Nannie B. Gaines—Teacher, Educator, Missionary, and Founder of Hiroshima Jogakuin

Although the MECS (Methodist Episcopal Church, South) was one of the last denominations to begin work in Japan, starting in 1886, it has influenced the education and the spiritual life of hundreds of thousands of young people since then. Much of the inspiration that touched the lives of students was the result of the lives of dedicated missionaries who left the safety and comfort of their homes to travel to a distant country to work in the field of education.

Walter Russell Lambuth came to Japan from China in 1886 with his father, James William Lambuth, who had been there as a medical missionary. Shortly after their arrival, they received a request from Sunamoto Teikichi, a young Japanese minister, who requested a missionary from the U.S. to help him teach at the school he had begun for young women in his hometown of Hiroshima. Bishop Lambuth’s call to the MECS Mission Board resulted in the arrival of 27-year-old Nannie B. Gaines in 1887. For the next 45 years, as principal and principal emeritus, Gaines dedicated her life to Hiroshima Jogakuin, transforming it from a storefront school for girls to the first government-approved teacher training school for women in Hiroshima. Except for the years during World War II, Hiroshima Jogakuin would have an unbroken line of 73 missionaries, who would serve the school for more than 100 years.

Gaines captured the excitement and anxiety of arriving in a new country and embarking on a new mission: “I am sorry that every missionary cannot be the first recruit to a new and small mission. There is something inspiring in the fact that faith and trust in God are the only means, and it remains to be proven whether the work is to succeed or not.” She arrived late one evening and began teaching the next morning. Sunamoto and the Lambuths had assembled about 30 students for the young teacher—not just young girls, but women married to government officials, army officers, and professional men. This was to be the first attempt at “higher” education for women in Hiroshima.

Gaines’ early years at Eiwa Jogakko were filled with enormous challenges. Teachers had to be found; buildings had to be built; and the anti-Christian attitude among the conservative Hiroshima residents had to be overcome. When Gaines arrived, she not only brought a trunk with her personal things but also a piano, and one of the first things she did was to set up a music department within the school. By 1890, the first school building was up and operating. She was then approached by government officials, asking if she would start a kindergarten as well. She agreed and quickly built a new kindergarten building.

Unfortunately, in late 1891, a double tragedy struck. First the new kindergarten building was irreparably damaged by a late-summer typhoon, which was followed by a late-night fire that destroyed the main school building. However, Gaines was not to be easily defeated, and she continued classes in rented buildings and living rooms of supporters until new buildings could be constructed. Urgent appeals to the MECS Mission Board brought the permission to rebuild, and the girls’ school and kindergarten reopened in 1892. An elementary school was added in 1893.

In 1895, the school changed its name to Hiroshima Jogakko to attract a broader range of students and to come into line with the Japanese curriculum without losing its missionary foundation. By then, the Japanese government had come to realize the importance of establishing schools for young women and looked to Gaines’ school as a model. In 1906, the school required an enlargement of its facilities and took on the status of koto jogakko (girls’ higher school), in accordance with government requirements. The school continued to grow in numbers and influence, with most of the city’s prominent citizens sending their daughters there, which insured financial support and status.

In 1916, Nannie B. Gaines was joined in Hiroshima by her younger sister, Rachel C. Gaines—which must have given her great comfort and support. Although not formally a missionary when she arrived, Rachel took on the teaching and outreach activities performed by other missionaries. In order to provide for her younger sister’s eventual retirement, Gaines put aside part of her own pension to take care of her sister. However, when money was required for the purchase of additional land for another building, as required by the Ministry of Education, Gaines did not hesitate to withdraw the entire amount of $10,000 for the purchase. Turning aside offers of private housing, the Gaines sisters insisted on living in the school dormitory building. Eventually, when a new dormitory was built, a private apartment was designed in the east wing for them. This is where Nannie B. Gaines spent the last part of her life. Rachel C. Gaines was a pillar of Hiroshima Jogakuin for 26 years, staying on even after her sister died. Her dedication to the school was such that it became her life’s work.

By 1919, the school had 700 students and Gaines was considering retirement. However, just then, she was asked by the prefectural and city authorities to create a teacher training program for middle school and high school teachers of English, music, and domestic science. This meant that the school could be upgraded to junior college status, which she was happy to do. But it also required additional buildings and another round of grueling fundraising among friends and acquaintances on both sides of the Pacific Ocean. Miraculously, yet again, the money came in little by little, and once the funding was secured, Gaines could relax once more.

Finally, the time was right for Gaines to hand over the running of her school to someone else. Upon the recommendation of Bishop Lambuth, Rev. Stephen A. Stewart became Hiroshima Jogakuin’s second principal, with Gaines taking the title of Principal Emeritus. This freed her to devote the rest of her life to evangelical work in Japan as well as in Korea and Taiwan, then in the Japanese colonies. She requested an automobile for her work and received what was termed the first “missionary Ford,” which took her to villages around western Japan. She also became active in the Y.W.C.A. movement and became good friends with Kawai Michi and Tsuda Umeko, who were also influential Christian educators for women.
Gaines received several commendations from the Japanese government for her service to education, but the most significant official recognition was her audience with the Crown Prince in 1926, during his visit to Hiroshima. Along with other prominent Hiroshima residents, Gaines was also invited to the royal audience. Wearing a borrowed gown and hat, Gaines represented Hiroshima Jogakuin, giving the school even greater status and recognition.

Toward the end of her life, Gaines had already become a beloved and respected institution within Hiroshima. She was an important influence in the lives of several generations of young women, who would themselves become influential teachers and homemakers. Around this time she wrote, “There is nothing that matters so much to me as the success of this school. It is not simply because my life has gone into it, but because of the work it should do for the women of the Orient.”

When Nannie B. Gaines arrived in Hiroshima as the first MESC missionary in 1887, she was the first of 73 missionaries who would follow her. Gaines Hall commemorates her at the junior/senior high school and Gaines Chapel at the university, but her real legacy is the modern 21st century educational institution that Hiroshima Jogakuin has become.

—Ronald Klein, professor
Hiroshima Jogakin