THE CONCERNED AND
Bishop Thoburn, Mary travels by steamship her to next post at the
Methodist Girls School founded by
There she confronts a new set of challenges and thanks to her training, she overcomes them.
However, it seems that as fast as she trains teachers, they depart for other schools. Homesickness and loneliness afflict her and
she seeks new friends, but dismisses a suitor who followed her to Singapore.
The Singapore Years
In the fall months of Mary’s stay in Manila, it was rumored
that there was a kindegarten in Singapore, partially or inadequately
directed. A kindergarten of 80 children in their Methodist Girl’s
School was without a trained teacher and four young girl graduates
of their High School were needing "direction" as kindergarten teach-
ers. Then next, Bishop Thoburn wrote and confirmed her appoint-
ment. She packed and arranged to go alone to Singapore.
She had some funny experiences on the ship going over.
She did not take her own carefully chosen deck chair and the only
one available was taken by a drunken passenger. She found a
corner to sit out on deck, but the drunk approached her rudely.
She shouted, "Now understand this, l will have nothing to do with
you. Leave and go to your cabin". She shouted again and again.
The Captain came to her rescue with a deck chair and later seated
her at his table in the dining room.
When she arrived in Singapore, she wrote, "l found here a
wide field of activity — a varied world of nationalities. l looked
up on that first morning scene with mingled anxiety and delight.
Here was a challenge. This place needed every bit of capacity and
training l had received". lt would take a whole book to include the
problems she met in Singapore. She found the children had never
received chairs — only crude benches with no backs. Three year
olds were kept all day with the kindergarten age children. Eighty
children in one room in such circumstances! Overbearing girls
enforced order that was worse than lawlessness because of the spirit
in which it was done. An unsympathetic, lawless, discordant atmos-
phere existed where children were "asking for bread and were
given a stone". A Miss Jawall from Fu Chan, China, was remaining
there in kindergarten until she could be relieved. She was the
real leader, doing the best she could.
Sister wrote, "A Miss Lilly is at present head of the Deaconess
Home where l stay, and also of the whole school. She is hardly
the one for this place. She is a kind hearted earnest soul, but she has
had no background training for this position and has gotten into ruts.
What satisfies her is distressing to me. l must bring order out of
chaos in the kindergarten and primary department."
"The Deaconess Home is at the top of a hill, and the school,
down a winding road, at the bottom. I can get a "ricksha" to take
me to and from the school. When I return I go up to my room
and onto the veranda where I toss the coins to the "ricksha" boy. It
is the only safe way to do, because he cannot plead for more coins
and stand and upset me. I wish I could break the regulation fee,
but I dare not. Anyway, I am glad I do not weigh more than 99
pounds." The climate was so devastating that finally the head
worker obtained a horse and small carriage for Mary so that she
need not ride her bicycle or hire a ricksha to get her to school.
She had over eighty children in kindergarten and fifty in
primary class. It was something for a missionary on a small salary
to look up at a wealthy Chinese woman, loaded with a fortune of
jewels, who came to ask about kindergarten for her children. A
Chinese banker came bringing his four "Celestials" as he called them.
Mary was pleased with his poise and manner until he asked that
she keep them all day. When she refused, he was just as gracious,
saying “alright", with his big smile. She had no facilities for keep-
ing the little children the whole afternoon. She once wrote, "I
prefer the Chinese people to the Eurasians, Tamils, Indians or
One difficulty that Mary encountered, in addition to the
mixed nationalities, was that in those days Chinese boys were often
dressed as girls. Back of that was the superstitition that Evil Spirits
did not care about girls, but set their sights on boys who were
valuable. When she took the children to the party given by Mrs.
Rodgers, the wife of the Director General of the British Regency—
the Chinese boys wore beautiful velvet trousers and embroidered
waists and vests, also expensive jewelry. It was not hard to tell the
boys from the girls. One Chinese girl, whom Mary thought was a
boy, was clever at calisthenics and dancing. She demanded more
attention than the others, saying, "give I first!" When captains of
tables were chose, she proclaimed, "give I first!" Mary asked them
all to sing an especially liked kindergarten song "Pretty Little Blue
Bird" — the same little girl piped up and sang it all by herself in
broken English. Mrs. Rodgers was concerned about the jewelry-
ladened Chinese children, so Mary took them all to their various
homes, as darkness had fallen and no Chinese child was allowed
out after dark.
In the Kindergarten and Primary classes, little by little, Mary
led the children out of their unresponsive attitudes into loving
attention. Their hearts warmed to her, as children the world over
will when given the right approach. Fortunately, one of Miss
Wisner’s graduates, a Miss Gunatalykas, was musical and they had a
piano. The mixture of children was, though difficult, delightful:
Tamil, Burmese, Eurasian, Chinese. Mary had an experience with
a few Jewish children who came so dirty all the other children
shunned them. So she called in the home of one family and ex-
plained about cleanliness to the parents. Next day a little boy
returned in a new pair of velvet Chinese—type trousers, a clean
mended shirt, a big hat which kept him from seeing and shoes two
sizes too big. He could not find his way. A little English girl said,
"Miss Cody, I show him". The big circle of 80 children sat absolute-
ly quiet watching their Miss Cody as she gave an expression of
approval to the little helpers. That Jewish boy was not shunned
after that, and others came with clothes patched up and faces
Mary’s greatest difficulty was in getting enough older high
school girls to train as teachers. Some had received only one year
of high school. She often repeated, “lt is a privilege to train these
girls of many nationalities in methods which are so far away from
their life experience. They must learn dignity and love and gentle
guidance and how to demonstrate by the story method and games."
I quote from a letter, "One of the girls helping to run the kinder-
garten was an Eurasian girl. She saw all the changes I was bringing
about. She said to Miss Lilly, standing beside me, ’I wanted to
have chairs for the children, and a circle painted on the floor and
you would not allow me to have them. Miss Cody walks straight
ahead and brings everything that is proper to have and gets what
she needs! It was a little hard for Miss Lilly to take, but I could
see how this girl had suffered under Miss Lilly’s constant refusuals."
"They needed so much that was in my power to give. It was
a joy to watch the teachers’ development as well as the childrens’.
I was fully compensated. I knew that in their homes they heard so
much of weird superstitions, of the appearance of Evil Spirits, and
that ancestors whom they feared would bring calamity upon them
if they were not properly worshipped. The children came early to
School, and when I came in, the eagerness of their calls, ’Miss Cody
Comes! Miss Cody ComesI’, was a great reward for my struggles
against problems which came from so many angles — all to be
No life is complete that does not have suffering. In start-
ing a new work we feel an exile from others of our kind and from
happiness. We find joy in service, but we do crave a fellowship
with others who would enrich our lives. I know my sister cried out,
"Oh, if I could comfort myself against the sorrow of aloneness,"
even though she had the joy of pouring out love. One suffering
she had was in losing a student in her Training Class. One of her
letters tells about a Chinese girl whom she found, beautifully adapted
to the Kindergarten methods, but her English writing was so poor,
each lesson had to be rewritten for her. It was easier to rewrite it
than to try to correct. Sister was not surprised when the girl told
her she had been educated in Burmese until she entered the 5th
Standard in an English School. There she learned to speak English
for the first time. Though she spoke well, it was her writing Mary
could not fathom. Now the girl herself felt this deficiency. Her
Chinese friends had been writing her, offering to pay her expenses
if she wanted to return to her old school and complete the high
school courses, especialiy English language writing. Her teachers
wrote that they too would accept her. Mary wrote, "I was amazed.
I had not fully appreciated her strength of character. Tho’ I had
no one to take her place, I had to encourage her. In a weeks time,
we made complete arrangements. I obtained some cotton yardage
and we made her a dress and blouse and skirt. You understand, she
must dress as a European on the boat. It would not be safe in her
native clothes. Today I took her to the boat and introduced her to
a girl also going first class to Burma. Besides I introduced her to the
Captain, a very nice gentleman who assured me he would watch
over her. In the cabin next to her was a Chinese woman with
bound feet. This poor, enslaved high-class Chinese woman would
not be able to leave her cabin, her tiny hot cabin, the whole six
days. Ella said immediately, 'I will try to help her.' I hate so to part
with any of my girls. This caused me real suffering. I gave her a
letter of introduction to Dr. Cotu, who is in Rangoon, who will
see that she gets on her steamer in Maulmain, where there is a
Baptist School in which she intends to study medicine as soon as
she perfects her English writing. I asked her to promise to return
but she could not. This strong charactered girl had lived with an
orphan group, working her way, food costing her $3.00 a month,
(mostly rice) and living on her zeal for progress. I have another
girl like her, an orphan who has the same strength of character whom
I must train to take her place." This day ended by Sister attending
a Youth Meeting for Christian teaching and playing the piano for
choir practice. For such a strenuous day she did not go unpunished
She had to stay in bed the following day.
Her letters show that often her work was not without humor.
Mary wrote, "Our kindergarten crocodile nearly starved so I gave
him to the father of one of my children to keep. I took him in my
carriage, with a couple of older children, to his new home. The
tortoise has gone on a vacation. She looked in vain for her friend
the crocodile. Yesterday she came walking across the campus, home
again. How pleased the children are; animals are like little humans
"We have in Singapore a splendid Anglo-Chinese School for
boys — over 600, l believe. Miss Lilly and l took dinner there on
one of my first evenings. Mr. Lyons, the principal of the school,
is a fine man, well qualified for his position. He had to bring reform
against opposition. He advised me on the side to put things on a
right basis from the first, for it will be easier than to continence it
for a while. We spent such a pleasant, cheery evening at this dinner
party for my benefit. The table was prettily decorated with flowers
and ferns, oh, and some delicious ice cream such as we never got
in Manila. Then after dinner we had games. Such a contrast
to the very poor meals in Manila and our constant problems, with
no relief in sight and never a good meal or a game."
In contrast to the hard work of building up the two schools,
Mary wrote pages of description about the lovely view from the
Deaconess Home and about the beauty of the trees and foliage.
Even in the streets of Singapore, Mary enjoyed the Cosmopolitan
character of the city and the orderliness. These letters will have to
be omitted as my story grows too long. However, in Singapore she
was blessed for a time with some English friends, the Benjafields.
When she had too many difficulties at the Deaconess Home, her
residence, she always got a warm welcome at the Benjafields.
Her room at the Residence was being painted, a long drawn out
process, so she fled to these friends and their cordiality. The
atmosphere of refinement and home likeness was a relief from the
Deaconess Home. Mr. Benjafield teased Mary saying, "There is no
other Country but England, you know." She teased him because he
often said, "Fancy that." They teased her some times about a
suitor who followed her to Singapore. Mary blushed easily. Then
she wrote a long letter to me, her little sister, explaining why she
could not respond to this particular applicant for her affection (who
had even hired a boat to meet her steamer in port). Now years
later, after reading about that happiness, l am sending waves of
thank you thoughts to them, who no doubt are in the land beyond.
I am so grateful for their kindness to my sister, so far away in a
She wrote, "We do have unity in spite of variety. What
strides the world would make, if all European Countries could do for
their subject people what the United States is setting out to do for
the Phillipines, and what Great Britain has and is doing for
people in Singapore. Because of their presence, our mission has
1,100 boys in its school here in Singapore. This would not be
possible except for the presence of cooperating British officials."
While Mary was in Singapore, my mother wrote to her, con-
cerned, because of a case of Bubonic Plague on an American
steamship, She replied in her next letter, "Oh, so you had a case
of Bubonic Plague from an American Steamer. We could not
possibly innoculate all Americans before leaving for the Orient as
much as our missionaries were. Nor can we know for sure that
the Orientals coming to our shores have been made immune from
carrying diseases. Plagues can so easily be transmitted on steam-
ers." Mary saw all that nearly fifty years ago, and now, with four
or five wars going on in the world, how much more danger there is
of disease spreading fast. Yet there are those in this day of 1973
who oppose medical missions and training of Native doctors. How
short sighted they are! ! Many times l have had to answer such
taunts when my friends learned that l was giving financial help to
medical missions which trained "nationals".