A Missionary Calling: House-wifery | Presbyterian Historical Society

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A Missionary Calling: House-wifery

March 4, 2015
Japanese children carrying babies on their backs, from a 1920s “Japan” scrapbook kept by Mary Althouse, mother of Presbyterian missionary Sue Althouse. (Image number 4631)
Mary Parke and her husband David Thompson served as missionaries to Japan for over five decades. In this installment from her diary, Mary writes about her marriage to David, the interdenominational work of missionaries in Japan, and an offer to David to serve as the official translator for the U.S. legation.[1]
June 21 [1874, Tokyo]: A long interval has elapsed since I wrote the last date in this book – the busy days of work and preparation – days full of thought – are over; our marriage has been celebrated; the recreations and diversions and the many kindnesses shown us in connection with it will remain in our memories to be often reviewed with joy and gratitude. We are now established in our own little home, and work goes on so steadily that it seems we have lived thus a long time, instead of since May 7th. With my dear, dear husband to love and labor with, the days are full of pure, glad sun-shine. God has been so tender with me since leaving my home and all known to me….Today is the blessed Sabbath…. It has been raining most of the day, and so I have this hour alone to make my first entry in my diary within the walls of our own little dwelling, our own sanctuary where we pray God may continually dwell with us and bless us.
June 26: One of the rainy days of this month that are so depressing. My teacher did not come.—A discussion or talk about liberality and creeds.
June 30: Have not felt very well for the last few days….David’s tenderness comforts me.[2] He has gone down this evening to be with a few who wish to meet and be taught how to compose sermons and preach.
July 4: Nothing done by us today to show that it is our country’s festal day. Studied my Bible lesson in the fore noon for the Sabbath school tomorrow.
July 7: David and [Yoshiyasu] Ogawa gone to a new place to preach today. The man instead of inviting the Bhuddist [sic.] priest to come to his house and preach, as it was his turn, invited the Christian. There were about one hundred persons present. David told to them the sermon of Paul to the Athenians. This is the father of the little girl to whom I gave the Catechism yesterday, and made arrangements with her to come and recite to me every Sabbath day.
James H. Ballagh and family, circa 1880, from RG 360, Series IV. [Image number 4630] 
July 9: Mr. Ballagh, Mr. Talmage and family were calling here today.[3] They will take dinner with us tomorrow. A pleasant, racy letter from Mr. Miller[4] asking us [to] go into the country with them and spend a few weeks of vacation all alone by ourselves, and enjoining secrecy as the Mikado might hear of it and want to go along and then there would be a necessity for dress coats all the time. The society of Mr. and Mrs. Miller would doubtless be very genial but we think we cannot go. – Our next quarter’s salary sent. I hope we will come out even at the close of this quarter.
July 11: Some very nice plum jam made this after-noon. The first piece of work that has seemed decidedly like house-wifery. A prominent Santoo [Shinto?] preacher so appointed by the government came to Ogawa’s to talk of religion, rather to tell his own than to hear of the religion of Jesus. Several other intelligent looking men, his friends, present too. David stayed from two till four. Then the Union Church meeting called him to attend that. Prof. Hamilton calling, also Mr. and Mrs. Davison.[5] – I ran over to see how Mrs. Soper and her four day old baby was [sic.] Coming back, found Mr. Griffis calling.[6] He gave David a present of five good books. Dr. Veeder again elected pastor, David Secretary, Drs. McCartee and Faulds Elders, etc.[7] – A letter from Mr. Ballagh telling of a meeting to be on the 14th to talk of Union Matters.
July 12: A number of little children brought into the Sabbath school at Miss Youngman’s in the morning, three with babies on their backs. [8] My class very interesting, two new faces. Resolved to study more and pray more for this class….After the Japanese service, my bright little girl came with her present of flowers for me to instruct her. My teacher and O Yasu San were present also. I told them of the creation of man, and of the fall. She said she understood and would tell her mother when she went home. Her father was here also to ask David and Ogawa to come to his house again and preach, and the little girl was quite urgent that I should come along. Many people said the last time it was the truth they spoke, and some contention had arisen about it. Just as in Paul’s missionary work it happened. This movement calls for our prayers.
July 13: Dr. Talmage for dinner. He took David with him to buy a jinrikisha to take back to China….Dan San making arrangements for preaching to the jinrikisha men. David has long desired such an opportunity. “These things are the Lord’s doing and they are marvelous in our eyes.” – Mr. Davison offers to teach vocal music to the congregation.
July 14: David all day at Yokohama. A meeting there in the after-noon for the purpose of consulting on the Union Question. Dr. Brown, Mr. Greene, H. Faulds M.D., Hepburn M.D. were appointed on a committee to fix on a basis.[9]
July 15: Dr. Veeder calling. Likely for persons wishing to spend their vacations away there will be difficulty in getting passes.[10] After prayer meeting we came along on the bund to see the dancing at the feast of Bon.[11] Soon Dr. and Mrs. Faulds and Mr. Davison joined us while David was telling the very respectful gathering crowd of the true God and a better way. They ceased to stick their little incense sparks into the mound [of sand] or altar and listened.
Buddhist prayer beads, from Sue Althouse’s private collection. 
July 16: At Ogawa’s preaching place today the old people hastened to hide away their beads [Buddhist prayer beads] in their sleeves or in their bosoms when he told them of how the true God is worshiped[12]….David today set apart three note-books for “Notes on Japanese Grammar”, “Japanese Lexicography”, and “Illustrations for Sermons in Japanese”.
July 18: David not well. A joint letter written to [Mary’s] Father.
July 19: David notwithstanding his sickness, preached to the Japanese today better, I thought, than I had ever heard him. A full house.
July 22: O Kiyo San’s mother and grand-father here. She wishes to be baptized, but the old man, her father, is a confirmed Bhuddist [sic.] He may die any day, he says, and he does not wish to change his religion now. David and Ogawa talked long with them both. It is sad, the old man resolutely deciding to die in the dark. Mr. and Mrs. Bingham calling.[13] They treat us on a very friendly way, and ask us to come often to see them and dine with them….A walk on the beach after we returned [from the prayer meeting] in memory of the sweet and pleasant past, but with the feeling that it does not compare with the present in its depth of love and joy.
July 23: Prof. Hamilton for tea. He purposes to be one of several who will support one or two native Evangelists and will give five dollars per month for that purpose. David’s class meets in the dining room these evenings. I sit by his side, and sew and listen to their talk. This evening while teaching he received a letter from Dr. Hepburn containing the resolutions of the Committee on Union.
Aug 1: Yesterday our schools closed for a month, and we will accept gratefully the rest of the afternoons during this warm month. Several things of interest to note. O Rin and O Riu have been here twice to be instructed and examined. David is much pleased with their spirit and knowledge. They are to be baptized tomorrow. We went with Mr. and Mrs. Miller to Oji on Tuesday evening. A pleasant time walking in the moon-light looking at the beautiful landscapes and water-falls. We stayed the night. Two futons did not make a soft bed, but the fleas and mosquitos were few and we were grateful. One of the screens [room dividers] on four blocks made us a good table. Next morning after gathering our heart’s content of ferns we returned home, while Mr. and Mrs. M. went on to Nikko. Mr. Bingham wants David to be interpreter of the American Legation in Japan. He thinks it would be well to accept, and has written to know the mind of the missionaries in Yokohama.—Rain all day—letter writing and various restful duties.
Aug 2: Rin and Riu were baptized today, and I do believe that from their heart they believe and love God. Their tears, their expressions of joy and gratitude took hold of my heart deeply.

[1] The Presbyterian Historical Society received the Thompson Papers in 2011, a collection that includes Mary Parke Thompson’s seven handwritten diaries. PHS volunteer Sue Althouse, herself a retired missionary to Japan, has been processing the Thompson Papers, and she has chosen excerpts from Mary’s diaries to share with readers. To see other excerpts, select the Mary Parke Thompson tag from the right hand menu of our full blog. Posts will be displayed in reverse chronological order.
[2] This is Mary’s first reference to “David” rather than “Mr. Thompson.”
[3] James H. Ballagh and John V. N. Talmage, both Reformed Church in America (RCA) missionaries; Talmage was based in Amoy. We have standardized the spelling of his last name in the text; Mary wrote both “Talmadge” and “Talmage.”
[4] Presbyterian missionary Rev. E. Rothesay Miller.
[5] Methodist Episcopal Church missionaries John Carroll Davison and Mary Elizabeth Stout Davison.
[6] William Elliot Griffis began teaching at the Kaisei Gakko in Tokyo in 1872.
[7] Dr. Peter V. Veeder, a Reformed Presbyterian Church minister from California, had arrived in Japan in 1871 to teach at the Kaisei Gakko. (Mary often spelled his last name as Veder but we have standardized it in the text to the correct “Veeder” to avoid confusion.) Presbyterian missionary Dr. D.B. McCartee, who had served in China, was in Japan teaching at Kaisei Gakko. Henry Faulds was a missionary for the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland.
[8] Presbyterian missionary Kate M. Youngman. Children as young as eight or nine were baby-sitters. If the baby was on someone’s back he couldn’t crawl away, knock over the charcoal brazier or get into any other trouble.
[9] RCA missionary Samuel R. Brown, American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) missionary Daniel Crosby Greene, Henry Faulds, and Presbyterian missionary Dr. James C. Hepburn.
[10] Foreign residents were not allowed to go outside the immediate area of a few treaty ports without a “passport” from the Japanese government.
[11] “Bon” or “O-Bon” is a mid-summer feast when the spirits of the dead are thought to come back to earth and are greeted with a traditional dance.
[12] The long kimono sleeves hang like a bag from the arms with a generous opening at the wrist. It is easy to slip things into this opening, so the kimono sleeve often is used as an auxiliary tote-bag.
[13] John Bingham was the U.S. ambassador to Japan.