How Christianity Improved the Status of Women in Thailand (1925)

Christianity is sometimes accused of oppressing women and destroying local cultures so I thought the brief article posted below was a fascinating alternative narrative to that popular charge. It was written in 1925 by a Thai Christian woman who was the first woman to hold a teaching credential in Northern Thailand. She confirms that the introduction of Christianity to her country did indeed change the local culture, but not in the way some might expect. For her, and many other Thai women, Christianity meant greater respect and opportunities for women, not oppression or subjugation.

There were certainly also other factors that influenced changes in the status of women in Thailand besides Christianity per se, but her testimony is a valuable piece of the puzzle in understanding the changes that have happened in the last 100 years or so.

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Suda Javani, “Changing Custom”, Siam Outlook, v.4, no.4, April 1925, 140-141, Payap University Archives

Source: Suda Javani, "Changing Custom", Siam Outlook, v.4, no.4, April 1925, 140-141, Payap University Archives.

Protestant Missionaries to Thailand on Wikipedia

Wikipedia (Articles)

Category: Protestant Missionaries to Southeast Asia

Category: Presbyterian Missionaries in Thailand

Category: Baptist Missionaries in Thailand


Wikimedia Commons (Photos)

Photos: Missionaries in Thailand

Photos: Missionary Graves in Thailand


Dan Beach_Bradley on Wikipedia
Sarah Blachly, m. 1848 .
Wikipedia article CC-BY-SA-3.0. Image license is CC-PD-Mark.


John Taylor_Jones on Wikipedia
Wikipedia article CC-BY-SA-3.0. Image has an unknown license.


Daniel McGilvary on Wikipedia
Daniel McGilvary (1828–1911) was an American Presbyterian missionary who played an important role in the expansion of Protestantism in Northern Siam.
Wikipedia article CC-BY-SA-3.0. Image license is PD US.


Today in Thai Church History (August 23): Gutzlaff and Tomlin Arrive in Bangkok

The history of Chrisitan and missionary work in every country has a beginning, and August 23, 1828 marks the beginning of Protestant work in Thailand (formerly Siam).  On that day, German doctor Karl Gutzlaff and Jacob Tomlin of the London Missionary Society arrived in Bangkok.  They are remembered as the first resident Protestant missionaries to work in the country, although small numbers of Roman Catholics had been in Thailand for many years.  
Early Missionaries in Bangkok: The Journals of Tomlin, Gutzlaff, and Abeel, 1828-1832 book coverGutzlaff and Tomlin's ship arrived in Bangkok on a Saturday evening, and they went on shore the following day.  I always find it fascinating to hear someone's first impressions of a place and have included below Jacob Tomlin's account of their first two days in Thailand, drawn from his personal journal, as found in Anthony Farrington, ed. Early Missionaries in Bangkok: The Journals of Tomlin, Gutzlaff, and Abeel, 1828-1832. Bangkok, Thailand: White Lotus Press, 2001, p.8-10.
Saturday August 23rd, 1828. In the afternoon run up to Bangkok before a fresh breeze. Opened the city suddenly at 2 or 3 miles distance. In approaching the capital the scenery and dwellings on each side become more varied and beautiful. A temple somewhat like a village church standing on the bank with a few light elegant houses, half shaded by the foliage of trees, has a very rural and lovely appearance. Canals or small rivers branch off from the river at intervals running into the country, each opening a beautiful vista with its grassy banks and bamboos waving over the stream. A lively busy scene appears now on the river — hundreds of boats of all sizes moving in every direction. A long line of junks on the left side just on entering the city, with a range of Chinese smiths' and carpenters' shops, behind a splendid pagoda literally blazing in gold, the Romish Episcopal Chapel standing close by in a rural sequestered situation. Our crew being now hailed by their friends on board another junk ringing a gong, one of our men mounted the poop and returned a merry salute, which was repeated several times, each responding to the other till we got well into the city.

Why American Presbyterian Missionaries Resigned 1900-1949

Recently, I spent time looking at the Personnel Files of the Board of Foreign Mission of the Presbyterian Church in the USA at the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia, looking to learn why missionaries left Siam/Thailand in the early 20th century. That may not sound very exciting to some people (full disclosure: it wasn’t always exciting for me either), but there are some fascinating nuggets in midst of the piles of old paper.  I skipped the list of missionaries who left the mission due to death or retirement and went straight to the list of resignations and withdrawals because those are generally more revealing of the state of the mission and the lives of the people leaving. What I found was unsurprising in many instances but some unfortunate and odd reasons for leaving did appear the records.

"Recollections of Irene Bradley" by Bertha Blount McFarland

The following personal recollections about Irene Bradley were written by Bertha Blount McFarland and may be found in the book McFarland of Siam by Bertha Blount McFarland, New York: Vantage Press, 1958, p.289-292.


Irene Bradley, youngest of Dr. Dan Beach Bradley's ten children and the third born at Bradley House, knew George [Bradley McFarland] but they were never really congenial. She was five years older than he and felt her superiority, as children will. Irene was con­scientious and felt it her duty to point out to George flaws in his behavior. She never failed to do her duty as she saw it and frequently spoke with a frankness and bluntness that fell far short of diplomacy. George's reaction was normal for a lad of quick temper. None of this made for mutual attraction, but Irene was a Bradley and George had a deep loyalty to her family whose name he bore. Spats never resulted in open estrangement and as years passed, Irene and George were the only ones of either family left in Bangkok.

For nineteen years after her father's death, Irene and her mother lived on together at Bradley House, much of the time alone. They ran the commercial press until competition forced them to close it, but long enough to put those of the family still in college through their courses. There was never money enough to send Irene also to America, but even if there had been she would not have gone, leaving her aged mother alone. In 1893 Mrs. Bradley died and Irene was left alone at Bradley House. Brothers and sisters wrote urging her to leave Bangkok to live with them but she wisely refused for she never could have fit into any life other than that of Bradley House where she lived alone with her dogs, upstairs dogs and downstairs dogs, which never met. Her dogs barked in unison and antiphonally; twenty dogs offer considerable choral range. Irene loved her dogs and they gave a lonely old woman companionship and protection.