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Section II: Missions to Women

Part 4: The Indian Female Evangelist, 1881-1893, continued as The Zenana: or, Woman’s Work in India,

            1893-1935, continued as The Zenana: Women’s Work in India and Pakistan, 1936-1956 from

            Interserve, London

Part 5: Minutes of the Zenana, Bible and Medical Mission, 1865-1937 and the Annual Reports of the

            Indian Female Normal School and Instruction Society, 1863-1879 from Interserve, London

Introduction to Section II Part 5

The Zenana, Bible and Medical Mission was born in 1880 out of the Indian Female Normal School and Instruction Society which had been founded in 1852. The material does therefore include the minutes of the Indian Female Normal School and Instruction Society before its change of name in 1880. The Zenana, Bible and Medical Mission was later to change its name to the Bible Medical Missionary Fellowship and later in 1985 to Interserve.

The Minutes of the Zenana, Bible and Medical Mission for 1865-1937 contain full details of the Committee meetings and are all handwritten in a very easily decipherable hand. From 1894 an index is included of subjects, names and places. Most of the material consists of details of letters received either from the missionaries or from wouldbe missionaries and they cover an extremely wide variety of topics: the work of Biblewomen and their salaries; requests from missionaries to stay on in India even though ill; requests for extension of missionary furloughs; letters from missionaries about to go out to the missions with details of their expected arrival dates; applications for employment from wouldbe missionaries; details regarding the change of name of the Society; letters from missionary doctors; details of daughters of missionaries acting as zenana agents; letters from missionaries complaining about the onerous duties they had to perform; lists of surgical insruments needed from Britain; details of missionary salaries.

The Minutes also include: financial reports; minutes of committees; discussions regarding publishing a magazine for the Society; an appeal for Biblewomen; details on the setting up of new schools; lists of contributions sent by missionaries to London; expenses reports for missionaries; details on the medical mission at Lahore; information on new districts to be opened up by the Society; the regulations of the Society; printed leaflets such as The Standing Committee for the Western India Mission, The Syllabus for the Bible Training Class; the Rules and Regulations of the Kinnaird Training Centre for Women; a memorandum on missionary candidates from overseas.

Enclosed in some of the Minute Books are miscellaneous papers such as letters, statements and reports. The following extract is taken from a report on his visit to to the mission stations by the Hon G Kinnaird dated June 1922 and included in the minutes for 1922:

“In giving a Review of my visit to our Stations it is impossible to ignore the political situation altogether, and without entering upon controversial topics may I be allowed to say how the situation impressed me.

There is a new spirit in India born of the close relationship with the free British institutions in which we glory, and more or less inculcated in our Educational Institutions, very specially in those under Missionary control. This new spirit calls for sympathy and must be met in a brotherly way.

The Raja Sahib Sir Harnum Singh has but little hope of a peaceful solution because of the absence of this sympathy. He considers the Reforms are a step in the right direction and should be allowed to progress as rapidly as possible, but without a new spirit among the British he has not much hope of their success. A great deal of the present discontent arises from the fact that there is scarcely an Indian of good postion who has not at some time or other been insulted by an European, and these insults mostly rankle while there are only a few who rise above this attitude and simply despise the one who insults. The Raja Sahib continued that when the British Government first came to India their natural politeness made the Indian very quiet, and when they did not agree they just acquiesced, but latterly, and specially since the War, they feel free to express their opinions - not always with the best taste....”

Zenana Work The workers who are carrying on during the absence of Miss Marshall are really devoted women. They came to see me and one of the Senior Teachers translated for me while they told me of the visitation they carried out and of the welcome they received. They are a good class of women and I do not feel quite happy about the alllowances they received - it appeared to me somewhat small for their position - I should like this looked into.

They gave me some interesting accounts of some of their visits and do not find that the present unrest blocks their entrance into the homes of women.

One woman told me of a home where the mother had lost her baby and she went to console with her “ Why console with me, he is better gone, don’t you remember what a noise he used to make when you came to read so that I could not listen - now you will be able to read in peace”. An older son in that house simply loves the Bible pictures and stories, and when his father sent him to the mosque to learn he took the pictures with him and told the boys the stories he had heard....”

The Annual Reports, 1863-1879 of the Indian Female Normal School and Instruction Society, also included in this part, are equally rich in material for research into women’s work in India.

They contain an account of the year’s work in the missions covering a wealth of topics including: new teachers appointed; examinations; information on the Native Training School and the Heathen Infant Day School; very detailed information on the work carried out by the missionaries in the zenanas with fascinating descriptions of the way of life and customs; the work of Native Agents and female Bible Readers; a Statement of Funds and Subscriptions for the year; extracts of missionary journals.

The Report of the Indian Female Normal School and Instruction Society for 1862 includes detail on the work in the zenanas:

“Work continues to form an increasingly important branch of the Society’s operations. There were six Zenanas under regular visitation by the Society’s teachers, besides eleven others in which occasional instruction is given. In addition to these, thirteen more are regularly visited by native teachers under the superintendence of an English lady who devotes much time to this interesting undertaking.... Several important baptisms of native converts of the highest respectability have recently taken place in Calcutta; and it is particularly interesting to learn, that in these instances, the wives have come forward with their husbands, and that notwithstanding much opposition and persection from their heathen relatives....

The importance of this work in the Zenanas appears, to the Committee, so great....and so urgent moreover are the entreaties of friends in Calcutta for additional aid, that the Committee are also endeavouring to obtain the services of a lady or ladies to be sent out from England to take a leading part in the superintendence of the work....”

The Report for 1865 includes extracts from the journal of Miss Hamilton describing her work in the zenanas:

March 19 - We have just come in from two different houses, my sister from a Mussulman’s house and I from a Hindu’s. My lady, the Hindu, is most anxious to learn English; she has got already to words of four letters, and I expect by-and by, as she gets on a little, this will lead to great openings, as I can bring beautiful books for her to read...

July 30 - As to our Zenanas they get on very well indeed, and the people are getting so fond of us that the difficulty is to get away from them....

August 31 - There is no doubt the work of female education in Delhi has met with great success. We have more houses opened to us than we can manage to attend to.

September 16 - Our work is going very well; if we could only have a few Christian teachers, it would be such a blessing. It seems nearly impossible to get them. One sees more every day that it is only through the women of India that India will ever become a Christian and civilized land. The women, though kept in that strict purda state, have immense influence each one in her own domain.

January 6, 1866 The Normal School for Women has increased much during the last six months. There are now in the Mussulman School twenty-five women, and two others have just been supplied to schools in the district, and in the Hindi department there are ten women....Important as we think these schools, still we look on the Zenanas as our especial and principal work. We have at present ten houses, where we visit as regularly as time will permit.... Other houses we go to occasionally and by-and-by I hope we shall have more on our list as being regularly visited”.

The following extract is from the Report for 1863 and details the work of the native Biblewomen or Female Scripture Readers:

“While our Zenana Missionaries carry the good tidings of great joy to the female apartments of the rich and noble, our Biblewomen take the same blessed message to the bazaars, hospitals and homes of the poor.

The Biblewomen are native Christians recommended to the Committee by missionaries in India, as women of good report and proved capability for the work....This branch of our operations is taking root in the hearts and affections of the people, and attracting the attention of the press”.

Part 5 is a goldmine of research material for all those wishing to find out more about women’s work in India and the interaction between the missionaries and the men and women of India.



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