Ann Judson and the triumph of female education


Two hundred years ago this month, in November 1822, a pioneer missionary Anne Judson writes an open letter to the women of America. After describing the oppression and lack of opportunity suffered by women in much of Asia, she concluded: “Shall we sit in indolence and ease, indulge in all the luxuries which we are surrounded, and leave beings like these, of flesh and blood, intellect and feeling, like ourselves, and of our own sex, to perish, to sink into eternal misery? Nope!”

His call had an immediate and powerful effect. People have made generous donations for women’s education in Burma. Volunteers came forward to join the mission.

Ann Judson was part of a long line of Christians who insisted that education should not be for the few, but for all.

Priority of Women’s Education in Church History

From the earliest centuries of the Christian Church, converts had been educated. Often they were taught from textbooks and catechisms for two to three years before baptism. In the fourth century, Augustine asserted that many Christian women were better informed on divine matters than pagan philosopher men.

Ann Judson was part of a long line of Christians who insisted that education should not be for the few, but for all.

In later centuries, however, as the Western Church founded many schools and universities, education was generally offered only to boys. Then came the Reformation. Universal literacy quickly became essential, so that everyone could read the scriptures for themselves. The construction of girls’ schools in Protestant areas exploded. Martin Luther believed it was a crime for parents not to educate everything their children.

Hannah More (1745-1833) was a contemporary of Jane Austen. (At one point, her works sold 10 times more than Austen’s.) After her conversion, More devoted herself to the cause of the gospel, social reform, and education. She has invested time and financial resources in schools for poor girls and boys, often against strong opposition. In 1799, she wrote her bestseller Restrictions on the modern female education system.

Beginning of a lifelong passion

In 1803, a young teenager from the sleepy New England town of Bradford read More’s book. When More quoted 1 Timothy 5:6 – “She who lives in pleasure is dead as long as she lives” (KJV) – it went straight to the heart of Ann Hasseltine (soon to be Judson). She knew she lived for parties and fun, not for Christ. After her conversion, Ann yearned for others to know and praise God as well. She started teaching at a local school at age 17. Every morning she led her class in prayer. His journal reveals that even at this young age his deepest desire was for all people of all nations to be taught about Jesus Christ.

In 1812, then aged 21, Ann married Adoniram Judson. Two weeks after the wedding, they said goodbye to family, friends and everyone they knew in New England and set sail for Asia. After enduring a long and tortuous journey, many setbacks, and the stillbirth of Ann’s first child, the Judsons began a Christian mission in Burma. Despite opposition, illness, and the death of her second child, Ann continued her efforts to open schools for girls. She also worked alongside Adoniram in evangelistic activity and the translation of Christian literature.

Ann died in 1826 at the age of 36. Her health declined under the sufferings she endured, including supporting her husband during a long and harsh imprisonment. Ann’s efforts, humanly speaking, enabled Adoniram to survive his imprisonment. He lived to give another 23 years of service to Burma.

The educational effects last

The Judson legacy lives on today as an oppressive military regime waged war in Burma/Myanmar. Local believers care for orphans, provide education, care for the needy, and share the gospel. British humanitarian leader Baroness Caroline Cox has often visited Myanmar. The believers there told him the Burmese government dislikes Christianity because it “promotes true democracy by encouraging people to think for themselves.”

Despite opposition, illness, and the death of her second child, Ann continued her efforts to open schools for girls.

It is a powerful tribute to the influence of Christian education! In The book that shaped your world, Indian scholar Vishal Mangalwadi observed: “Western missions. . . created, funded and nurtured hundreds of universities, thousands of colleges and tens of thousands of schools. They have educated millions and transformed nations.

Protestant missionaries wanted people to be able to read the Bible for themselves and in their own language. They developed written forms of spoken languages, created typefaces, printed the first newspapers and textbooks, published Bibles and established schools. As girls (as well as boys) received an education, the position of women in many societies improved. Even today, the most important factor in the upliftment of women in the world is the provision of education.

Ann Judson was just one of countless Christians who insisted that everyone, regardless of race, gender or status, should have access to education. All should be able to learn from God, read his Word and be equipped to serve their communities. More importantly, every person created in the image of God should have the opportunity to know the Lord better and to give him the glory that is due to him.


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