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Nursing Missionary Stories from the PHS Collections

May 13, 2020
Marjorie Faught in bomb hole, 1938. (Pearl ID: 5393)

Nurses are among the hundreds of Presbyterians who have devoted their lives to sharing the Gospel message of love for others in fields afar.

Providing quality health care is challenging and exhausting work in the best of times. In the first half of the twentieth century, missionary nurses overseas often found themselves working in difficult conditions in remote locations or serving patients during times of war.

Below are a selection of stories and images from the Presbyterian Historical Society’s collections that celebrate the dedication and compassion of these caring individuals.

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The Marjorie Faught Papers (RG 318) document the service of Marjorie Faught in Ethiopia and India. The majority of the collection is comprised of photograph albums and scrapbooks, but also includes some home letters.

Faught was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1907. She graduated in 1928 from the Lankenau Hospital Training School for Nurses with a specialization in obstetrics and gynecology, applied to the Women's General Missionary Society of the United Presbyterian Church of North America, and was assigned to the George Memorial Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1933.

Due to war conditions in Ethiopia, Faught was transferred to the Sialkot Mission in 1941, where she spent five years working in the Sialkot and Taxila Hospitals. In 1947 she returned to Ethiopia, this time to the Orr Memorial Hospital in Sayo, where she started a baby clinic in 1948. In 1957 Faught was reassigned to the remote Maji Station, where she managed a mission clinic that served people of eight different tribes and saw over 5,000 patients a year. She retired from the Ethiopia Mission in 1972.

Clara Hedberg Bruen served as a missionary nurse in Korea from 1923 to 1944 with the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. The Foreign Missionary Vertical File we hold for Bruen includes a “personal” report to the Board of Foreign Missions in 1925-1926 containing some humorous anecdotes about her experience working as a nurse in the Taiku Hospital, including the time she caused a “strike” among patients and their families by implementing best practices in the field of nursing. 

"Strikes are not unheard of in Chosen [Korea]..." Clara Hedberg Bruen report, circa 1926. From RG 360. Click here for larger image of report.

Bruen was the superintendent of the Nurses Training School at the mission hospital in Taiku. Born in Bessemer, Pennsylvania, in 1898, she graduated from the Youngstown Hospital Training School in Ohio in 1919 as an R.N. A member of the First Presbyterian Church in Bessemer, Pennsylvania, she married Henry Bruen, a fellow missionary, on September 4, 1934. The image below shows Clara with other nurses in training.

Nurses in Training School, Taiku, RG 223 (Pearl ID: 7154)

A missionary nurse in China under the Board of World Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S., Lucy Grier was the daughter of missionaries. She graduated from the Shanghai American School in 1924 and majored in biology at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia. She earned her R.N. in 1931 from the Presbyterian Hospital School of Nursing in New York City, where she trained as a nurse midwife.

Lucy Grier, n.d. From RG 360. 

From 1933 until 1940, Grier worked at the Elizabeth Blake Hospital in Soochow, China, where she delivered many babies. The 1934 Annual Report of the Elizabeth Blake Hospital (Pearl ID: 90767) mentions Grier and the work of the hospital that included its Training School for Nurses. When the Japanese attacked Soochow in 1937, Grier and fellow missionary Dr. Mason Pressly Young helped evacuate psychiatric patients out of the city to safety. The following letters from Dr. Young and Ms. Grier recount this experience.

"Dear Friends" letter written in 1938 by Dr. Young and Lucy Grier. Click here to view more letters.

After returning to the United States in 1940, Grier taught on the faculty of Montreat College and served as the college nurse until her retirement in 1970.

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A few of the collections that researchers may consult at PHS to learn more about these courageous medical workers are the Missionary Correspondence Department Letters, 1919-2000 (RG 510), the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Commission on Ecumenical Mission and Relations Records, 1833-1966 (RG 209), and the Foreign Missionary Vertical Files (RG 360/RG 424), as well as the personal papers for various nurses. Available in our Sheppard database is a list of foreign mission personnel in our collections who served as nurses and nurse assistants.

You may wish to search our Guides to Archival Collections as a first step to viewing record collections in our holdings. You may also explore our collections by accessing Pearl, our online digital repository. Pearl contains images, audio recordings, video clips, manuscripts, and other materials from our holdings. If you have questions about any of our collections and services, please contact the PHS reference desk.