Five College Archives and Manuscript Collections
Mount Holyoke College seal
Fiske papers, 1841-1866.
3 boxes (1 linear ft.)
Collection number: MS 0536 (LD 7092.8 Fiske)

Fiske, Fidelia, 1816-1864; Teacher and missionary. Mount Holyoke Female Seminary graduate, 1842. Mount Holyoke Female Seminary teacher, 1858-1864. Papers contain letters and her book entitled, "Recollections of Mary Lyon." Primarily consisting of letters regarding her journey to Persia and her founding of a girls' school while a missionary there.

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Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections
South Hadley, MA

Biographical Note

Fidelia Fiske was born on May 1, 1816 in Shelburne, Massachusetts. She was the daughter of Rufus Fiske and Hannah Woodward Fiske. Fiske was educated in Shelburne district schools and spent one term at Franklin Academy. She taught in Shelburne's district schools before entering Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in 1839. Her education was interrupted in 1840-1841 while she recovered from typhoid fever. She returned in the fall of 1841 and graduated in 1842. After teaching for a year at the Seminary, she convinced her family that despite her poor health she was going to accompany Dr. Justin Perkins to Persia. She sailed from Boston on March 1, 1843. In Orumiyeh, Fiske was in charge of founding a girls' boarding school. The school continued to grow under Fiske's supervision from its opening in October of 1843 until her failing health forced her to return to United States in 1858. In the United States she was a teacher at Mount Holyoke between 1859-1864, until her death of "general inflammation of the lymphatic vessels" on July 26, 1864, in Shelburne, Massachusetts; she was forty-eight years old.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The papers of Fidelia Fiske consist of papers chiefly relating to her work as a missionary in Persia from 1843-1858, and to her later work at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. Of particular importance are letters written by Fiske between 1843-1864. These documents describe her voyage to and overland travel in Persia, her work with her school and the villager's reactions and political resistance to her work. These sources are complemented by other writings, including her book, "Recollections of Mary Lyon" (1866). Biographical material includes an obituary published in July, 1864 in an unidentified newspaper. The biographical information is supplemented by books, articles and notes written after her death. The collection also contains a small amount of memorabilia, including a New Testament Bible in Syriac, as well as a series of photographs which includes a portrait of Fiske and photos of The Fiske Female Seminary in Persia.

Material from this collection is available in an online digital format.

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Fidelia Fiske Papers, Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections, South Hadley, MA

History of the Collection

Summary of Correspondence, 1841-1875

Fidelia Fiske was teaching at Mount Holyoke Seminary in 1843 when Dr. Perkins, missionary to the Nestorian Christians in Persia, called for someone to accompany him and his wife on their return to Persia in order to found a school for girls at Oroomiah. Fidelia was chosen and on March 1 then sailed from Boston. Fidelia's first letter addressed to Miss Whitman was written on March 13 aboard their "frail bark;" she felt that she would "meet no more my dearest earthly friends." Her letters continued to those at the Seminary for the next 14 years, through July 15, 1851. These letters as well as others written after her return to Massachusetts (November 14, 1859 to June 17, 1864) are included in the collection.The voyage was unusually short, only 21 days on the Atlantic. The accommodations were "very comfortable" although the dreaded foe - sea sickness - descended soon after departure. After several weeks in Constantinople visiting missionary families, they went on by boat to Trebizond (along with hundreds of deck passengers) where the land journey began. Donkeys and men were the means of transport; 150 pounds was an ordinary load for a porter. It was 200 miles to Erzeroom (she "rather enjoyed" the ride) and another 17 days to Oroomiah.Fidelia had a room at the Stockings, a missionary family in Oroomiah When the school opened in October of 1843 there were 15 girls, but by Christmas there were 30. Gradually more and more pupils became boarders. Sickness, especially cholera, death, government. harassment, struggles between Kurd and Mountain Nestorians, "Mussulman" resistance - all threatened the work and the life of the missionary. In 1847 Mary Susan Rice came out from the Seminary to be Fidelia's assistant. Her missionary work extended to the women, as she traveled among the villages. 111 health led to her return to the United States in 1858. She continued close ties with the Seminary until her death in 1864.

Of special note:
1843 Sep 14 Visited home of pupil, dined on floor, ate with hands; ate with relish as good as any time in America. Women ate with them. Walk in Persian vineyard - alas much drunkenness.
1843 Sep 18 People more interested in being delivered from Mussulman oppression rather than oppression of sin Nestorians consent to early marriage for girls else they may marry Mussulman. Boy thought Paul an Englishman because his words sounded just like the missionary language. Attended Nestorian Church service - 80 seated on ground; first lady of Mission to do so.Took tent and spent night beside lake; enjoy bathing. Bishop says Mount Holyoke is best of all schools because fear of God there.
1843 Oct 2 Read to girls in Syrian. Received first mall, Emissaries of Rome here again
1843 Dec 25 Problem of girls living at hose - under influence of parents. Many heard word but few conversions.
1844 Feb 24 People are Christian "in name only." Like moot missionary stations, prejudice against doing anything for the fallen woman. Now they come to our room when service for men is held. Fidelia "wandered in highways" entreating them to come. Now 8 boarders, incl. one aged 4.Much more difficult here to judge from appearances than at home; how sincere is their faith? School - 2 rooms with straw mats; oiled paper windows. Stove, benches. Need to raise quality of missionaries. Never felt better but poor eyes. End of Letter Book.
1843 May 3 Constantinople Stayed with Dwights. Fear services - is German, English, Armenian, Turkish. Four miss, families in city work mostly with Armenians who have corrupted form of Christianity. School for boys (20-30) - Mrs. Hamlin takes whole charge of their board. House open morn till night.She is glad to do anything for good of this people "though the labor of the kitchen." Boys cannot believe F has no husband; "can you cipher'!"
1843 Jul 10 In Erzeroom Armenian bishop violent in his persecution of little mission clock. Simple repast seated on matted floor - cakes of finest wheat, milk from flock, butter and honey.
1847 Sep 18 Attack of ophthaling. Cholera - Lord's judgment abroad In land. 'tornado.Disease - c. 114 population. 4000 shrouds in 2 weeks (25000 in city). Deaths among mission flock.
1847 0ct 21 Health very miserable. Cholera again - more than 5000 died in less than a month
1848 Jul 25 Threat by Mar Shimon nut to permit Christian burial for sick child of mission priest. French miss. here again - seem to be enlisting the Mussulmen against us.
1848 Jul 29 Death of child - joiner risked all to make coffin.
1848 Jul 31 Rabble causing disruption o: services. French forged letter with Yope's signature.
1848 Aug 6 Coffin-maker beaten.
1848 Jul 25 Student tricked into thinking brother ill so that she must leave school.
1848 Sep 2 Mar Shimon making common cause with Musselmen and Papists.
1848 Oct 30 Plunder, bloodshed. Koords desolated villages. Mission messenger striped and beaten.
1848 Dec 18 Persia land of my adoption - here expect to live and die. Mrs. Stoddard's death.
1848 Dec 19 Political changes among Mountain Nestorians. $19 raised by Nestorians for spreading Gospel. Koordish chiefs now prisoners.
1848 Mar 27 Many visitations of Blessed Spirit. Lambs praying without ceasing. In villages 70 women met with F.
1848 Apr 16 Most of pupils over 12 deeply affected; some spend 2 hours in supplication. Older girls to villages to labor to save souls, placed tinder guidance of some prudent native brother.
1848 Oct 29 Some may feel Holyoke no longer Holyoke now that Miss Lyon has gone but I cannot feel so.
1848 Nov 16 Assembling of school delayed a/c dampness in new opts.
1855 Apr 23 Several pupils who have finished their studies are teaching little girls in villages - nurseries of piety. Some teaching women to read Bible. King of Persia issued firman against Americans - stopped printing presses. Disapproves schools for girls.
1856 Jun 20 Our mud tenement in danger of falling down. Miss Rice away so she has care of dozen men "all alone" - every morning they meet in schoolroom and F reads Bible and cue pious workman leads in prayer. No miss. brother with us.City surrounded by fruit gardens - trees loaded with cherries.Prayer meeting on roof - 70-80 there; slept but little sleep a/c heat and sandflies.Friday morning meetings with mothers - P reads to them from Mothers' Mag. (bound volumes sent to her).
1856 Jul 3 At meeting of 16 mothers found 43 living children, 66 had died. 16 children have died in mission since beginning.
1857 Jul 15 F had 2 angel sisters who died before she was born. Spent 3 weeks in the mts. of Koordistan. Trying journey "over such roads I never imagined". Mr. Stoddard's death in Jan., then his daughter in March.
1863 Apr 23 Had hoped to leave for Persia early August with Dr. Wright but his printing of N.T. in Syriac not ready. Cannot cross mts. of Armenia later than Oct. Very disappointed. Now busy with history of revivals.
1863 Oct 28 At MR 340 pupils; more than 200 were refused admission. Growing improvement in religious character of school.
1864 Mar 3 Not well - unable to go out for 5I6 weeks. Day of prayer for literary institutions - 325 in prayer all day. Dr. Hitchcock's death.
1864 Mar 31 Very few lady teachers are laying by in store for old age.
1864 Jun 17 Strength less than 6 weeks ago. Physician feels sea voyage home of 80 days gave her 5 years of comfortable health. Not in habit of writing so fully about herself.

By: CR Ludwig

February 1998

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