Fiske, Fidelia (1816-1864)

First single woman missionary in Persia and founder of the Nestorian Female Seminary

As a precocious and devout child in rural Massachusetts, Fiske read Timothy Dwight’s Theology at age eight. A Congregationalist, she pursued the best education available to girls and was one of the first pupils at Mount Holyoke Seminary, the first woman’s college in America. Upon graduation, she became a teacher at Mount Holyoke and was known for bringing her pupils to Christ. Fiske secretly longed to be a missionary, as her uncle Pliny Fisk had been one of the first American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) missionaries to the Holy Land. In 1843 ABCFM missionary Justin Perkins visited the seminary and requested two single women to pursue educational work among Nestorian girls. Fiske was chosen from the volunteers and she embarked that year, the first of many unmarried women missionaries educated at Mount Holyoke.

Fiske opened a boarding school for girls at Urmia that she sought to manage along “Mount Holyoke principles.” The purpose of the seminary was to make Nestorian girls better wives and mothers and to revive their Christian faith. During her 15 years at Urmia, Fiske led numerous revivals that converted approximately two-thirds of her students. Rufus Anderson, whose vernacular policies she supported, compared her to Jesus Christ in spirituality. During school vacations, she visited former pupils in their homes and held women’s meetings, encouraging former pupils to evangelize other women. In 1858 she returned to Massachusetts in hopes of regaining her health. She spoke about missions to women’s groups and prepared the memorial volume for the twenty-fifth anniversary of Mount Holyoke, after turning down an offer to be its principal. She edited Recollections of Mary Lyon, which was published posthumously. Fiske was probably the best-known female ABCFM missionary of her generation.

Dana L. Robert, “Fiske, Fidelia,” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. Gerald H. Anderson (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1998), 213.

This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright © 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of Macmillan Reference USA, New York, NY. All rights reserved.


Digital Texts Primary

Fiske, Fidelia. Recollections of Mary Lyon, with Selections from her Instructions to the Pupils in Mt. Holyoke Female Seminary.  Boston: American Tract Society, 1866.

Digital Texts Secondary

Fiske, D. T. The Cross and the Crown; or, Faith Working by Love: As Exemplified in the Life of Fidelia Fiske. Boston: Congregational Sabbath School and Pub. Society, 1868.

Gracey, Annie Ryder. Eminent Missionary WomenNew York: Eaton and Mains, 1898. Pp. 23-37.

Laurie, Thomas. Woman and Her Saviour in Persia. Boston: Congregational Publishing Society, 1863.