The Journey of Mary Eddy Kidder, Pioneer in Women's Education in Modern Japan

by Tabei Yoshiro, principal
Ferris Jogakuin Junior and Senior High School
Ferris Jogakuin, Japan’s first school for women, was started by Mary
Eddy Kidder. Kidder was the first missionary woman to Japan, arriving
from the U.S. in September 1870.The school got its start when Kidder
began to teach in one of the infirmary rooms of the Presbyterian medical
missionary, Dr. James Hepburn. (The infirmary was located at Foreign
Settlement # 39 Yamashita-cho in Yokohama.) Kidder’s students were
pupils of Hepburn’s wife, some of whom were young women. Japan was in
the third year of the Meiji Era, and although modernization had begun,
Christianity was still prohibited. At a time when it was hardly
imaginable for a woman to be educated, Kidder offered women an education
based on Christian principles.

Kidder was born in Wardsboro, Vermont in 1834 and as a teenager dreamed
of going abroad as a missionary. She realized her dream at the age of
35. By the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate, Protestant missionaries were
coming to Japan in rapid succession, one of whom was the Reverend Dr.
S.R. Brown of the Dutch Reformed Church in America, later to become the
Reformed Church in America (RCA). In speeches in the U.S., Brown
emphasized the need to educate women in order to modernize Japan.
Recognizing her faith and strong call to foreign missions, Brown
encouraged his Foreign Board of Missions to accept Kidder, then teaching
in a private school, as an educational missionary to Japan.

Soon after Kidder began her classes, girls heard about them and began to
gather in the small room where she was teaching. Among those students,
girls eager to study had to struggle continually to persuade their
parents, who saw no need for them to study. As the number of students
increased, Kidder was able to find an ally in the vice-governor of
Kanagawa Prefecture, Ooe Taku. He gave her permission to move her
classes to the prefectural residence. Meanwhile, with financial aid
coming from the U.S. church, school buildings and a dormitory were built
on the present school location at 178 Yamanote (in Yokohama). On June 1,
1875, an impressive dedication of the new school building was held, and
the following year the formal name of the school became Isaac Ferris
Seminary.

The school name “Ferris” is in recognition of Isaac Ferris and his son
John. Both father and son served as head of the RCA’s foreign missions’
program, and under their leadership many Japanese exchange students and
delegations were received in the U.S., while at the same time many
missionaries, including Kidder, were sent abroad. Since that time,
Ferris Jogakuin has been supported by the women’s board of RCA’s Global
Missions.

The educational ideals of the school, based on the Christian faith, were
to develop responsible family members, train persons to be the educators
of the future, and insure the acquisition of the knowledge and culture
required to meet these ideals. Since then, many who became leaders in
the development of women’s education in Japan have been nurtured at
Ferris. In particular, many of the women presently involved in higher
education for women at the university level have a Ferris background. In
fulfillment of the educational ideals that Kidder pioneered, graduates
of Ferris Jogakuin have continued to be on the front line of women’s
education in Japan.

In 1873 Kidder married Presbyterian missionary Rothesay Miller. Fully
understanding the importance of his wife’s work, Miller became a
missionary of the RCA following the marriage. Soon the reputation of
Ferris Jogakuin spread, and young women from across Japan were coming to
the school. Some came from as far away as Nagasaki, wanting an education
to prepare them to be pastors’ wives. Others came at the encouragement
of progressive parents or guardians.

In 1881 Kidder, whose devoted efforts gave birth to Ferris Jogakuin and
built its early foundation, turned over the administration of the school
to its second principal, Eugene S. Booth. Leaving her role as educator,
she then served in the field of evangelism with her husband. Their
service from 1888 to 1902 in the cold of Morioka in Iwate Prefecture is
well-known. While she and her husband were involved in evangelism across
Japan, Kidder was also publishing articles for children and families in
a small monthly magazine called Yorokobi no Otozure (visit of joy). In
particular, she worked to enhance the position of women and children in
Japanese society.

Kidder’s 41-year journey in Japan was not just as the founder of Ferris
Jogakuin. It was the rich journey of a woman missionary lived to its
fullest. This year the city of Yokohama celebrated the 150th anniversary
of the opening of its port. It is also the 150th anniversary of
Protestant evangelism in Japan. Next year, Ferris Jogakuin will
celebrate the 140th anniversary of its founding, which will also be the
140th anniversary of women’s education in Japan. We at Ferris Jogakuin
take pride in remembering that the foundation for women’s education in
Japan today is due to the strong faith of a young Christian missionary
woman and her strong commitment to women’s education. (Tr. JS)