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Mary Porter Gamewell

Mary Porter was born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania on October 20, 1848. Both of her well-to-do parents, Nathaniel Porter and Maria Killingley Porter, had been born and raised in England and later met and married in Pennsylvania. Mary was the second of five children. The family settled in 1860 in Davenport, Iowa where Mary had the example of an enterprising mother; Maria Porter had already earned a degree from the Woman's Medical College in Philadelphia in 1859. When the Civil War broke out, Maria Porter helped found the Soldiers' Orphans' Home of Iowa.

Mary Porter herself was educated in public schools in Allegheny and Davenport, graduating from high school in the Iowa town in 1868 after taking a year off to teach at the Soldiers' Orphans' Home when it was moved to Davenport. From there she spent two years teaching a variety of subjects at the Grandview Academy nearby. By then she had determined on a career as a missionary and joined the two year old Woman's Foreign Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

She arrived in China in late 1871 and took up the work of beginning a school for young female converts at the Methodist Mission in Beijing (Peking). The Methodist mission to China was still in its early days, having been only in the capital since 1869. After twelve years of continuous work in north China, she met and married fellow Methodist missionary Francis Dunlap Gamewell, a recent New Jersey graduate of Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and almost ten years her junior. Despite her seniority, her marriage meant that she was no longer a part of the Woman's Mission and she became attached to her husband's work. Accordingly, when he was appointed as Superintendent of the West China Mission in 1884, she left her school and followed. This missionary effort soon ended with the riots in Chongquing (Chungking) which expelled all the Christian missions from the city in July, 1886.

First Mary, and then her husband, returned to the United States. Frank studied physics at Columbia University for a time, and then the couple returned to China, where Frank taught at the Beijing University and Mary returned to her work with girl's education. Mary's health had, however, begun to deteriorate and she spent some time in the United States in 1896. The couple was due for another leave of absence away from China in the summer of 1900, but they were trapped in the city for the duration of the Boxer Rebellion and the celebrated siege of the foreign legations. Gamewell played an important part in the defense of the British Legation, and Mary Porter Gamewell maintained a detailed account which later was published.

In August 1900, after the siege was lifted, Mary left Beijing and China. She never returned. Her health was, by this time, ruined. Although she was active in writing and raising money for missionary efforts, she never fully recovered her health, and she died from a series of strokes in the home of her sister in New Jersey on November 27, 1906.

Please visit the following link for materials authored by Mary Porter Gamewell maintained in the Their Own Words database:

Gamewell, Mary Porter, 1848-1906.

Researched, authored, and edited by John Osborne, Ph. D., and James Gerencser.

Page created: July 2, 2003                                            close window