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