Notable Missionaries

Dr. John G. Kerr traveled to Guangzhou, China in 1854 and took over the Canton Christian Hospital and the work of Dr. Happer. Over his tenure in China, Dr. Kerr was prolific in translating medical texts in China, was president of the Chinese Medical Missionary Association, and established the first psychiatric hospital in China in 1898. He married Martha Noyes in 1886; he had been married twice before. He had two children with his second wife: Joseph and Olivia. They are both mentioned in the letters, the former being called Josie and appearing to be a troublemaker and the latter being referred to as Hattie. Dr. Kerr died in Guangzhou, still working as a medical missionary, on August 10, 1901, at the age of 77. 

Click here to read a letter from Dr. Kerr.

Dr. Andrew Happer was the first of the mission to settle in Guangzhou in 1844. He was the founder of Canton Christian College (now Lingnan University) and served for 47 years in South China. Despite his medical background, the focus of Happer’s ministry was education and evangelization. He established a boys' boarding school in Macao in 1845, which was moved to a suburb of the city in 1847. Happer then established a medical dispensary in Guangzhou, which he turned over to Dr. John G. Kerr in 1854. Upon the death of his wife in 1864, Happer was left to take care of their five children. He took a furlough again in 1867, returning to China in 1870, and was appointed pastor to the First Church in Guangzhou until 1885. He was appointed as an editor of the Chinese Recorder and Missionary Journal in 1880. In 1884, Happer again returned to America as both he and his third wife were critically ill. Happer returned to China in 1888, after fundraising in America for a nondenominational college, and established the college in Guangzhou. Happer left China for the final time in 1891 and spent the last three years of his life in retirement in Wooster, Ohio while keeping tabs on his college in China.

Electa M. Butler was sent to Guangzhou by the Board of Foreign Missions in 1881. Upon her arrival, Electa immediately began teaching calisthenics at the True Light Seminary. Additionally, Electa wanted to start a kindergarten at True Light, but was turned down by the Board. A lifelong friend of Harriet Noyes, the two returned to the United States together in 1923. On the event of the 50th anniversary of Harriet's arrival in China, Electa Butler wrote the Appendix to Light in the Land of Sinim.

Click here to read a letter from Electa.

Frank Field Ellinwood was the secretary for the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions from 1871-1906. As such, he was responsible for providing the funds that the missionaries in Guangzhou required. Mr. Ellinwood visited China periodically in order to check in on the work of missionaries supported by the Presbyterian Church. When he came to Hong Kong, it was necessary for someone to meet with him. This responsibility often fell either to Henry Varnum Noyes or Dr. Happer and is written about in a few letters.

Click here to read a letter from F. F. Ellinwood.

Dr. Mary West Niles began to live with Harriet at True Light upon her arrival in 1882, while she worked under Dr. Kerr at Canton Hospital. In 1883, Dr. Niles was the first woman practicing at Canton Hospital, working in women's and children's medicine. At an 1885 meeting of the Medical Missionaries Association, Dr. J.C. Thomson suggested she be appointed physician. After this, Dr. Niles created a women's dispensary in 1885, which was closed in 1888. Dr. Niles also gave time to translating texts, especially about obstetrics. In 1889, she established the Ming Sum School, a school for the blind, of whom she was particularly dedicated to treating. Dr. Niles spent her last months with her brother in the United States and passed away in California in 1933.

James Walter Lowrie was born in Shanghai, the son of Reuben Post Lowrie, a missionary to China, and grandson of Walter Lowrie, the first secretary to the Board of Foreign Missions. When James Walter Lowrie's father died in 1860 (when he was 4). Lowrie's mother moved the young family back to New Jersey, where Lowrie completed his education and waited for his call to mission work. In 1883, Lowrie was ordained and appointed a missionary by the Presbyterian Board to China, stationed in Peking. Rev. Lowrie was famous for his good handling of the Chinese language. Additionally, around 1893, he established a mission in Paotingfu, which was attacked by Boxers in 1900. In 1910, he became First Chairman to the China Council, an executive board overseeing the 7 missions in China of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. Despite its penchant for unrest, he spent his last days in Paotingfu and passed away in 1929.

Mary H. Fulton graduated with her M.D. in 1884 and went to Guangzhou the same year to join her brother, Albert, and his wife, who had become missionaries two years prior. Dr. Fulton created a dispensary in Guiping, where there was not a single other missionary. She was aided instead by her Chinese assistant, Mrs. Mei Yagui, who had also trained under Dr. Kerr. A new hospital was erected in Guiping in 1886 but was burned down. After this event, Dr. Fulton did not return to Guiping. Instead, she returned to Guangzhou and created a women's dispensary near Canton Hospital in 1888. In 1891, she established another women's dispensary with Dr. Niles. During this period, Dr. Fulton was often on rural expeditions. Dr. Fulton was responsible for taking care of the women at Canton Hospital from 1897 until 1900. During her tenure, Dr. Fulton became the most important woman physician in the hospital and medical school, as Dr. Niles was dedicated to treating the blind. 

Harriette Lewis was an evangelistic missionary who arrived in Canton in 1883. Her mission work extended as far as Hong Kong and she often traveled to reach more isolated communities. Miss Lewis is commonly mentioned alongside Miss Electa Butler as the two women lived and worked together. Miss Lewis left Canton in 1922.

Letter from Hattie to Em, May 4, 1868

Information about the Prestons' missionary work

Reverend Charles Finney Preston came to Canton in 1853. Not much is known about him outside of the Noyes correspondences. Mr. Preston, as he is called in the correspondences, is credited with an extraordinary facility in learning the Chinese language, prompting him to preach in that language and become, as Harriet says, "a very efficient missionary." Preston wrote and published "Summary of the Five [?Changs?] of the Holy Book" (which is likely the Pentateuch) in Chinese in 1866. Rev. Preston passed away in 1877 in Hong Kong.


“Biographical Index of Missionaries- China,” 2015,

Blum, N., & Fee, E. (2008). The First Mental Hospital in China. American Journal of Public Health, 98(9), 1593. 

“Butler, Electa M.,” n.d., Presbyterian Historical Society,

"Electa M. Butler in the U.S., Passport Applications, 1795-1925," n.d.,

“Ellinwood, Frank Field,” n.d., Presbyterian Historical Society,

“Ellinwood, Frank Field (1826-1908),” n.d.,

Ellinwood, Mary Gridley. Frank Field Ellinwood: His Life and Work. New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1911.

“Fulton, Mary Hannah,” n.d., Presbyterian Historical Society,

“Happer, Andrew Patton,” n.d., Presbyterian Historical Society,

"Harriette Lewis in the U.S., Passport Applications, 1795-1925," n.d.

“James Walter Lowrie,” n.d.,

“Kerr, John Glasgow,” n.d., Presbyterian Historical Society, 

“Lewis, Harriette,” n.d., Presbyterian Historical Society,

“Lowrie, James Walter,” n.d., Presbyterian Historical Society,

“Many Victims: Names of American Missionaries Thought to Have Perished at Peking.” Democrat and Chronicle, July 7, 1900.

McCartee, David B. and Robert E. Speer. A Missionary Pioneer in the Far East. Flemming H Revell Company: New York, 1922.

Memorials of Protestant Missionaries to the Chinese: Giving a List of Their Publications, and Obituary Notices of the Deceased. Shanghai: American Presbyterian Mission Press, 1867.

Ming Sum School for the Blind, Fong Tseun Canton, China, 1889-1939. American Foundation for the Blind, 1939.

“Niles, Mary West,” n.d., Presbyterian Historical Society,

“Preston, Charles Finney,” n.d., Presbyterian Historical Society,

Speer, Robert E. “The Missions in China.” In Presbyterian Foreign Missions, p. 99-135. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath-School Work, 1901.

The Eighty-Sixth Annual Report of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America. New York: Presbyterian Building, 1923.

Xu, Guangqiu. American Doctors in Canton. New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 2011.