Nursing Body, Mind, and Country: Missionary Nurses and the Hope Hospital School of Nursing in Xiamen, China

Student Author(s)

Katelyn Dickerson

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Gloria Tseng

Document Type


Event Date



This paper is a case study based on the notes, periodicals, and letters of Western missionaries and Chinese Christians affiliated with the Reformed Church in America, found at the Joint Archives of Holland. These sources reveal that the relationship between missionaries and the local Chinese was much more nuanced than the stereotypical images of missionary “imperialists.” This paper seeks to answer the question: What role did missionary nurses play in the lives of their Chinese students during the early twentieth century? Missionary nurses in China during the early twentieth century were essential to the development of modern nursing in China and the promotion of nontraditional career paths for Chinese women. Nurses associated with the Reformed Church in America, such as Jeannette Veldman, Jean Nienhuis, and Jessie Platz, recognized the need for nursing in China and attempted to fill it by creating a nursing school. The school was affiliated with the R.C.A. mission, which encompassed the Hope and Wilhelmina Hospital in Xiamen, China. The missionary nurses admitted young Chinese women who had an interest in a nontraditional path. By educating local women in the science of nursing, the missionary nurses were giving their students an opportunity not available to women in traditional Chinese society. Western nurses encouraged Chinese nursing students to overcome traditional ARTS & HUMANITIES 9 barriers in the areas of dress, gender relations, and women’s role in society. Through the unique relationship that they formed with the young women, missionary nurses were able to aid their students in pushing these boundaries. The cross-cultural friendships formed were based on mutual trust and respect, allowing the missionaries to play a significant role in the lives of their students. Thus, contrary to popular belief, missionaries were forming meaningful relationships with the local people, which were built upon the pillars of faith, friendship, and professionalism.


This research was supported by a Jacob E. Nyenhuis Student/Faculty Collaborative Research Grant.

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