institutions that had major medical establishments still rejected the applications of women in this period. “… [T]here must have been something contagious in feminine ambition at this time,” mused a chronicler at the University of Pennsylvania, writing in 1940, because the trustees found themselves having to rebuff female applicants who tried to get into its medical school in the 1880s.33 These circumstances help to explain the original need for an institution like the WMCP, explicitly dedicated to admitting and training women.

In the late nineteenth century, when licensed women doctors often struggled to get jobs in American institutions, the WMCP sent many of its graduates abroad as missionaries, especially to India and China.34 As a result of the efforts of the WMCP and several other women’s medical colleges that emerged in the late nineteenth century, women accounted for 348 – just over one third – of the approximately 1,000 American Protestant missionary doctors who worked abroad in 1910.35 This percentage was very high considering that only 2.9 % of American medical graduates were women in 1915.36 In the early twentieth century, however, this percentage marked the crest of a wave, leading one scholar to describe the late nineteenth century (and not the first half of the twentieth century) as a “golden age” for American women in medicine.37

In Egypt in 1897, the American Presbyterian mission employed three American doctors, two of whom were women.38 These were Dr. Anna B. Watson, who graduated from the WMCP in 1893; and Dr. Caroline C. Lawrence, who graduated from the same institution in 1894 and later received special training in inflammatory eye conditions – useful in a country like Egypt where trachoma was endemic. Together Watson and Lawrence founded Tanta Hospital, which became a major center of medical work for the American mission in the Egyptian Delta (and which still functions today under the auspices of the Egyptian Evangelical Church).39 As Stephanie Boyle has shown, the Egyptian Delta town of Tanta loomed large in discussions about international public health during the late nineteenth century because of a series of cholera pandemics that erupted there after 1848, with many of the victims having been Muslim pilgrims returning from the hajj to Mecca. As the provicial capital of an agriculturally rich region, Tanta became important in discussions among British, Egyptian, and French epidemiologists and policy-setters who worried about the negative impact that epidemics and pandemics would have on Mediterranean commerce.40 Tanta was strategic from the American Mission’s point of view, also, because of its location between Cairo and Alexandria, and because of its large Muslim population in a period when Protestant missions, infused with an aggressive universalist, evangelical ethos, hoped to woo converts from Islam. By the early 1930s, however, this very assertiveness stimulated a Muslim, anti-missionary pushback;41 at the same time, while work in Tanta increased the mission’s visibility, it did not secure many converts nor did it lead to the establishment of a strong Evangelical community.

Drs. Caroline C. Lawrence and Anna B. Watson founded the Tanta hospital but did not spend their whole careers in Egypt. Lawrence returned to the United States in 1911 (although she briefly went back to the Middle East to work for the American Red Cross as a pediatrician in Palestine in 1918 and 1919). Watson returned to the United States in 1918, where a friend who owned a sanatorium in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania employed her as a staff doctor.42

Egypt and the American Mission there allowed American women doctors like Lawrence and Watson opportunities to practice and to assume leadership roles – as, indeed, when they founded a hospital. The higher degree of gender segregation that prevailed in many parts of Africa and Asia contributed to greater opportunities for American women as medical missionaries because missions needed female employees who could interact with local women and children on the ground, while providing obstetric and pediatric care in addition to other medical services. This applied to women doctors and nurses alike, as we can see, for example, from Iran.43 The same was true in India, where another alumna of the WMCP, the American Methodist missionary Clara Swain, founded in 1874 a hospital for women and children in Gujarat (on the estate of a local potentate, the Nawab of Rampore, who supported her) and also instituted a program to train and license Indian women as medics.44 The situation applied to China, likewise, where women like the Canadian Presbyterian missionary doctor, Jean Isabelle Dow, became a “pioneer” in tropical medicine and an authority on kala-azar.45 As Hunter observed in her study of China, many American women ventured abroad because they could overcome “gender taboos” while finding in mission work “a potential solution for a more personal problem – a tentative energy for which there was no acceptable home market”.46

In an article surveying nineteenth-century missions and women in the Middle East, Heleen Murre-van den Berg concluded that since Protestant missions devoted more than half of their time and resources to work among women and girls, missionaries probably influenced more females than boys and men. She observed, broadly, that “missionaries contributed to the awakening of the women of the Middle East in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and thus to the shift in gender relations”. Murre-van den Berg attributed the prominent roles for women to “more or less explicit ideas about ‘evangelical motherhood’,” among Protestant missions, “in which women were portrayed as the driving force behind the new Christian family”.47 It helped that women were paid less than men in this period so that their labor was cheaper for the churches that sponsored them.

One could go further to argue that missions in the Middle East also contributed to the awakening of American and European women and to the shift of gender relations in the United States and Europe. The Middle East, like other foreign fields, proved to be a region of opportunity for American women missionaries. It was a site for the off-stage making of American culture, and gave American women room to maneuver.48 At the same time, the expansion of Protestant and Catholic mission girls’ schools in mid-nineteenth century Egypt, which helped to inspire the establishment of the first Egyptian government girls’ school for Muslims in 1873,49 provided the backdrop for the growth of female literacy while stimulating debates in the budding Arabic periodical press about modern society and the place of men and women within it.50 Here, once again, we can see how debates about modern women occurred as a result of encounters on international stages.

5 The Expanding Space for Egyptian Evangelical Women

The American mission expanded opportunities for Egyptian women both in worship and in income-generating work. As Egyptian Christians (including people of Coptic Orthodox and occasionally Syrian backgrounds51) and others joined the Evangelical (Presbyterian) community, and as new congregations formed, American missionaries insisted that church buildings had to accommodate females in their provision of seating and space. In any case, by 1930, Egyptian women definitively outnumbered men in Evangelical congregations,52 recalling Dana Robert’s claim that Christianity has tended to function across cultures as a “women’s movement” in which “women typically make up the majority of active believers”.53

From the late nineteenth century through the mid-twentieth, American missionaries also insisted that females should attend church services. In this way, they broke from conventions in both Coptic Orthodox and Muslim communities, in which men but not women had traditionally participated in congregational worship. The Americans encouraged churches to remove the physical barriers – typically wooden screens or curtains – that divided men from women, with consequences for how and where people sat in church.54 They did not always succeed in persuading communities to change. But in the words, again, of Charles R. Watson, the missionaries managed by 1907, at least, to include women by “insist[ing] on the curtain being drawn down the middle of the church, instead of across some back corner”.55 In other words, they insisted that if churches were going to retain a barrier, women should have half the space as committed and active believers. By the 1950s and 60s, there were still some churches that retained wooden barriers, but most of these were coming down – even if one would sometimes, as late as the 1990s, still see men and women sitting on opposite sides of the church despite the lack of a physical partition.56 Likewise, as late as 1939, an American missionary woman visited “some 30 shut-in girls” in a village near Assiut who “were not allowed to go out of the house, even to church, until married”. Missionaries tried to persuade community leaders to let girls like these come to church.57

Missionaries also changed expectations about what people could do in church buildings and in the ground around them. In the late nineteenth century, they introduced “Sunday School” and what they called “Vacation Bible School” programs for children: these were places where children could go not just to learn Bible stories and to discuss Christian faith, but also to have fun by singing songs, playing team sports, and meeting for picnics and parties. They included girls and boys in these activities, and appointed young men and women to lead Vacation Bible school camps. In this way, the missionaries made churches into centers for recreation, and promoted mixed-sex socialization. Coptic Orthodox communities later picked up these ideas, especially via the Sunday School Movement.58 Organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood (founded in 1927) selectively adapted some of these ideas, for example, by organizing, from mosques, football or soccer clubs for boys and men. The Brotherhood’s founder, Hasan al-Banna, had seen these ideas in action by observing Christian missionaries in the Egyptian Delta (where he grew up), and later by joining in Cairo the Young Men’s Muslim Association (YMMA), an organization which modeled itself on the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) that American missionaries had started for Egyptians after World War I.59 Yet even as missionary practices provided a model for these organizations to follow, missionary evangelization sharpened anti-missionary activism on the part of Egyptian Islamists and nationalists alike in ways that led to government crackdowns on mission activities.60 In this sense, mission activities caused friction and backfired.

As the church which sponsored the mission in Egypt, the UPCNA maintained as a matter of policy that all members should know the Bible and be able to read it.61 This principle sustained the mission’s support for promoting literacy, not only among children in schools, but also among adults in their homes. To this end, the American missionaries began in the 1880s to train and employ Egyptian Christian women of modest backgrounds as “Bible Women” and to give them monthly salaries for their work. Bible Women were lay female evangelists who went door to door on home visits, where they sold and discussed Bibles and sometimes taught other women to read them.62 In this way, kitchens – and not only classrooms – became centers for education. American missionaries treated Egyptian Bible Women as professionals and gathered them for annual conferences where they met for lectures and discussion. (A photograph, which missionaries took in 1916 on the occasion of the annual conference held that year in Assiut, shows three Egyptian Bible Women, each proudly holding the book in her hands.63) In the interwar years, the American mission opened a special training college and conference center for Bible Women in Tanta, the same Delta town where the mission maintained the hospital which the doctors Caroline Lawrence and Anna Watson had founded.

As trained and salaried workers, Bible Women represented an important class of Egyptian Christian professional women. Yet they tended to come from humble, not elite, backgrounds, and had limited educations – although missionary sources are vague in explaining what these educations were, and where they occurred. Some of them were also blind, and taught from portions of the Bible printed in Braille. In a period when women’s participation in literary and print culture was still largely restricted to social elites, the Bible Women’s humble circumstances help to explain why they left no memoirs, and why historians, in turn, have written (or have been able to write) so little about them. From anecdotal references in English sources, we can learn something about women like “Sitt Bukhtea” [sic], a Bible Woman who was active around 1900. Nearly blind, having only “one-quarter sight in one eye”, Sitt Bukhtea continued Bible work into old age, “often missing her noon meal entirely if there was a call to a mourning party or to pray with a sick person” and “giving away nearly everything she had”.64

6 Missionaries and the Promotion of Companionate Marriage

Missionary influences extended beyond matters of employment to affect gender dynamics and ideals about marriage, too. For example, they helped unmarried Egyptian Christian men and women in places like Cairo and Alexandria to socialize without their extended families at missionary-chaperoned parties. The missionaries hoped that such gatherings could help young Egyptians to find good marriage partners for themselves, and to establish robust Christian families. Missionaries believed that what Charles R. Watson called the “loveless marriage system” of Egypt needed to change so that a wife in Egypt could become “her husband’s partner in life” instead of a “toy or a slave”.65 They celebrated marriages like one that occurred in Egypt in 1897, when the groom “had insisted on bringing his wife to the wedding banquet table and had helped her to eat with a fork”.66 The missionaries spoke in very general terms about their ideals for sexual behavior. Aside from emphasizing monogamy and mutual fidelity within marriage, they did not elaborate in writing about appropriate sexual behavior as they envisioned it.

Missionary discussions about modern marriage fit squarely into debates about marriage, manhood, womanhood, and family that intensified in Egypt during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and that became intertwined with discussions about nationalism. In recent years, several scholars have addressed this history. Notions of conjugal partnership and marital fidelity, argued Kenneth Cuno, began to inform a new Egyptian “family ideology” in the late nineteenth century.67 A new “moralpolitik” developed, Lisa Pollard observed, as the family became a symbol of and proxy for the modern Egyptian nation, and as Egyptian women came under pressure to establish clean and intelligent homes “as a kind of ‘first step’ toward Egyptian national regeneration,” within debates that largely ensued on the pages of the developing Arabic periodical press.68 By the interwar era, a full-blown “marriage crisis” took shape, in the words of Hanan Kholoussy, as middle-class Egyptians fretted in newspapers and other venues about the ability of Egyptian men to meet responsibilities as husbands and breadwinners.69 While most of this scholarship on marriage, family, and nationhood has focused on Muslims (and especially Cuno’s study, which draws on Islamic Shariʿa court records), American missionaries stood in the thick of the action by promoting new ideas about companionate marriage along with new tactics for making it happen.

The American missionaries disseminated their ideas about marriage in schools.70 But in terms of modeling practices, two international American organizations, closely associated with the American Presbyterian mission, led the way in modernist matchmaking. The first of these, called Christian Endeavor, aimed to keep young unmarried men and women involved in church life, appealing to the demographic between children and settled adults. It did so while promoting a strong temperance (no-alcohol) agenda. A leader of Christian Endeavor in the United States explained in 1906 that its broad mission in the United States as abroad was “to bring the sexes together in wholesome activity” and “in their religious work”, while in countries like Egypt, Turkey, and Iran, and further east in places like China, it also aimed to spread “modern and Occidental ideas regarding the sexes” by promoting ideas about companionate marriage. The first Egyptian branch of Christian endeavor started in Cairo in 1896, where its leaders organized activities such as picnics to the Pyramids, and by 1906 was also active in Assiut.71 Led by the American Presbyterian missionary Anna Young Thompson, supporters of Christian Endeavor became closely connected to the Egyptian branch of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), the global, American-women-led movement that aimed to ban the production and consumption of alcohol.72

The second organization that tried to promote social mixing between young men and women was the aforementioned, American-led Young Men’s Christian Association or YMCA. Active in Egypt after World War I, the YMCA aimed to bring Egyptian Christian, Muslim, and Jewish men together while encouraging physical health, civic engagement, and “wholesome” social activities. Its founders envisioned the movement as a way of developing Christian masculinity that redirected the energies and interests of young urban men, many of whom lacked oversight from families, away from taverns and brothels and towards “fitness”, often through sports.73 In Egypt, American YMCA leaders expressed particular hope that the organization could help “in bridging the religious communities” and thereby promoting national unity.74 The YMCA was an international Protestant ecumenical organization (like Christian Endeavor), meaning that it was not tied to a specific Protestant church. Nevertheless, in Egypt, the American Presbyterians (as the largest Protestant mission in the country) were their strongest supporters, and their staff overlapped.75

The American Presbyterian leader of the YMCA in Egypt explained that, starting in the 1930s, he arranged tea parties and dances for young men and women even though some Egyptian pastors objected to having girls attend such events. In 1934, on one occasion, the Cairo YMCA even hosted “a big mixed social in our auditorium – one hundred and fifty Egyptian young men and young women playing games and having a hilarious but thoroughly wholesome and happy time”.76 These events may have caught on among Cairo’s American-educated urban elites, notably, graduates of the American University in Cairo or the Cairo Girls’ College, and may have extended to centers like Alexandria and Assiut as well. Occurring, however, at a time when Egyptian Muslims and Christians alike were beginning to question the activities and tactics of diverse Protestant and Catholic missions in Egypt (missions that included not only Presbyterians but also American Pentecostals,77 Italian and French Catholics, and others), events like these elicited some resistance or at least strong disapproval. The missionaries did not try to extend such activities into the small towns or villages of Upper Egypt, which had large Christian communities but where people were far more conservative.78 Even some Egyptian Evangelicals – Presbyterians who worked closely with American missionaries – objected strongly in this period to what they regarded as culturally inappropriate behavior that American missionaries were wont to promote or to tolerate. Evangelical clergy launched a protest, for example, in the late 1930s when the American University in Cairo (AUC), rented a hall to the Egyptian Broadcasting Service for hosting radio programs by the famous Egyptian Muslim singer Umm Kulthum. Specifically, these clergy objected to what they considered her sexually licentious lyrics and provocative mannerisms.79

The international American YMCA in the 1930s also involved its leaders in Egypt within global debates about how to combat sex trafficking and sexually transmitted diseases (especially syphilis). Leaders of the YMCA wanted to discourage what they saw as unhealthy sexual behaviors, including sex outside marriage, and hoped to encourage the formation of stable and monogamous unions. They expressed concern for Egyptian and Syrian girls sold and trained to become sex workers in Alexandria for circulation through Mediterranean ports like Marseille and Beirut.80 They also promoted discussions about “hygiene” – meaning, among females, domestic hygiene (e.g., keeping homes clean and healthy), and among males, sexual hygiene (e.g., avoiding extramarital sex preferably, or else avoiding disease). To this end, AUC sponsored a series of public lectures for men about sexually transmitted diseases in the 1920s, with Fakhry Farag, a Coptic Catholic doctor, as their main speaker. These lectures drew students from AUC, al-Azhar, and the police training school, as well as other male members of the public.81

In the mid-twentieth century, following the 1952 Free Officers coup, American Presbyterians became involved in promoting family planning among Christians and Muslims, and in distributing contraceptives to married couples. They worked closely with the Egyptian government and with NGO s like the Population Council (founded by John D. Rockefeller III in 1952). Writing in 1979, an American missionary woman observed that:

we have continuously been encouraging [Egyptian] people to have smaller families. We have produced and distributed literature on the subject, held panel discussions, sponsored lectures, and used every available means of propaganda.82

A second arena in which American missionaries became active was in discouraging the practice of female genital cutting (clitoridectomy), which was practiced in Egypt almost universally among Muslims and Christians alike.83 In these efforts, the Americans worked with the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services, or CEOSS (the main Egyptian Protestant social service agency), which formed in the 1950s. However, while American missionaries supported policies that affected sexuality, they did not write much about the reasoning behind their work or the impact it had – either because they were shy about discussing subjects like clitoridectomy, or because the subject seemed taboo.84 It is therefore difficult to know what impact the Americans had on a practice which remains prevalent in Egypt today.85

By contrast, it is easier to track the significant impact of family planning on birth rates, especially after 1965 when Egypt became the first Arab state to make family planning an official government program86 – taking over from the initiatives that American Presbyterians and Egyptian Evangelicals had started, and that American organizations like the Population Council and the Ford Foundation, later promoted during the 1950s and ’60s. Through initiatives styled in the mid-twentieth-century decolonization era as “development”, these non-sectarian and non-governmental organizations (NGO s) built upon the work that Christian missions like the American Mission in Egypt had started.87

7 Conclusion

Throughout the American Mission’s history in Egypt, which stretched from 1854 to 1967, when the Six-Day War ended its operations,88 American Presbyterians liked to say that they gave Egyptian women more respect, opportunity, and influence than these women had traditionally enjoyed within families, churches, and Egyptian society at large. Missionaries presented themselves as benefactors to Egypt in ways that recall larger discourses of civilizing missions in this period of high Western imperialism while pointing to ongoing debates about the relationship of missions to imperialism on the one hand, and to humanitarianism on the other.89

Missionaries promoted ideas about gender parity in the physical organization of churches, as well as ideas about legitimate dating and companionate marriage. They developed churches as cultural and social – and not only devotional – centers and enabled women to become active within them, even to the extent of their securing paid jobs as lay evangelists (Bible Women). They encouraged Egyptians to have smaller families and from the 1950s distributed contraceptives. They offered many opportunities in education and healthcare, via schools and hospitals that catered to females. In myriad ways, they introduced small but significant changes that affected the history of everyday life along with social roles and expectations for women and men alike.

For Egyptian Evangelical women, however, opportunities in church careers appeared to diminish in the early postcolonial period, specifically after 1963 (four years before the Six-Day War of 1967, when the American Presbyterian Mission officially ended). In this year, male leaders of the Evangelical Church decided to eliminate the positions of Bible Women, claiming that finances were limited and that their jobs were no longer relevant in changing times. For the next half century, opportunities for Egyptian Evangelical women in the church generally entailed voluntary positions – not professions.90 If we consider the professionalization of women as a form of advancement, then the end of women’s paid jobs within the Evangelical Church marked a form of regression.

American women faced their own challenges – and their own slippage. As the twentieth century opened, leaders of the UPCNA supported the suffragist movement which culminated, in 1920, with the nineteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting American women the right to vote. This was real progress. And yet, starting with the onset of the Depression in 1929, when missions went into financial contraction, American Protestant women – including UPCNA women – lost ground in U.S. mission societies as the men who led churches’ mission societies encouraged affiliated women-led organizations (“the women’s boards”) to merge and turn over their assets. “The byproduct of merger,” observed the historian Dana Robert, “was that the male-controlled general boards took the money raised by the women” and spent it in ways that made work among women and children abroad less of a priority. What resulted, Robert continued, was the “dismantling of the woman’s missionary movement”, along with the elimination of women from positions of leadership and policy-making within American church-led mission affairs.91

For American women, progress lurched along, and seemed to jump in 1956, when the Presbyterian Church (USA) (which merged with the UPCNA two years later) granted women the option of seeking ordination in churches. There, too, though, progress was uncertain in the United States, given that male church leaders made promises “that no congregation would be forced to accept women” as ministers, implying that a woman would be able to secure the credential of ordination without necessarily being able to secure employment as a “pulpit minister”. For this reason, even into the 1960s, “Few women attending seminary intended careers in pastoral positions”.92 As it became clear that some women might seek out such positions, some American Presbyterians agitated for a new schism – leading to the creation of a new institutional church, now called the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) – which continues to exclude women from the ranks of the clergy.93

Even the profession of medicine proved to be a bumpy road for American women to follow. The doctors Anna Watson and Caroline Lawrence, who reached Egypt in the mid-1890s, did not start much of a trend for professional women in the American Mission. Judging from the scant records in the WMCP, only three other American women served as missionary doctors in Egypt in the half-century after Watson and Lawrence, and even then, each appeared to serve for only a couple of years.94 The number of American women doctors in Egypt probably did not increase because women’s representation in medical careers plummeted in the United States itself, as a series of reforms in medical education led to the “near elimination of women in the physician workforce between 1910 and 1970”.95 This drop occurred even as all-male medical schools technically opened their doors to female applicants. Historians of American medicine still debate the reasons for women’s retraction from medical careers, with some attributing a large role to male “backlash” and outright sexism that impeded women’s entry into the medical profession.96 The historian Mary Roth Walsh even described women’s pursuit of medicine as “part of the larger nineteenth-century struggle for female self-determination” in the United States – associated, in other words, with women’s agitation for voting rights.97

The historian Hibba Abugideiri has argued that a similar rollback for women occurred in Egypt, where, beginning in the Muhammad Ali era in the early nineteenth century, the Egyptian government had trained some women as health specialists or hakimas. As the twentieth century opened with Britain occupying Egypt, British male policy-setters in the higher echelons of government restricted Egyptian women to medical roles in midwifery and rudimentary healthcare for women and children. These policies halted women’s professional advancement in the Egyptian medical field in ways that once again illustrate parallels with American women’s experiences.98

In 1970, by which time the entry of American women in the medical profession was looking more secure, the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania became defunct. Specifically, it voted to admit men and thereupon became the “Medical College of Pennsylvania”.99

Among the last items added to the WMCP’s archives in the early 1970s are a few letters from the Egyptian Muslim medical doctor Nawal al-Saadawy, who was just then rising to public prominence as a feminist, human rights activist, and writer of international repute, known for her forceful critique of female genital cutting.100 In 1971 and 1974, al-Saadawy exchanged letters with an official in the former WMCP in order to seek membership in the Medical Women’s International Association (MWIA), which was a professional alliance of women doctors dedicated to the advancement of women’s health issues.101 In fact, al-Saadawy had met some of these women doctors at conferences in Stockholm and Rio de Janeiro during the postcolonial period when migrations to Europe and the Americas accelerated for Egyptians and other African and Asian peoples in general.102 The survival of this correspondence in the WMCP archives attests to the connections that have linked Egypt and the United States, Egyptians and Americans (including missionaries), medical doctors and professional women, in histories that have moved in multiple directions and across borders. In other words, as fragmentary as they may be, the small set of letters to and from Nawal al-Saadawy testifies to the ongoing nature of the “reflex story”103 that involved the American mission in Egypt in a history of American-Egyptian encounters. It shows, very concretely, how women mobilized on national and international stages as they sought professional opportunity and recognition.

In sum, this comparative reading of the gendered history of the American mission vis-à-vis Egypt offers a less triumphalist account of the missionary encounter than missionaries themselves would have once offered. By studying American and Egyptian women’s experiences in tandem, we can gain a more nuanced appreciation of the complicated dynamics of gender relations as they worked in the United States and in Egypt vis-à-vis missions, churches, and social affairs, and as they affected women who pried open doors to professional opportunity and paid employment. Ultimately, this comparative reading also supports three broad contentions of this article: first, that missionary encounters in Egypt were a bumpy two-way street that connected American and Egyptian histories; second, that while American missionaries offered new opportunities to Egyptians, the Egyptian context offered opportunities to Americans in return; and third, that American and Egyptian women alike struggled to achieve modes of advancement in their societies, whether within churches (among Christians) or within careers and families at large, in their respective patriarchal cultures and in the face of persistent gender discrimination.


The American Presbyterians were not the first Protestant missionaries in Egypt: that distinction appears to go to a small group of Moravians who operated from 1752 to 1783; see Grafton (2009), pp. 82–83. More important precursors for the American Presbyterians were Anglicans and their German associates of the Church Missionary Society (CMS), who had a significant impact on Coptic Orthodox communities; see Sedra (2011).


Sharkey (2008a), p. 84; Reid (1895), pp. 246–248.


This article, and this special issue, arose from a conference panel, “Le phénomène missionnaire au prisme du genre dans le Moyen-Orient contemporain,” which Norig Neveu and Séverine Gabry-Thienpont organized at the 2ème Congrès du GIS Moyen-Orient et Mondes Musulmans, held at the Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales (INALCO) in Paris on July 6, 2017. I am grateful to Séverine and Norig, as well as to the two anonymous referees, for feedback on earlier drafts.


On the role of sources and writers in perpetuating gender gaps in history, see this study about the stark underrepresentation of biographies about women in the world’s largest online encyclopedia: Alana Cattapan, “(Re)Writing ‘Feminism in Canada’: Wikipedia in the Feminist Classroom,” Feminist Teacher, 22:2 (2012), pp. 125–136.


Booth (2013).


Hunter (1984); Hill (1985); Robert (1996); Porterfield (1997).


Pew Research Center (2019).


Porterfield arguably manifested the latter tendency when she attributed “the tensions that American missionaries exacerbated between the [local Christian] Nestorian community and the dominant Muslim population” in northwest Iran to their “attitudes toward women and gender differentiation”; these attitudes manifested a model of what she called “Republican Motherhood” that incited the “envy and hatred” of Muslims towards local Christians who adopted them. Porterfield (1997), pp. 68–69.


Watson (1907), pp. 40–42.


Said (1979), pp. 1–3.


Bays and Wacker (2003), pp. 1–9.


Beaver (1980), p. 88.


Heuser (1991), p. 15.


Cox (2008); Manktelow (2014), p. 137.


Hutchison (1987), p. 1.


Reid (1900), pp. 14, 49.


Cott (1987).


Robert (1996), p. 267.


Hunter (1984).


Hunter (1984), p. xv.


Fleischmann (1998), pp. 307–323; and Fleischmann (2009), pp. 108–130, 204–205.


Clifford (2014); D’Antonio (2010).


Sharkey (2011).


Jamison (1956); Smylie (1996).


Jamison (1956).


Spivak (1988); Booth (2013).


Cox (2008), p. 16.


Boulos (2016).


Hardiman (2006).


Cheyney (1940), pp. 96–104.


Butavand (1930), p. 44.


Avila (2017), pp. 18–20.


Cheyney (1940), pp. 305–306.


Legacy Center Archives, Drexel University College of Medicine, Philadelphia, Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (henceforth WMCP): Missionary Card File, Woman’s Medical College.


Beaver (1980), pp. 131–132.


Barkin et al (2010), pp. 1055–1057.


Walsh (1990), pp. xvii, 14–15.


Watson (1904), p. 406.


WMCP, Missionary Card File, Woman’s Medical College; and WMCP, Accession 266, Alumnae Files, Box 9, 1894.


Boyle (2016).


Sharkey (2008); Baron (2014).


WMCP Accession 266, Alumnae Files, Box 9, 1894.


Wytenbroek (2018).


Mishra (2017), pp. 360–361; Butavand (1930), p. 45.


Gewurtz 2017.


Hunter (1984), pp. xvi, 11.


Murre-van den Berg (2005), pp. 106, 114.


Sharkey (2014).


Heyworth-Dunne (1938), pp. 333, 375; Pollard (2005); Russell (2004).


For a comparative study of the role of missions, the Arabic periodical press, and the nahda, see Womack’s study of Syria (2019).


Some of the American missionaries’ earliest converts in Egypt came from Syrian Christian backgrounds. See, for example, Sharkey (2018), p. 81.


Alexander (1930), pp. 47–48.


Robert (2009), p. 118.


Sharkey (2006), p. 173.


Watson (1907), p. 41.


Habib (1999), pp. 15–16.


Presbyterian History Society, Philadelphia (henceforth PHS), UPCNA RG 209-6-3: Andrew A. Thompson Papers, A.A. Thompson to Reed, dated New Concord, Ohio, March 24, 1939.


Hasan (2003).


Sharkey (2008a), p. 106.


Baron (2014).


Reid (1900), pp. 14, 49.


Zwemer (1900).


PHS UPCNA RG 184-1-42: Anna B. Criswell Papers, “Three Bible Women, Assiut Conference”, Assiut, Egypt, 1916.


Kinnear (1971), pp. 64–65.


Watson (1907), pp. 42–43.


Sharkey (2006), pp. 173–174.


Cuno (2015).


Pollard (2005), pp. 3, 110. On Egypt as a woman, see also Baron (2005). On the expanding Arabic press and mass readership, see Ayalon (2016).


Kholoussy (2010).


Pollard (2005).


Clark (1906), pp. 206–207, 402; Clark (1922), p. 118.


Foda (2015), pp. 116–149. On the WCTU abroad, see Tyrrell (2010). Unfortunately, scholars have written relatively little about Christian Endeavor, and few published and archival records from the movement appear to survive.


Winter (2002).


Kautz Family YMCA Archives, University of Minnesota Libraries, Minneapolis (henceforth Kautz YMCA), Egypt Box #5, International Survey Committee, “Survey of the YMCA in Egypt”, 3 volumes, typescript, 1930, Vol. 1, “Foreword”. There was also a British YMCA in Egypt, founded during World War I especially for British, Australian, and New Zealand soldiers, but it was not open to Egyptians; see Barrett (1919).


On the YMCA in Egypt, see Sharkey (2008a), pp. 149–178.


PHS UPCNA RG 209-5-18: James K. Quay Papers, Jim Quay to Friends, Young Men’s Christian Association Central Branch (6 Sharia Nubar Pasha), Cairo, April 6, 1934; and Kautz YMCA, Egypt, Box #8, “Service in Egypt from 1919 to 1948,” by James K. Quay, September 1975.


Baron (2014); Boulos (2016). In the 1930s, the Italian Salesian schools increased Muslim enrollments and began to come under some pressure as well: see Turiano (2016).


On the conservative culture, see Mayeur-Jaouen (2019).


Sharkey (2008b).


Kautz YMCA, Egypt Box #5, International Survey Committee, “Survey of the YMCA in Egypt”, 3 volumes, typescript, 1930, Vol. 2, Part IV, Chapter 1, pp. 77–81.


Sharkey (2008a), p. 116.


Dye (1979), p. 71.


The literature on the subject is extensive. See, for example, Mohammed (2014).


Sharkey (2008a), p. 195.


See, for example, Ali et al (2018), pp. 571–574.


Radovich et al (2018).


The history of how non-sectarian American NGO’s evolved from American Protestant organizations is still waiting to be written. For aspects, see Watenpaugh (2015) and, within the United States, Nelson (2014).


See Sharkey (2008a) and Lorimer (2007).


Porter (2004).


Walter (2011).


Robert (1997), pp. 304–307. Robert refers here to Presbyterian missions of the PCUSA (which was active, e.g., in Lebanon), but these claims apply, too, to the UPCNA. See also Boyd and Brackenridge (1996): 118.


Boyd and Brackenridge (1996): 129, 135.


Boyd and Brackenridge (1996).


WMCP Missionary Card File, Woman’s Medical College. This file mentions three women who worked as doctors in Egypt, although I have not been able to find any corroborating information about them in the PHS archives. These were Jean Best-Moore, class of 1901, who died in 1918; Alice E. Johnson, class of 1905, who was superintendent of the Tanta hospital from 1911 to 1913; and Isabel Shannon, class of 1909, who worked with the American mission from 1912 to 1913.


Barkin (2010), p. 1055.


Walsh (1977); Morantz-Sanchez (1990); Magner (2001).


Morantz-Sanchez (1990), p. 483, summarizing Walsh (1977).


Abugideiri (2010).


Its successor institution, which arose from subsequent mergers of medical schools and hospital systems, is now the Drexel University College of Medicine.


It is difficult to overestimate the significance of Nawal El Saadawi (born 1931) who has achieved distinction as an Egyptian intellectual in so many ways. She has been a tireless advocate for women in her capacity as a medical doctor and as a writer of fiction, non-fiction, and autobiography; an outspoken critic of female genital cutting; a political dissident who has experienced incarceration in Egypt; and fearless challenger of social taboos who has broached topics as sensitive as incest and familial abuse. El Saadawi (1988); El Saadawi (1999).


Medical Women’s International Association (2019).


WMCP, Accession 271, Medical Women’s International Association (MWIA), Box 36, Egypt: Dr. Nawal El Sadawy [sic], Deputy Director of Health Education, Department Ministry of Health, application for membership, October 7, 1971; Nawal El Sadawy [sic] to Dr. Martha Kyrle, Cairo, October 7, 1971; MWIA to Dr. Nawal El Saadawy, Vienna, December 12, 1974. On changing patterns of international migration, see Goldin, Cameron, and Balarajan (2011).


Bays and Wacker (2003), p. 1.


Archival Sources

  • Kautz Family YMCA Archives, University of Minnesota Library, Minneapolis, Minnesota (Kautz YMCA)

  • Legacy Center Archives, Drexel University College of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (WMCP)

  • Presbyterian Historical Society, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (PHS)

Books and Articles

  • Abugideiri, Hibba. (2010). Gender and the Making of Modern Medicine in Colonial Egypt. Farnham: Ashgate.

  • Alexander, J.R. (1930). A Sketch of the Story of the Evangelical Church of Egypt. Alexandria: Whitehead Morris Limited.

  • Ali Hamada Ashry Abd El Wahed, et al. (2018) Prevalence of Female Circumcision among Young Women in Beni-Suef, Egypt: A Cross-Sectional Study. Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology, 31(6), pp. 571–574.

  • Ayalon, Ami. (2016). The Arabic Print Revolution: Cultural Production and Mass Readership. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Barkin, Shari L.; Fuentes-Afflick, Elena; Brosco, and Tuchman, Jeffrey P. (2010). Unintended Consequences of the Flexner Report: Women in Pediatrics. Pediatrics, 126:6, pp. 1055–1057.

  • Baron, Beth. (2005). Egypt as a Woman: Nationalism, Gender, and Politics. Berkeley: University of California Press.

  • Baron, Beth. (2014). The Orphan Scandal: Christian Missionaries and the Rise of the MuslimBrotherhood. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.

  • Barrett, James W. (1919). The War Work of the Y.M.C.A. in Egypt, Preface by Edmund H.H. Allenby. London: H.K. Lewis & Co.

  • Bays, Daniel H. and Grant Wacker. (2003). The Many Faces of the Missionary Enterprise at Home. In: Daniel H. Bays and Grant Wacker, eds., The Foreign Missionary Enterprise at Home: Explorations in North American Cultural History, Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, pp. 1–9.

  • Beaver, R. Pierce. (1980). American Protestant Women in World Mission: History of the FirstFeminist Movement in North America, revised edition. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

  • Booth, Marilyn. (2013). Locating Women’s Autobiographical Writing in Colonial Egypt. Journalof Women’s History. 25:2, pp. 36–60, 189.

  • Boulos, Samir. (2016). European Evangelicals in Egypt (1900–1956): Cultural Entanglements andMissionary Spaces. Leiden: Brill.

  • Boyd, Lois A. and Brackenridge, R. Douglas (1996). Presbyterian Women in America: TwoCenturies of a Quest for Status, 2nd edition (Westport: Greenwood Press).

  • Boyle, Stephanie. (2016). Cholera, Colonialism, and Pilgrimage: Exploring Global/Local Exchange in the Central Egyptian Delta, 1848–1907. Journal of World History, 26:3, pp. 581–604.

  • Butavand, Arlette. (1930). Les femmes médicins-missionnaires, thèse presentée à la Faculté de Médicine et de Pharmacie à Lyon. Lyon: Imprimerie Bosc Frères et Riou.

  • Cheyney, Edward Potts. (1940). History of the University of Pennsylvania, 1740–1940. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

  • Clark, Francis E. (1922). Memories of Many Men in Many Lands: An Autobiography. Boston: United Society of Christian Endeavor.

  • Clark, Francis E. (1906). Christian Endeavor in All Lands: A Record of Twenty-Five Years ofProgress. Chicago: John C. Winston Co.

  • Clifford, Geraldine J. (2014). Those Good Gertrudes: A Social History of Women Teachers inAmerica. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

  • Cott, Nancy F. (1989). The Grounding of Modern Feminism. New Haven: Yale University Press.

  • Cox, Jeffrey. (2003). The British Missionary Enterprise since 1700. New York: Routledge.

  • Cuno, Kenneth M. (2015). Modernizing Marriage: Family, Ideology, and Law in Nineteenth- andEarly-Twentieth-Century Egypt. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press.

  • D’Antonio, Patricia. (2010). American Nursing: A History of Knowledge, Authority, and theMeaning of Work. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

  • Dye, Marjorie J. (1979). The CEOSS Story. Cairo: Dar al-Thaqafah.

  • El Saadawi, Nawal (1988). Memoirs of a Woman Doctor. Trans. Catherine Cobham. London: Saqi Books, 1988.

  • El Saadawi, Nawal. (1999). Daughter of Isis: The Autobiography of Nawal El Saadawi. Trans. Sherif Hetata. London: Zed Books.

  • Fleischmann, Ellen. (1998). Our Moslem Sisters: Women of Greater Syria in the Eyes of American Protestant Missionary Women. Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, 9(3), pp. 307–323.

  • Fleischmann, Ellen. (2009). ‘I Only Wish I Had a Home on This Globe’: Transnational Biography and Dr. Mary Eddy. Journal of Women’s History, 21(3), pp. 108–130, 204–205.

  • Foda, Omar. (2015). Anna and Ahmad: Building Modern Temperance in Egypt (1884–1940). Social Sciences and Missions, 28, pp. 116–149.

  • Gewurtz, Margo S. (2017). Transnationalism in Missionary Medicine: The Case of Kala-azar in China and India, 1909–1946. Social Sciences and Missions, 30, pp. 30–43.

  • Goldin, Ian; Cameron, Geoffrey; and Balarajan, Meera. (2011). Exceptional People: How Migration Shaped Our World and Will Define Our Future. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

  • Grafton, David D. (2009). Politics, Piety, and Power: Lutherans Encountering Islam in the Middle East. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock.

  • Habib, Samwaʾil. (1999). Tariq al-tahaddi: qissat hayat al-Duktur al-Qiss Samwaʾil Habib kama rawaha. Cairo: Dar al-Thaqafa.

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