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Women's Sphere In Medical Missions

( Originally Published 1913 )

" In the poor man's home where the newly-born girl baby is not wanted, the woman physician does the work of an Evangelist by telling of a Heavenly Father's love for even this tiny babe. To the crowd on the street where a woman has taken poison and thrown herself on the doorstep of her adversary to die, she tells the story of redeeming love. Many a sufferer turns to kiss the shadow of these Santa Filomenas as it falls upon the wall in hospital or home."

ARTHUR H. SMITH IN Rex Christus.

IT will not come as any surprise to those who have pondered certain of the facts contained in some of the preceding chapters, that the share which women are called upon to take in the work of Medical Missions is both large and important. At the great Edinburgh Conference of 1910, as field after field came under notice, and problems of a diverse character were discussed, the conclusion was arrived at with almost unvarying precision, that without the work that could be done by Christian women, and done by them alone, the task of world-wide evangelisation would be indefinitely postponed. And if from such a conclusion we proceed to investigate the special directions in which the service of women missionaries is most urgently required, a careful consideration shows that medical work carried on by trained medical women and qualified nurses amongst their. suffering heathen and Moslem sisters, represents a sphere of missionary labour than which none is more needed, or offers greater possibilities of doing good.

It is a well-known fact that the vast majority of the women of mission lands can only be reached by women in the work of education and general instruction in the truths of the Gospel. How much more then does it become apparent that when those women are in suffering and physical need, when many of life's secrets have to be probed, their condition can only be met by a skill which is applied by a woman doctor or nurse. Hidden in the seclusion of their homes, frequently the victims of appalling maltreatment in their hour of need, and poignant sufferers too often from many a cruel disease, the women of heathen lands present a spectacle that appeals to every noble and Christian instinct in their more favoured sisters of Christian lands for immediate succour and relief.

Moreover, no time is so favourable for giving to them an interpretation of Christianity, which they can grasp and understand, as when under the loving gracious ministry of a medical sister they are finding their pain relieved and their disease cured. The message of a God of love, so difficult at other times for them to appreciate, becomes then an easy revelation, and the door of healing one through which they find an entry into a saving knowledge of the truth.

Accordingly we are brought in our study of Medical Missions to a point that is of particular interest, and far-reaching significance. This aspect of the work is obviously no subsidiary or purely departmental question. It is one which may indeed lay claim to the most sympathetic attention and the amplest measure of support. Medical Missions by women and for women are destined to do far more than bring the balm of healing to many a poor sufferer. They are calculated to exert an influence which goes to the very springs of the life of the nations purifying it at its source and centre. Degraded womanhood and neglected childhood are again and again the terrible hall-marks of non-Christian civilization, and these are subjected by women's medical missions to a process that bids fair to remove their black stains. Henry Ward Beecher once said that Christianity was " the gift of a burning heart to a world out of heart " and it may surely be said that our lady medical missionaries and missionary nurses are pre-eminently those whose peculiar ministry renders them fit bearers of that gift.

We propose to touch briefly upon (1) the particular needs which necessitate the work of women doctors on the mission field, and (2) the sphere of service that is open to a nurse missionary.

1. Why women doctors are needed.

Five separate reasons suggest themselves for our scrutiny, and will repay the thought that we may give to them.

(a) By women doctors alone can the very great amount of pitiful suffering prevailing amongst immense multitudes of heathen and Moslem women be effectually alleviated or cured. Who can adequately put into words, or convey a true conception of the awful amount of unnecessary and preventable suffering which is the daily lot of unknown numbers of sick women in the non-Christian countries of the world ! None save those heroic and Christlike women who have devoted their lives to Zenana Missions can ever really know the depths of that suffering. Others can only judge from what they have been told. But taking the facts that have been revealed and facing their stern reality, we are compelled to acknowledge that here exists one of the open sores of the world.

Think of the Hindu woman in her hour of travail.

At such a time neglect is the only word to use for the way she is treated. Of even native " hakims " there are virtually none who are called in. Practically speaking, the poor woman in the pangs of childbirth has no help(!) save the ignorant, meddlesome interference of native nurses. Barbarous practices are resorted to, and in the name of religion the most shocking treatment meted out to the sufferers. Is it any wonder that the death-rate of both women and children is said to be enormous ? If it were permissible it would be possible to here cite a whole catalogue of cases revealing how unspeakably sad is the state of Indian women in their time of physical need.

The late Dr John Lowe quoted in his book, " Medical Missions. Their Place and Power," the opinion of Mrs Weitbrecht, a well-known Zenana Missionary.

" All Hindu women, whether rich or poor, are utterly neglected in the time of sickness. Prejudices and customs banish medical aid altogether ; infectious and other diseases are left to take their own course. Two thousand children not very long ago, were left to perish from small-pox in one city. A female Medical Mission, one in every populous centre is one of the most crying needs of India ; an agency which would find its way into those dark dirty miserable dwellings, where fever, ophthalmia, and other ills spread unchecked."

In their ignorance women have been known to grind red pottery ware into a powder and dust this into eyes afflicted with simple ophthalmia. On one occasion a lady doctor in North India was called to see a poor sick woman, ill with high fever. She was, in fact, delirious. Her native nurses, so called, were piling bedding all over her, almost stifling her, with the idea that the air thus excluded from the patient was the cause of the delirium !

If we turn our attention to China, we find it is the same sad story. Dr Kilborn, writing of Chinese mid-wives, says that they are " just as ignorant as any other class of Chinese women about such things, and more meddlesome and venturesome. They have no more idea of the importance of cleanliness and of quiet intelligent nursing that had Sary Gamp of old, while the methods they use in difficult cases are revolting, no less for the ignorance and actual mismanagement displayed than for the cruelty. It is not at all un-common for such cases to be protracted through several days of weary agony, until death comes to the patient's relief. Not a few Chinese women owe their lives to the prompt and efficient aid given them by the women medical missionaries, after they had already suffered untold tortures from neglect or maltreatment, or both."

And so we might go on, summing up the evidence of land after land, and it would be one reiterated tale of a great and crying woe that appeals loudly for succour. If then the sufferings of sick heathen men are what we have seen them to be in an earlier chapter, how much worse is the plight of their women folk ?

But the point which it is here desired to emphasize is not so much the existence of this appalling condition, as the fact that women doctors alone can do what is needed to mitigate the suffering, at least in the vast majority of instances. The purdah system in India, the institution of the harem amongst Moslems, the retirement of the Chinese women, all means that the women of heathendom and Islam, to a very great extent, cannot, or will not come to men doctors. However keenly he may long to see women sufferers, for whom his aid is desired, in order that he may efficiently treat them, the male medical missionary cannot often do so, as custom forbids. At the utmost he may be permitted to sit on one side of a curtain, with his lady patient on the other, and feel the pulse in a wrist that may be pressed through an opening made for the purpose. But this even is impossible in most of the cases, and again and again the man doctor who asks to see the woman patient who is said to be suffering from this or that—perhaps a broken bone—is met with the answer, " That cannot be ; it is not our custom." So awful indeed is the terrible slavery of this custom that rather than let a woman sufferer be seen by a man doctor, whose skill is the very thing needed, and the only real help available, the patient will be left to linger in untold anguish and die a perfectly preventable death. True this does not apply to all the women of non-Christian lands. Some of the lower class women in India and China are relatively accessible to the treatment of men, and the same is the case in some other lands. But speaking of the large majority, it is an absolute fact that women patients can only be reached effectively by women doctors, and that in consequence a call of the greatest urgency comes over the seas from their suffering sisters to the Christian medical women in the Homeland.

Closely akin to the work for sick women is that for sick children, and it is appropriate at this juncture that we should make brief allusion to it. The terrible prevalence of children's diseases, and the great fatality arising from them is one of the saddest features of the non-Christian world. Who can measure the neglect, to speak of nothing worse, with which young lives are treated to-day in these lands of ignorance and superstition. Think of the thousands whose eyesight is irretrievably ruined by ophthalmia simply for lack of the simplest medical care ! Reflect upon the devastating ravages of Fevers, of Small-pox, and of many another epidemic disease which are allowed, all unhindered, to lay their fell hand with lamentable results upon the children of heathen and Moslem countries ! It is impossible to disguise the awful reality of what sickness means to the boys and girls whose lot it is to be born in those lands, and the existence of such a state of things furnishes yet another eloquent plea for the gracious ministry of women medical missionaries.

Let us turn over the records of one women's hospital in the North of China (Tai Yuan Fu), and from the notes of the lady doctor then in charge—Mrs J. H. Fairburn, M.B., Ch.B.—extract the following example of great need, and heroic work :

" The next child, Tung Hsia (flower of the east), also has a sad story. One day, when I entered the hospital I saw a wheelbarrow outside the gate, with a bundle of dirty rags on it, and something gangrenous looking out from underneath. I thought that it was the carcass of some animal, and wondered why they were stopping before my doors. But not long after a bundle of human misery was brought into my consulting-room, and I recognised the bundle of rags I had seen on the wheel-barrow. Her condition was so terrible that my native helper fled in horror out of the room. I nearly fainted myself, but Condy's Fluid soon did its work, and I examined the bundle. The state of this poor little sufferer only nine years old, was beyond description. Both feet were so seriously diseased, I told the man who brought her that I should have to amputate the left one, and that the child would have to live in the hospital for some time. He was very willing that I should do so, and went away, the child crying after him. I then stripped off her rags, cut off her hair, and gave her a good scrubbing, but Tung Hsia did not like that process, and screamed ; when, however, I showed her the pretty garment I was going to give her, and the pretty quilt (which my good friends at Bradford made) in which she would be wrapped, she began to smile and to be good. Most people bring their own bedding, but this child was so poor that I had to supply every-thing, even to pay for her food. You see her here with one leg and a stump, and before she went away she had a wooden leg, of which she was very proud, and she could walk better than other girls with their bound feet. Her previous history was as follows :—Her mother died six months before Tung Hsia was brought to the hospital. She was then sent to the house of her mother-in-law, who bound her feet, gave her poor food, and no warm bed and clothing, and owing to the foot-binding, and the cold, the child's feet got gangrenous. She was then left lying in her corner without any attention. Her father, who brought her to the hospital, found her thus ; the mother-in-law feared that she would be sued for neglecting the child, but on hearing that Tung Hsia had a foot amputated at the hospital, she turned the case the other way, and wanted to sue the father for bringing his daughter to the hospital. So I had to defend the father by stating to the official the neglected state in which I saw the child first, and that her life could have been saved only by what was done.

Tung Hsia did not want to go home, because she never got white flour to eat at home, and also was not treated well. She wanted to serve me and stay at the hospital, but one day her father came and fetched her home, because she had to take care of a little brother. The poor child was only nine years of age, and her father, being shepherd, is away from home for weeks. She was not bright, but she understood something of the love of Christ for men. Let us pray that the seed sown, however small, may not be smothered amid the poverty and hardship which awaits that poor child."

This instance is but one, and yet is, we think, sufficiently illuminating to bring clearly home to every-one's mind how pathetic is the call for help of this kind. Moreover, it is not merely that the value of this work ends with the relief of the children who are in need. In case after case, it has been found that many hearts and homes and districts have been opened to the Gospel by reason of the healing of some sick child. Not a few instances are on record where the attention of a medical missionary to the suffering son of a native ruler, has meant an entire change of attitude on the part of the people to missionary work. It is therefore clear that the service which lady doctors, in particular, can render to heathen children is calculated to be of far-reaching importance.

(b) By women doctors and their work can the men of the non-Christian world be taught the true dignity of womanhood, and given an ennobled conception of their womenfolk.—In his book, " The Healing of the Nations," Dr Rutter Williamson says with truth that " the fact that medical missionaries care for sick women is a revolutionizing idea to the heathen man, and lays the foundations for a new era for womanhood in these lands " Nothing can be truer. To see Christian lady doctors coming to a country specially to care for its sick women, to witness sums of money being spent for the erection of hospitals in which to treat exclusively women who are ill, all this and related work is an absolute revolution to the heathen man. It leads him to begin, however remotely, to think differently of his women, and gradually to conceive a higher status for them than what he has accorded to them in the past. And thus, insensibly at first, yet none the less surely, women medical missionaries are undermining the social degradation of women in non-Christian lands, and preparing the way for their emancipation and uplifting.

As an instance of how much this is needed, and to show how low is the present estimate placed by heathen men upon their women, we quote here the story, mentioned by Miss Irene Barnes, of a lady missionary, who, having been called to treat a poor sick woman, asked her husband to let his wife have a good room in his house, then occupied by a big buffalo. He objected, saying, " If I put my wife into that room, and my buffalo in the other, the buffalo may get sick as my wife has done." The lady answered, " But your wife will die if she stays where she is ; let her have the better room." He replied, " If I give the buffalo the poor room, and he gets sick and dies, it will cost more to buy a buffalo than it does a woman ! " Can there be anything more illustrative of the low estate of heathen womanhood ? Anything more pathetic in the insight which it gives into the despairing condition of the sick heathen woman ? If then it is the mission of Christianity to raise that estate and turn that despair into hope, and if, further, women medical missionaries can most effectively contribute to the accomplishment of both those ends, how great is the responsibility resting upon us to multiply the number of women doctors on the Mission field ?

(c) By women doctors and their work can superstition be weakened at its core.—We have already seen in an earlier chapter how strong is the power of superstition in the heathen peoples' conception of disease and its cure. It is now necessary that we should realize the fact that this fell influence finds its citadel amongst the women. As Miss Irene Barnes wrote again, " It is the women who in their ignorance and with their fervent religious instinct cling most tenaciously to superstitions, and are the firmest believers in Demonology."

Excluded from the light, shut in to the darkness, having none of those broader influences that touch the life of the heathen man, is it any wonder that superstition both gains and retains its hold over the women in their homes ? Having a knowledge of nothing better, narrowed by her ignorance and seclusion and easily imbued and dominated by error, the heathen woman offers just the soil in which the noxious weed of superstition, both in regard to religion and medicine, grows apace.

Now it is only by reaching sick women, winning their confidence, and caring for their suffering state that an efficient antidote can be administered to the baneful products of this growth. The woman medical missionary, by the object lesson she gives of mercy, and truth, and by the spirit of loving compassion which she carries with her, is enabled to weaken superstitious belief right at the spot where it holds greatest sway. She is able to relax the grip that has hitherto held the women in heathen lands in abject bondage to the omnipotence of malign spirits, and demonstrate the Presence of Him who is the " Great Light and Healer of Mankind." Her ministry as healer is at once her open door, and her point d'appui, and the God given rays of scientific light which are carried by her into the darkened recesses of the hearts and minds of the heathen home are again and again the shafts that strike a death blow at superstition. Can it then be doubted that in the work of women medical missionaries we have a most powerful auxiliary in the illumination of the dark places of the earth ?

(d) By women doctors alone in numberless' cases can the homes of heathendom and Islam be entered with the Gospel.—All that has been said before concerning the work of women medical missionaries will have rendered it perfectly apparent that to them and them only, time after time, comes the opportunity to be the heralds of the Gospel to the women inmates of a household. If they are those to whom the door of entrance opens when to others it is shut then it is obvious that to them is given the privilege of ministering the bread of life to the people whom they are called to heal. Let us quote the following words of a lady doctor in India (Dr Nina Ottmann of Russell Konda)

" The best zenanas are open to the medical missionary. The common experience of pain makes them seek relief, and so we are asked to call. Some of our best hearers are in these homes. In one such home in Berhampore the husband is a merchant and very wealthy. He is impressed by Christianity, but he feels it is not for him, as it calls for such a readjustment of life as he is not prepared to make. This reveals the fact that Hindus are realizing that Christianity is not only a creed, but a life, an ideal life. He has given large contributions to the medical work and helped us in other ways. His wife and daughters are charming beautiful women. Their attitude to Christianity is very different to his. When one of the daughters was ill with remittent fever I had many opportunities of talking with her and the other women of the family about Christ. The grand-mother of the girl was the most attentive listener ; with intense earnestness and a certain awe she would listen and beg for more when I stopped speaking. To her there was something fresh in the Gospel that was good news. I lent them books ; they gathered in the sick room and read voraciously, and each evening there would be a demand for fresh books. One evening the sick girl said to me, ` These books sound true, and if they are we are terribly deluded, and we have no alternative but to accept Christ.' I cannot say that any of them have definitely accepted Christ, but they are still eager listeners and are regularly visited for teaching, and one never knows when the crisis of decision for Christ may come."

Testimony like the foregoing could be cited from the experience of women medical missionaries on all hands, and it serves to emphasize how extensive and unique is the sphere open to those who devote their lives and talents to this service.

Take as a further instance of the tremendous value of women's Medical Missions the following incident from recent mission history. A few years ago, Dr Mary Raw, a lady medical missionary in the North of India, was sent by her mission to open a zenana dispensary, in the capital of a native state in the North of India. Up to that time the way had not been open for any Missionary to reside in this state, and the only way to accomplish that end seemed to be by sending a lady medical missionary. At first Dr Raw met with no great encouragement, but presently she was asked to see a patient who was seriously ill, and whose life could only be saved by the performance of a critical operation. Dr Raw obtained the help of colleagues from another station, and under conditions the farthest removed from the ideal she carried through the operation successfully. The result was remarkable. The recovery of the patient was regarded as a miracle. People began coming to Dr Raw from all directions. One of the highest officials called to express his pleasure at the commencement of medical work for women, and the people, high and low, begged that the work might be continued. Later on, a site was given for a mission bungalow, and a women's hospital, and a local fund was contributed for the latter. Dr Raw and her colleague, Nurse Henry, have been called to exercise their professional skill in the palace of the native Ruler, and it has been demonstrated beyond all proof that the mission could have been commended to the sympathies of the people in no finer way than by this Women's Medical Mission.

The same story might, with varying details, be told of the work of women doctors all over the mission field, and no words are too strong to describe the invaluable character of this aspect of Medical Missions.

(e) By women doctors and their work as educationalists can Native Christian Women be trained to become Medical Missionaries to their own countrywomen.—It will be apparent to all from what has been said upon an earlier page how manifest is the necessity not only for a trained native male agency in the work of Medical Missions, but also for an educated female medical agency. The little band of women doctors sent out to such lands as India and China, including those labouring in a non-missionary capacity, can never by themselves alone touch more than a fringe of the suffering womanhood of these great fields. The fact is obvious that one of the most important, one of the most far-reaching ways, in which women doctors can lay out their life and service on the mission field, is in the training of suitable native Christian women to be Medical Missionaries amongst their own people. Up to the present this has, of necessity, been a restricted sphere, but it is bound to grow, and to become one which will call for many more well-qualified lady doctors.

It is clear, however, that the task of giving this female medical education on the mission field is one that is attended with special dangers and difficulties. The young womanhood of the non-Christian world is but yet in its early days, and stands in urgent need of all the careful shielding and wise training that can be given to it. The moral consciousness of the environment with which it is surrounded is still so far from Christian that unless the work of giving full medical instruction to young native women is encompassed with special precautions, and in an atmosphere that is distinctively Christian, the results may be, in all too many instances, disastrous alike to faith and character. Everything points to the tremendous necessity for retaining the work of female medical education in the hands of strong Christian teachers, and in schools which are Christian, in name and deed.

The recognition of this need has led already in both India and China to the establishment of medical schools for women in connection with Medical Missions. As far back as 1894 the North India School of Medicine for Christian women was founded at Ludhiana by Dr Edith Brown, having as its primary object the training of " such women as desire to engage in Zenana Medical Missions, and to fit them to be medical missionaries to their countrywomen." The school has had an encouraging record, and its scope has recently been enlarged to admit non-Christian students as well as those who are Christian. It is now styled the " Women's Christian Medical College," as its sphere of influence is not limited to North India. The course of study lasts for four years, and the students sit for Government diplomas in connection with the Lahore University. Similarly in China there has been for some considerable time a Women's Medical College at Canton in connection with the Presbtyerian Mission, and also one at Peking in connection with the work of the Methodist Episcopal Mission. The aim of the various union medical colleges now being established in China will be to develop a women's department for the purpose of training women medical students, but to allow of this being done many more lady doctors must be sent to China. At present the number is hopelessly inadequate.

The educational work that can thus be done by women medical missionaries on the Mission Field is consequently full of the ripest opportunity. It should serve to attract many more volunteers from the ranks of our women medical graduates here at home, and the great call that sounds forth for their training work can certainly be regarded as not the least of the arguments for lady doctors in the service of Medical Missions.

And so we close this sketch of the main reasons why women medical missionaries are needed. It cannot be said that we have done more than scratch the surface. This wide vista of human need and Christian opportunity which summons workers to its exploration and seizure for Christ cannot be dismissed in a few sentences. The argument for the medical aspect of women's missionary service is an immensely strong one, and the appeal that it presents to our young, educated, Christian girls to make such ministry their life-work, is both powerful and pathetic.

And the amazing wonder is that so few amongst our cultured Christian girlhood are preparing to consecrate their lives to this calling. Is it because they do not know of the need or has the charm of an easy life here, freed from the years of arduous study and subsequent exacting work in a far-oft land, dulled their ears to the " cry of pain " that comes across the seas. Surely the spirit of Florence Nightingale cannot have so died out from the girlhood of our churches as to make the latter the sad, yet true, explanation ! Certain is it that if a girl of seventeen wants to put out her life to the greatest usefulness both for God and humanity, she can hardly select a calling more calculated to fulfil these ideals and call out the noblest and finest elements in her nature than that of a medical missionary.

Of all bits of glorious and heroic work that are to be found on the globe to-day, that of a lady medical missionary stands out pre-eminent. " Noblesse oblige" is stamped upon it all. And as our girl readers or young medical women graduates realise these facts, and recollect that upon the great Mission Field there are women and little children suffering the pangs of a pain which might be taken away, and a two-fold disease that might be cured, will they refrain from asking Christ whether He would not have them become medical missionaries ?

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