Isabella Thoburn

From Ohio History Central

Historically, numerous church denominations have actively sought converts. Many churches send missionaries to other countries hoping to find converts. While this practice remains common for some denominations today, during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, missionary activity was much more prevalent than it is today.

Isabella Thoburn was the first woman Methodist Episcopal Church missionary to India. She was born in Belmont County, Ohio, in 1840. Upon reaching adulthood, Thoburn served as a schoolteacher and then became a nurse with the Union Army during the American Civil War. Thoburn was a devout member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and in 1869, church officials selected her to be a missionary to India.

Upon arriving in India, Thoburn began to establish a high school for Indian women. She managed to create this institution, but Thoburn's poor health soon caused her to return to the United States. Despite her health difficulties, Thoburn remained committed to charity work and moved to Chicago, Illinois, where she served as deaconess and eventually superintendent of the Deaconess Home. In 1888, she moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where she established the Elizabeth Gamble Deaconess Home Association. In Cincinnati, Thoburn also played an instrumental role in founding Christ Hospital, and she served as this institution's first superintendent from 1888 to 1890.

Thoburn eventually returned to India to continue her missionary work there. She died in India in 1901.

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