Mary Alice Green (1879-1959) Methodist Missionary to China

Mary Alice Green 4


Mary Alice Green at her Home in China

I am guessing from her attire that it is late twenties or early thirties.  She was a Methodist missionary to China for much of her adult life. I called her “Aunt Alice” and she was the personification of the word “lady”.  When I knew her,  she was a thin, fragile, and nervous woman but here she is in this ancient snapshot with some flesh and looking happy and confident. Her life’s experiences took a toll on her.

Mary Alice, was the granddaughter of Robert Nathaniel Green and the youngest in a family of four children, two brothers, and one sister, Annie, my grandmother. When my grandmother was 15 their mother, Lucy Amie Moses Green,  died of diabetes (pre insulin supplements)  and my grandmother took over many of the household duties of her mother.  Her youngest sister, Alice, as they called her, was 10 and was adored and spoiled by her sister and two older brothers, as she herself told me.  Their father, John Green, educated all four children who received college degrees.  The two boys were ministers and entrepreneurs and one girl, Mary Alice, was a missionary. My grandmother was a teacher and an artist. In 1909 while recovering from an illness,  John Green died in a sanatorium fire on Summit and Bessemer Avenues in Greensboro, N.C.  My mother, Lucy, who would have been only 2 at the time, had a vague, isolated memory of her mother collapsing in grief after receiving the telephone call informing her that her father had been burned to death.  My mother remembered tugging at her sobbing mother with her brother, Ben, who would have been 4.  She remembers their distress as they kept crying  “what’s wrong Mama”. 

In 1919, Mary Alice was sent to Shanghai , China, and eventually owned a home in Chang Chow.  During her last years there,  she worked with Well Baby Clinics, established by Madame Chiang Kai-sheck. She stayed until 1943 when she was imprisoned by Japanese during their invasion of China. She told me how a down comforter she was allowed to keep  kept her from freezing and I still have that comforter…all packed in mothballs. She had kept a diary and I read of her witnessing friends being raped, abused and killed by invaders.  She was eventually an exchange prisoner and was sent home on a ship named the Gripsholm.  She had lost her home and a lifetime of possessions in China.  Her health was poor.  She spent some time in Asheville recovering from TB.  Finally she moved in with my grandmother and grandfather where she lived until she died. She loved the Chinese people and the culture of China and stayed in touch with many Chinese friends.  She was versed in its history and art. I grew up seeing her as much as my grandmother and she was like a second grandmother in the house.  Every summer she went to Lake Junaluska in the N.C mountains for a retreat. During those weeks,  I stayed with my grandmother who was elderly and crippled from a fall. 

My mother and her siblings adored her and her grand nephews and grand niece loved her too.  She would sit at the dining table after supper and play canasta or Chinese checkers with us. She taught us Jesus Loves Me in Chinese and she always made me feel I was special to her.  When I dressed up, she would say “you look fetching.”  Evidently, there had once been an earlier time when she, herself, was pleased to look  fetching. I inherited her bedroom furniture when she died and I still have it.


~ by Sandra Lynn Gray on October 22, 2007.

12 Responses to “Mary Alice Green (1879-1959) Methodist Missionary to China”

  1. What a phenomenal story… I was compelled to read every single word. What a strong spirited woman – it’s a shame about how she passed but what a legacy. A woman missionary in a time when all you were supposed to do was make a good cake that didn’t fall for your husband. Wow – who said there aren’t any heroes? Beautiful story honestly. (That diary read had to be amazing!)

  2. Thank you for reading the whole thing. It somehow keeps her memory alive for someone to know about her life. We will all be forgotten someday. Some pages of her diary were in the possession of my aunt who was named for her. When my aunt moved into a retirement home, the diary was lost. That nearly killed me.

  3. I had to draw a diagram to get everybody straight. So many names are very familiar, but I wasn’t clear on who belonged in what generation. It’s interesting to me to read that Granny Lambeth was an artist, begetting your mother the musician and you the artist. Aunt Alice is such a historic figure that I wonder how I know so little about your grandmother. Are any of the paintings on your walls at home by her?

    Burned to death – how horrible, I never knew that either.

  4. How have I managed to be so slack about telling family history to my kids. The charcoals in the den are Granny’s…… the girl in the oval frame (1902) and the stream in snow. After teaching for a few years, she married a farmer and spent her time as a farmer’s wife. After they sold the farm, she lived in town and had lots of time to paint. She put a paintbrush in my hand (with oil paints on palette and canvas on easel) when I was very young…seven or eight maybe.

  5. OMG my name is alice green too…cool (:

  6. I am very interested in your memories of Mary Alice Green. She must be the person who wrote two letters to my grandmother, Elizabeth H. Russell, signing them Alice Green. I have just received them from a cousin along with a number of other letters from 1925. I would gladly send you jpgs of the letters. I look forward to hearing from you.

  7. I will look through what I have. Perhaps there is a photo or two of her China Missionary friends. I remember her well. She did not die until I was 15. She told us stories of China and she taught us some little Chinese words and how to sing “Jesus Loves Me” in Chinese. I am not sure I can remember them, however.

  8. I have located her grave in the Goldston UMC Cemetery in Goldston, North Carolina. See

  9. I was sitting with my mother, who is 90, and asked her if she remembered Mary Alice Green…the gentle women who would sit with us in church at the Jonesboro UMC in Sanford, NC when my brother and I were little boys. My mother not only recalled that time in our lives, but she recanted much of the history discussed above. What a delightful surprise to see this remeberance of Miss Green. She has been in our memories for all our lives. Thanks for helping us keep that memory alive.

  10. After the discussion with my mother, I told her I would “google” Miss Green and see if any refernces to her life were “out there” and this site was the first reference that popped up. My mother remembered Miss Green from the days she attended our chruch after the war. She was so pleased to see the picture you provided of Miss Green’s earlier years. My brothers rememberd her, as I said, from sitting with her every Sunday in church and visiting her as well. I still have a small dish from China she gave me as a child. She was indeed a wonderful woman.

  11. I am wondering if you would be a relation to rev. john green whom served in australia in the mid to late 1800’s with william barak

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