Bible Women and Reformers


Strawn, Lee-Ellen. “Korean Bible Women’s Success: Usint the Anbang Network and Religious Authority of the Mudang.” Journal of Korean Religions 3, no. 1 (April 2012): 117–49.

The article “Protestant Bible Education for Women: First Steps in Professional Education for Modern Korean Women” by Lee-Ellen Strawn argues that the education of Korean Bible women by Protestant women missionaries in the Korean language and the Bible opened up the door for leadership positions for women as well as became the first step in obtaining professional education for women in Korea. Educational opportunities given Korean women by American women missionaries were not based on wealth or social status and enabled women from all levels of society a chance for self-betterment and ultimately social mobility.

Tyrrell, Ian. Reforming the World: The Creation of America’s Moral Empire. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010.

Ian Tyrell’s Reforming the World: The Creation of America’s Moral Empire, is an important source for understanding the impact of American missionaries, not only in the countries that they served, but in America and in the networks that they produced. Tyrell argues that American imperial history cannot be looked at only through the ideas of formal empire as seen in American economics and politics, but must also include the nation’s export of Protestant morals, which helped shaped the course of America’s cultural expansion.

Tyrell points to a number of moral reformers, including missionaries, temperance advocates, and Christian groups such as the YMCA, as creating intersections where moral reform and Protestant evangelical culture collided with US empire building, colonialism, growing ideas of capitalism and politics of race and temperance at home and abroad. Their efforts found them lobbying at home for a “moral” head of the empire while promoting Protestant values across the globe, using inroads created by American interests. This intertwining of “Christian evangelical networks operating on a transnational level and formal empire” form the basis of Tyrell’s work.[1]


[1] Ian Tyrrell, Reforming the World: The Creation of America’s Moral Empire (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010).


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5 Responses to Bible Women and Reformers

  1. Claire

    Hi Faith,

    What did you think about Tyrrell’s argument regarding the effect moral reformers had on the American political landscape? Do you see the same thing happening with the American missionaries to Korea you are looking at? Were they also interested in moral reform at home?


    • faithskiles

      Hi Claire!

      Thanks for the question!

      Korean missionaries were actually in a very different circumstances than many missionaries abroad. First, their work started later than most, very late 19th century and in 1907 the American legation to Korea left, as America recognized Japan’s “interest” in Korea. By 1910, Korea became a full-fledged colony of Japan. A lot of the moral lessons American missionaries produced towards governments actually became directed at Japan. I will however, be looking to see if they were interested in moral reform at home…so far, I’ve only seen moral reform focused at Japan, but it is very early. I think the Korean Repository I am reading now may bring light in this area. Also, I know missionaries did produce networks to work together in Korea.

  2. KJ

    Following up on Claire’s comment, I wonder if you will find instances in which the situation of women in Korea became a moral lesson or cautionary tale for American women? I’m thinking a focus on gender that I suspect Tyrrell didn’t include?

    • faithskiles

      Hi Dr. Jones,

      I did find an instance where the situation of women in Korea became a moral lesson for men in general, Korean and American. In an article in the Korean Repository, a male writer, whom I don’t know the identity of as yet, commented on the seclusion of women in Korea. In Confucian society, because of the idea of yin and yang, they believe man is strong and woman weak…even in virtue. The author writes, “the necessity of it (seclusion) is a terrible comment on the awful dominance of vice in men, not out of the weakness of woman’s virtue.” The author’s lesson is obvious.

  3. Kate Good

    I’m glad you’re using Tyrrell — he’s a great source for your missionary historiography and an interesting read on top of it! I don’t know how “modern” you’re looking to go, but perhaps including a small thing about how the missionaries actually left a lasting legacy of “Americanizing” and “moralizing” the world and how we have placed ourselves in international affairs as an actual empire, not just anti-imperialist?

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