"Truth of any kind is food for the soul."

The Rev. Jesse Caswell, 1841

Friday, November 30, 2012

Elizabeth McGilvary

One of the fascinating stories of Presbyterian missionary history in northern Thailand has to do with Evander McGilvary (1864-1953), son of the Rev. Daniel and Sophia McGilvary.  He served briefly as a missionary in Chiang Mai himself but left the mission because of his modernist theological views (see here for the details).  McGilvary later became a philosopher of some note and for many years served as the chair of the Philosophy Department of the University of Wisconsin.  We know a good deal about him.

We know far, far less about his wife, Elizabeth Paton McGilvary.  In fact, in the missionary records about all we have about her is that she married Evander.  It turns out that some basic information about her life plus a news article reporting her death is available on line at findagrave.com (here).  She was born 26 November 1872 and belonged to a "well-known family" from Orange, New Jersey.  Her father was Robert L. S. Paton and her mother was Henreitta (Bayles).  She would have met Evander while he was studying at Princeton Seminary.  She was apparently known as "Bessie" and at one time taught French at the University of Wisconsin.  The clipping (shown here) says that she was "active socially."  That's still not a lot of information, but it is an improvement.

As a rule, it is much harder to find information on missionary wives than it is on either the men or single women.  The wives left mission business and correspondence to their husbands.  The single women had to take care of things for themselves.  The consequence is that missionary wives generally remain in the shadows.  Any time we can lift the veil on their shadowy existence, it is a good thing.