Amherst College was established in 1821 with the aim of "educating for the gospel ministry young men in indigent circumstances, but of hopeful piety and promising talents." By the end of the nineteenth century, hundreds of Amherst College missionaries had traveled as far as Burma, China, South Africa, and elsewhere, with a concentration of missionaries in Lebanon, Turkey, Syria, and other points in the Near East. Many of these missionaries emphasized education and health care rather than aggressive efforts to convert people to Christianity, one result being the establishment of the American University in Beirut. Mary Lyon, in a 1835 pamphlet outlining her plans for the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, stated that one of the goals of the school would be "to cultivate the missionary spirit among its pupils." Soon after the Seminary opened in 1837 alumnae began serving as missionaries in the United States and many other countries, where they founded and staffed influential schools, set up orphanages and hospitals, and supported social reforms to improve the lives of girls and women. By the end of the nineteenth century nearly 250 Mount Holyoke graduates had served as missionaries. In this project, we will focus on the documentary records created by men and women from these two institutions that capture their experiences and the lives and cultures of those they encountered. These records include diaries, personal correspondence, photographs, and other materials that contain eyewitness accounts of major historical events as well as the ordinary details of daily life. Some of the men from Amherst and the women from Mount Holyoke were related (cousins, brother and sister, husband and wife), and their records, which may have been created within the same circumstances or at the same time, have never before been accessible together in this way.
Trustees of Amherst College
Ms. Kelcy Shepherd
Head of Archives & Special Collections
Mr. Ms. Sarah
Associate Director, Discovery and Access
1791 - 1985
The project focuses on the Near East: Turkey, Armenia, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, Persia (Iran), and India. Materials documenting Ottoman Bulgaria and China are also included.