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Religion Women's Issues

Modern Women Modernizing Men

The Changing Missions of Three Professional Women in Asia and Africa, 1902-69

by (author) Ruth Compton Brouwer

UBC Press
Initial publish date
Oct 2007
Women's Issues, Missions, Women's Studies, General
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Oct 2007
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  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Jan 2003
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  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Aug 2002
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During the interwar era, the world of mainstream Protestant missions was in transition. The once-dominant paradigm of separate spheres – “women’s work for women” – had lost its saliency, and professional women often entered work worlds largely peopled by men. Medical missionaries Belle Choné Oliver and Florence Murray and literature specialist Margaret Wrong were three such women.


Using these women’s experiences in colonial India, Korea, and sub-Saharan Africa as case studies, Modern Women Modernizing Men explores how professionalism, religion, and feminism came together to enable missionary women to become the colleagues and mentors of Western and non-Western men. The “modern” Christian woman missionary, the author demonstrates, was in fact more an agent of modernization than an angel of domesticity.


This book – a bold exploration of changing gender, professional, and race relations in colonial missionary settings – will be of interest to scholars engaged in gender, women’s, and postcolonial studies, as well as to readers interested in the history of the international missionary movement.

About the author


  • Short-listed, Sir John A. Macdonald Prize, Canadian Historical Association

Contributor Notes

Ruth Compton Brouwer is Chair of the Department of History, King's College, University of Western Ontario, and author of New Women for God: Canadian Presbyterian Women and India Missions, 1876-1914.

Editorial Reviews

An important interpretive work about women in overseas missions between the two world wars ... Brouwer is a master of condensed yet readable prose.

Canadian Literature, Summer 2003

Overall, Brouwer’s book is an important contribution on many levels and will appeal to a wide range of readers. It promotes an understanding of the history of missions and the specific knowledge about the role of women in these missions and their “feminist consciousness.”

University of Toronto Quarterly, Winter 2004/05

Ruth Compton Brouwer, who has previously published work on Canadian women missionaries, focuses, in this volume, on three individuals, Belle Choné Oliver, doctor. Administrator and advocate for Christian medical education in India, Florence Jessie Murrary, superintendent of a Mission Hospital in Japanese ruled Korea and, of most interest to readers of ARD, Margaret Wrong. Although Brouwer does not share the faith that motivated them and though she is sometimes critical of her subjects, the attitude underlying Modern Women Modernizing Men is one of respect and enthusiasm.

African Research and Documentation, No 97, 2005

Ruth Compton Brouwer has followed her previous work on women and missions in the 19th century with a meticulously researched and elegantly written book that brings the historical examination of “women’s work” into the 20th century. Brouwer examines the import of that choice for readers in as thoughtful and careful a way as she seems to think each of these women lived their lives. Her study is of great value to the modern historian and its comparative worth makes it of value well beyond Canadian missions. Brouwer’s meticulous research and notations make this a most valuable research document.

Studies in Religion, 33/3-4 2004

Brouwer’s deep admiration for these women is evident as she writes about them.

Presbyterian History, Vol. 47, No.1

A fascinating examination of missions and modernization in the late colonial period ... Brouwer upholds her usual high standard of scholarship, with meticulous research in archives, interviews, and varieties of missionary literature. I recommend this book to everyone with a serious interest in mission history.

International Bulletin of Missionary Research Vol 27, No 4

Other titles by Ruth Compton Brouwer