Mary Hesser, Founder of Hokuriku Gakuin, and Francina Porter, Founder of Japan’s oldest Kindergarten
Along the coast of the Japan Sea on the main island of Honshu are the prefectures of Toyama, Ishikawa, and Fukui, which make up the Hokuriku Region. In the early Meiji Period, this region was greatly impacted by the missionaries sent to Kanazawa from the Northern Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.: Thomas C. Winn and his wife Eliza C. Winn.
Mary K. Hesser
Along with church planting, Thomas taught at a private boys’ junior high school, which he had established. Along with opening an orphanage, Eliza was the first person in the area with the idea of establishing a school for women.
Through their request to the Presbyterian mission board, Mary Hesser, known as the “German wind,” was also sent to Kanazawa. Mary was born in Erie, Pennsylvania in 1853. As her parents were from a German Catholic background, she attended both Catholic parochial schools and free schools, and following graduation, became a seamstress. However, at the age of 25, Mary entered Western Female Seminary, and upon her graduation in 1882, on the recommendation of the seminary president, was sent to Kanazawa as a missionary. In April 1885, she founded Kanazawa Girls’ School, which began as place for advanced education with 23 students. Gradually its reputation grew, and Kanazawa Girls’ School found itself in need of expanding its facility and became a fully developed school.
Mary Hesser persevered through various hardships in her administration of the school. Increased state control of education created difficulty in obtaining teachers, and the use of the Bible in education was forbidden as well. In addition, there was the lack of understanding and the jealousy of ordinary people. However, as a convert to Protestantism from Roman Catholicism, she was “a person of faith, a person of prayer.”
Endeavoring to usher in a new era of women’s education, she designated Psalm 111:10 as the school’s motto: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” She had two younger seminary graduates from her alma mater sent to help revise the institution, its curriculum, and even its name. In this way, Mary Hesser became the founder of Hokuriku Gakuin University, but it took a heavy toll on her body. In 1894, she passed away in California at the age of 41.
Francina C. Porter
Inspired by the above-mentioned Mary Hesser’s women’s school in Kanazawa, Francina C. Porter founded the oldest kindergarten and a private elementary school in the Hokuriku district.
Born in Riceville, Tennessee in 1859, she attended Merriville College in Tennessee, majoring in English. Upon graduation in 1882, she was sent as a Presbyterian missionary to teach English in Kanazawa at a school whose president was her older brother, who had come to Japan one year earlier as a Presbyterian missionary.
At first, the Children’s School she opened was intended to have both a kindergarten and an elementary school. At that time, there were no kindergartens or private elementary schools in Hokuriku. Through the introduction of Thomas Winn, she met with Maria True at the Sakurai Women’s School in Tokyo and asked for her assistance. Upon True’s return to the United States, she found Elizabeth Milliken, a preschool educational expert, who came to Japan to head up the department of preschool education at Sakurai Women’s School. Francina also met a woman in Nagoya named Yoshida Etsu, and after having her study childhood education for a year, had her come to be a teacher at Eiwa Kindergarten, which she founded in 1886. She established the Eiwa Elementary School the same year, bringing in a teacher from Kanazawa Church.
At the time, theories of childhood education in Japan were very underdeveloped, and there was a great scarcity of Christian educators. Added to this was the need to renovate the buildings. These factors made it a very difficult time. Furthermore, the kindergarten and elementary school found themselves in the middle of the “storm of crisis in Christian education.”
With strong will and determination, Francina endeavored to develop childhood education, of which there were few examples in Japan. Despite the central government’s many obstacles, she was able to keep the Eiwa Elementary School in continued operation until it was forced to close in 1903. It is said that Francina, who was hospitalized in California, cried through the night when she heard of this.
Through the wisdom and perseverance of Francina and her successors at Eiwa Kindergarten, the legacy of country’s oldest Christian kindergarten has had a lasting and continuing impact in the field of early education in Japan.
After having recovered from her hospitalization, Francina Porter returned to Japan, where she was able to continue to pursue her passion and opened another kindergarten in Kyoto. Later, in 1939, she passed away in California at the age of 79. (Tr. AKO)
—Umezome Nobuo, head
Historical Archives of Hokuriku Gakuin University
Kanazawa, Chubu District