Lottie Moon

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The life of Lottie Moon:
From Southern roots
Read more of her story: Part 2: The offering begins | Part 3: Her journey ends | <<Back to bio
By John Allen Moore

You know about Lottie Moon. She rendered sacrificial missionary service in China long ago.

You know she aroused Southern Baptists to begin a Christmas offering for foreign missions and that the offering bears her name.

But did you know that a leading Southern Baptist educator called her "the most cultivated woman" he had ever known? She belonged to the first small class of Southern women to receive a university-level master of arts degree.

Did you know that, even in the days when male predominance was unchallenged, the corresponding secretary of the Foreign Mission Board consulted her repeatedly for her wise counsel with mission administration?

Did you know that although she fully accepted the idea that men should do the preaching and the leading for mixed groups, she once offered her resignation when the board seemed to be preparing to deny the vote to women in its missions? Her own mission in North China gave women full voice and influence, but Miss Moon refused to serve under an agency that denied this on other fields.

Did you know she was quoted by one who knew her as having said she was only 4 feet, 3 inches tall? This was a recollection after many years and not quite accurate; though not a dwarf, she was petite.

Charlotte Digges Moon, born Dec. 12, 1840, grew up in an eight-room plantation house—Viewmont—on extensive Harris-Moon land holdings just south of Charlottesville, Va. Viewmont had 50 or more slaves to attend to every manual task. Lottie, as she came to be known, was the third of seven children. Private tutors came and went teaching the youngsters in the classics, French and music.

When Lottie was 12, her wealthy father died of a heart attack or stroke while on a business trip traveling by boat from New Orleans to Memphis. His widow, Anna-Maria Moon, then 44, assumed family leadership. A cultured, rather well-educated Southern lady, she held staunchly to her Baptist faith, though some other members of the family became Catholics or members of the Christian Church. She conducted Sunday worship in her home, unless some itinerant Baptist preacher came by.

The Moon children-even the girls, although contrary to Southern custom-received the best possible education. Each was left free to choose his or her own course. The eldest, Thomas, became a doctor but died early in his career while tending patients in a cholera epidemic.

Orianna, Lottie's older sister, flying in the face of tradition, received her M.D. degree from a Pennsylvania medical college in 1857. She and a North Carolinian were the first women of the South to earn degrees in medicine.

Lottie was sent in 1854 to a girls' school run by leading Virginia Baptists and boasting a hundred boarding students. Most of each day was rigorously scheduled. Lottie distinguished herself in studies, especially Latin and French. She belonged to a literary society and helped edit its paper. Her worst grades were in math, science-and "deportment." Early on April Fools' Day her second year she climbed the school's bell tower and muffled the bell with towels and sheets. Classes started late that day.

John A. Broadus, Baptist pastor in Charlottesville, along with Crawford H. Toy and other Baptist scholars, began Albemarle Female Institute in the city; all teachers held master's degrees, unique for women's schools. Its basic premise was that women should have educational opportunities equal in excellence to those offered men. Lottie enrolled at the institute.

Never a beauty, but vivacious and fun-loving, she became one of the most popular students. She soon gained the reputation of being a "brain." She did well in everything she tried. She excelled in language, becoming proficient in Latin, Greek, French, Italian and Spanish.

One professor-Crawford Toy, probably the one who later courted her-said, "She writes the best English I have ever been privileged to read." Toy also suggested she take up Hebrew, and gave her a Hebrew Bible, inscribed to her. She followed his suggestion.

Lottie was also the institute prankster. She called new non-Baptist students aside and told them they would have to join the local Baptist church. To their tearful protests that they did not wish to become Baptists, Lottie replied that since the principal was Baptist, he expected all students to join. The poor girls would flee in distress to a professor, only to be informed with a patient sigh that this was just another of Lottie Moon's practical jokes.

One student asked what "D" stood for in the middle of her name. Lottie shot back, "It stands for 'Devil'-don't you think it suits me excellently?" The nickname stuck. She signed a poem for student publication, "Deville."

Students, including her closest friend, thought her a skeptic. A student once noted she hadn't seen Lottie at church on Sunday. The reason, Lottie retorted, was that she hadn't been there; she'd been lying on a haystack reading Shakespeare-much better than a dry sermon.

Pastor Broadus, already invited to help open Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Greenville, S.C., conducted a series of evangelistic meetings in his church in December 1858. He directed appeals for life dedication and Christian service mainly to students.

Concerned students at the institute held sunrise devotional and inquiry services. Lottie's name was prominent on their prayer list. In the midst of one gathering Lottie surprised everyone by appearing. She told how she had attended the service the evening before, then left it "to scoff." But in her room she couldn't sleep because of a barking dog. Her rambling thoughts finally turned to her spiritual condition. She decided to give Christianity an honest, intellectual investigation. This lasted with soul-searching prayer, all night.

Now she had made her choice-for Christ-and would join the church. There was rejoicing at that meeting and later in the church service. She gave her testimony at church, the only kind of occasion on which a woman was allowed to speak to a mixed gathering.

Fellow student Julia Toy, sister of her English and Greek professor and a lifelong friend, said of her: "She had always wielded an influence because of her intellectual power. Now her great talent was directed into another channel. She immediately took a stand as a Christian."

The pastor kept before students and others the challenge to ministry and mission. Among the many to respond were Crawford Toy and John L. Johnson, who later would marry Julia Toy. Both men surrendered for mission service. The Foreign Mission Board appointed them to open work in Japan, but health and other reasons prevented them from going. Lottie also evidently felt the beginnings of a call to foreign missions. She remained at Albemarle Female Institute four years and received both the full-course degree and the master of arts degree.

By this time the Civil War was on. Many suppose that Toy, who served in the Confederate chaplaincy, proposed marriage to Lottie at this time. If so, she did not accept.

Lottie seems to have spent most of the war years at Viewmont, helping on the plantation and tutoring younger sister Edmonia-"Eddie." Lottie was at Viewmont when General Robert E. Lee surrendered at nearby Appomattox and the Confederacy crumbled.

Lottie's mother at the start of the war loyally converted all cash assets into Confederate money and bonds-now a total loss. She let son Isaac sell most of her land for a pittance to secure enough to live on. She leased remaining land, except the house and immediate surroundings. But debts could not be collected; cash was very short.

Conditions were not as bad in border states, and Lottie applied to teach in the Danville (Ky.) Female Academy, operated by the local First Baptist Church. She taught there five years-history, English grammar, rhetoric, literature-even after the school merged with another run by the Presbyterians. Active in the church and as popular there as in the school, she assisted the pastor in various ministries and taught teen-age girls in Sunday School. In Danville she met returned Southern Baptist missionaries who had served in China. Lottie's mission interest deepened.

The situation at Viewmont steadily grew worse. Lottie divided her wages with her mother
to pay interest on debts and avoid foreclosure on remaining property. Mrs. Moon died, in peace and faith, in June 1870. Viewmont was divided among the children, but legal battles dragged on until 1884, when Lottie got a very small settlement and Eddie a bit more (originally meant for her education).

As Lottie and Eddie rode horseback over the estate after their mother's burial, Eddie revealed her dreams of being a missionary to China. Converted at age 16, she had received strong impressions while at college from reports of foreign work, especially those of Martha (Mrs. T.P.) Crawford in north China. Lottie confessed she had felt similar impressions, but squelched them due to family duties.

In her last year in Danville, Lottie developed an ardent friendship with another young woman teacher, "A.C." Stafford, who taught the subjects most troublesome to Lottie: math, natural philosophy, astronomy. A.C., a Presbyterian, like Lottie was interested in foreign missions.

Pleasant Moon, Lottie's distant cousin and a merchant in Cartersville, Ga., with other men of the town opened a school for girls. Lottie and A.C. became teachers and co-principals, starting the summer of 1871. The school's advanced section was equal academically to the best female colleges. Opening with seven students, the school soon enrolled a hundred.

Lottie and Eddie gave through the Foreign Mission Board to aid Martha Crawford's school for girls in China. Lottie also gave-always anonymously-to other projects, including a Baptist church building in Rome, Italy.

The board at the time was not appointing single women missionaries. Martha Crawford wrote pleas for such appointments, explaining that men could not render the needed service among women in the homes of China. H.A. Tupper, the board's new corresponding secretary, proved an advocate of women's work in and for missions.

Eddie-at 21, more than 10 years younger than Lottie-on impulse wrote Tupper asking to be permitted to go to China with a missionary couple who were to be accompanied by the wife's unmarried sister. Eddie offered to pay her own expenses until support could be arranged. However, women of five Richmond churches organized to support her. Salary: $400 a year. She sailed with the group and by June was in China. Her letters beckoned Lottie.

Still interested, Lottie wondered whether a single woman could find fulfillment in light of restraints placed on women in any kind of public ministry. She had taken part in a continuing controversy in Baptist papers of Virginia and other states about women's role. She researched work of deaconesses in European churches and recommended that Southern Baptist churches, especially larger ones, employ deaconesses "to minister to the poor and suffering, establish Sunday Schools, sewing schools, night schools, mother's meetings."

She added, "Our Lord does not call on women to preach, or to pray in public, but no less does He say to them than to men, 'Go, work in my vineyard.'"

Lottie felt her call to China "as clear as a bell" in February 1873 after the Cartersville Baptist pastor preached about missions. Lottie left the service to go to her room, where she prayed all afternoon. A.C. also felt led to join a Presbyterian mission in China. Students wept when the teachers said they were leaving.

On July 7, 1873, the Foreign Mission Board appointed Charlotte Digges Moon. She was asked to join her sister in Tengchow. About to sail from San Francisco, Lottie got word Baptist women in Cartersville would support her.

The steamship Costa Rica carried a large number of missionaries of several denominations bound for the Far East. Lottie wrote that they never expected to see home again. Missionary appointment generally was "for life." There were no regular furloughs or retirement.

After 25 seasick days for Lottie, the ship docked at Yokohama. She went ashore-also later at Kobe and Nagasaki-and fell in love with Japan and its people. En route to Shanghai, the ship was caught in a hurricane, and the crippled vessel limped back to Nagasaki.

Lottie and the others finally reached Shanghai Oct. 7. Matthew T. Yates and T.P. Crawford, veteran Southern Baptist missionaries, welcomed her.

With Martha Crawford, Lottie traveled by boat northward along the coast to Chefoo. Shantung, the province then considered the most densely populated on earth. Tengchow and Chefoo were among port cities forced open by foreign powers for trade and mission work in 1858. Foreigners were subject not to Chinese authorities but to their own. The imposed treaties guaranteed toleration for foreign and even Chinese Christians.

From Chefoo, Lottie traveled the 55 miles to Tengchow in a shentze. Shaped like a huge barrel on its side, open at the front and heavily padded inside, a shentze had a long, supporting pole on either side attached to mules in front and behind. This afforded a jery-for Lottie, a sickening-two-day ride. Exhausted, she arrived Oct. 25 in Tengchow, to be her home for 39 years.

Shantung province was home of the honored teacher of ancient times, Confucius. Tengchow, the chief city, had a static population of 80,000. Massive walls of gray stone, dating from before the time of Christ, surrounded the city. The narrow streets were paved with worn millstones.

Lottie and Eddie, delighted to be reunited, moved into quarters in T.P. Crawford's compound. J.B. Hartwell, the real pioneer in Tengchow, had begun a church years before in the northern part of the city, but the two men could not get along, disagreeing on almost everything. Crawford started his own congregation, Monument Street Baptist Church, and completed its Western-style building with tower-highly offensive to Chinese-the year before Lottie arrived.

Lottie saw at once that it was not wise for her and Eddie to live with the Crawfords, though she would continue through the years to attend Monument Street church. She and Eddie moved to the mission compound of the other church. In her first week at Tengchow, Lottie wrote Baptist women of Richmond and other points suggesting funds be raised to build a house for the Moon sisters. On the property to be purchased, Eddie and Lottie also wanted to open a girls' boarding school.

Sallie J. Holmes, slightly older than Lottie and a pioneer in north China, lived with her young son in a Chinese house near the Crawford compound. She and her husband had worked in the area before treaties opened it to foreigners; brigands had murdered Holmes. Now Mrs. Holmes conducted a girls' boarding school. She turned over to Eddie a small day school for boys and traveled to villages, evangelizing among women house to house.

As was the custom for new missionaries, an educated Chinese man was engaged as Lottie's language teacher. He visited her home daily, pointing out Chinese characters with his scholar's inches-long fingernails and hearing her pronounce words after him until her intonation satisfied him. It usually took about two years for a foreigner to get a good working knowledge of the spoken language; there were many local dialects. Lottie progressed rapidly and became interested in Chinese history and culture.

Within weeks she was visiting with Sallie Holmes or Martha Crawford in Tengchow homes. Then she began country work. Sallie took the lead, riding her braying donkey; the other women, sometimes including Eddie, rode in sedan chairs borne by coolies. If a tour was to last several days, another donkey would be laden with bedrolls and provisions. The experienced missionaries would tell the gospel story to crowds of women and children in each village and teach hymns and a catechism Martha had prepared. Sometimes a Chinese deacon would go along and, if village men gathered also, he would preach.

For recreation, Lottie enjoyed occasional social gatherings of Baptist and Presbyterian missionaries in Tengchow. She swam in the sea, rode donkeys sidesaddle, collected seashells, took walks on the city wall and embroidered. A.C. Stafford, stationed in a Presbyterian mission near Shanghai, remained a good friend. She and the Moon sisters exchanged visits, and she made suggestions that Lottie followed, such as securing Bible picture cards from the United States to give to Chinese children.

Lottie kept up extensive correspondence with Tupper at the Foreign Mission Board and with women across the South, especially in Virginia and Georgia. She begged for missionary recruits, including single women. She wrote articles for the Virginia Religious Herald and other Baptist papers, urging women to organize more mission societies, pray for worldwide work and give generously for it. At board headquarters and elsewhere her letters in faultless prose were copied and recopied and sent to women's groups throughout the convention.

The Hartwell-Crawford controversy made mission work difficult in Tengchow. Lottie tried to mediate. She wrote Tupper and the board in 1876, outlining the situation impartially about differences in mission theory and personality and the mission properties on both sides. Board members marveled at her ability to lay out the complicated case succinctly and convincingly like a lawyer before a high court. She warned the board not to view the situation as hopeless or even unique-other mission agencies also had disputes. The problem was not finally solved, however, until Hartwell resigned three years later.

Eddie Moon, obviously immature and emotionally unstable, faced one health problem after another. She often was irascible and contentious. When she first set foot on Chinese soil in 1872, culture shock had been so great she wanted to return home at once. A Shanghai doctor pronounced her "hysterical." She settled down a bit, did well with the language, taught in Sunday School and led the boys' school.

On a wintry day early in 1874 Edddie, Lottie, a deacon and other Chinese Christians went to a village to hold services. Upon return, Eddie was weak and ill. Pneumonia developed, then typhoid. Late that year she suffered respiratory problems. She sought help in Shanghai.

Mrs. Yates saw that Eddie's condition was more than China missionaries could deal with; she took her to Japan and sent word to Lottie to meet them in Nagasaki. Both older women saw that Eddie must return home permanently, and Lottie would have to go along. Three days before Christmas 1875 the Moon sisters reached Viewmont. Eddie was put to bed at once; three doctor relatives treated her. Prescription: cod liver and whiskey.

Lottie was eager to return to China, but not until Baptist women in Richmond raised needed funds would she be able to reach the field once again-in December 1877.

Read more of her story: Part 2: The offering begins | Part 3: Her journey ends | <<Back to bio


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This page was last updated 11/24/03