Woman of the Century/Fidelia Fiske
FISKE, Miss Fidelia, missionary, born in Shelburne, Mass., 1st May, 1816. She was the fourth daughter of Rufus and Hannah Woodward Fiske, and could look baik through an unbroken line of godly ancestors to William Fiske, who came from Suffolk county, England, in 1637. Her great-grand- father, Ebenezer Fiske. jr., moved from the eastern part of the State to Shelburne, where Fidelia was born Among her earliest memories was the departure of her missionary uncle, Rev. Pliny Fiske. or the Holy Land, in 1819. The thoughtful and observing child had a strong will, but the early subjection to authority required by her parents prepared the way for a submissiveness of Christian character. Soon after her conversion she joined the Congregational Church in Shelburne, 12th July, 1831. Her school-days were marked by a desire for thoroughness and a spirit of self-reliance. Most of the time from 1833 to 1839, except for brief periods of study, she taught in the schools of her native town. In 1839 she entered Mt. Holyoke Seminary. A severe illness in the summer of 1840 prevented her return to the seminary till the next year, when she entered the senior class and was graduated in 1842. Miss Lyon at once engaged her as a teacher. The next January a call came to the seminary for one to go to Persia with Dr. and Mrs. Perkins, to take charge of a school for Nestorian girls in Oroomiah. Miss Lyon laid the cail before the school. Of the forty notes written in response, one of the shortest read: "If counted worthy, I should be willing to go. Fidelia Fiske." Already her services to the seminary seemed too valuable to be spared, but that point was soon yielded. Her widowed mother could not consent so readily. The same reason kept others from going, and a month later the question came back to Miss Fiske. "Then we will go and see your mother," said Miss Lyon, and within an hour they were on their way for a drive of thirty miles through the snowdrifts. It was ten days before Dr. Perkins was to sail. Roused from sleep by the midnight arrival, the mother Knew at once their errand. Her consent was obtained. Miss Lyon returned to the seminar)', and Miss Fiske followed, to find that the teachers and students had prepared a very good outfit for her. The next morning she was on the way to Boston. She sailed on Wednesday, 1st March, for Smyrna, and arrived in Oroomiah 14th June, 1843. When the mission to the Nestorians began, nine years before, only one woman among them, the sister of the Patriarch, could read. Men opposed the education of women, and the women were content to be menials and ignorant. A few girls had been gathered as day scholars, but little could be done for them till separated from their degrading surroundings and brought into a Christian home for continuous training, a course repugnant to their ideas of social prppriety. At that time an unmarried girl of fourteen was scarcely to be found. Miss Fiske made arrangements for six boarding pupils, not knowing one whom she might expect besides day scholars. On the 16th October, the day appointea for the school to open, Mar Yohanan, a Nestorian bishop who had visited America with Dr. Perkins, brought her two girls, one seven and the other ten years old, saying: "These are your daughters. Now you begin Mount Holyoke in Persia." By spring she had six girls, wild and untutored. Ragged and filthy when they entered, a lesson in cleanliness was the first thing in their training for a work as teachers, wives and mothers. The course of study fixed upon was in their native Syriac and was largely Biblical. Notwithstanding interruptions, now from papal or Mohammedan persecutions, now from ravages of fever or cholera, the school made steady progress. In its fourth year it numbered over forty. Its first public examination in 1850 marked an era in the history of that oriental nation and in the lives of its three graduates. The ten graduates of 1853 were between the ages of seventeen and nineteen. Lying, stealing and other vices, general at first, were put away, and scores of pupils went forth transformed in character to labor for similar changes in their own homes and villages. Miss Fiske's cares as mother, housekeeper and teacher so increased that Miss Rice went from Mt. Holyoke Summary, in 1847, to be her assistant and to give her more time for work among the women of the city and of the mountains around. Her faithful labors won mothers as well as daughters to the cross. When failing health forced her to leave for America, after fifteen fruitful years, there were ninety-three native women in the company that sat down with her at the table of the Lord. Her influence in the mission and on Nestorian character is well set forth in the book entitled "Woman and her Savior in Persia." The home voyage seemed to give a new lease of life, and her last five years were as useful as any that had preceded. Besides responding, as strength allowed, to the many urgent calls from the ladies' meetings for the story of her work in Persia, she spent many months in Nit. Holyoke Seminary, where her labors in the remarkable revivals of 1862-64 were a fitting close to her life's work. She died 26th July. 1S64, in the home of her aged mother, in Shelburne. Her finely balanced mind, deep and delicate sensibilities, intuitive knowledge of human nature, and her discretion, all controlled by ardent Christian love, made her a power for good. Her career is described in the title chosen by her biographer: "Faith working by Love."