French, Evangeline [Eva] (1869-1961) and Francesca (1871-1961)

Missionary pioneers in central Asia

The sisters Evangeline and Francesca French were born to an Anglo-French family and were educated mainly in Geneva. Francesca came early to Christian faith; Eva experienced years of rebellion that ended in the 1890s. Going to China under the China Inland Mission (CIM) in 1895, Eva found herself in the center of the Boxer uprising in Shansi (Shanxi) Province and the leader of a group of women who escaped with their lives. In 1901 she met the younger CIM recruit, Midred Cable, and the two were never to be separated. They returned to Hwochow (present-day Xinjiang) in Shansi to help rebuild the shattered church. Francesca had remained in England with their widowed mother, but at the mother’s death she became the third member of the trio, and coauthor, with Mildred Cable, of many books. From this point until Cable’s death in 1952, the three lived and worked together. From 1913 they turned their attention to Kansu (Gansu) Province, Chinese Turkestan (Xinjiang Uygur), and the Gobi Desert. In the 1920s they took into their home a Tartar girl, known as Topsy, who proved to be a deaf mute. She lived with them for the rest of their lives and was especially close to Eva. In the 1930s political unrest increased and they were compelled to leave Suchow (Jinquan), their base in Kansu. In August 1936 they made their last journey home by the Trans-Siberian railway and retired together in Hampstead, Dorset, England. Francesca continued to write and travel with Mildred. Eva, the leader of the trio in China, stayed home with Topsy. They were able to use their reputation as pioneering women travelers to gain publicity and support for the CIM, for the British and Foreign Bible Society, and above all for the gospel. Eva died in Dorset, Francesca at their Hampstead home three weeks later.

Jocelyn Murray, “French, Evangeline (‘Eva’) and Francesca,” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. Gerald H. Anderson (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1998), 227.

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

Cable, Mildred. The Fulfilment of a Dream of Pastor Hsi’s: The Story of the Work in Hwochow. London: Morgan & Scott; China Inland Mission, 1917.

Cable, Mildred and Francesca French. Something Happened. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1933.

Cable, Mildred, et al. The Challenge of Central Asia: A Brief Survey of Tibet and its Borderlands, Mongolia, North-west Kansu, Chinese Turkistan, and Russian Central Asia. London and New York: World Dominion Press, 1929.


Cable, Alice Mildred. The Powers of Darkness: Being a Record of Some Observations in Demonology. London: Morgan & Scott, 1920.

_____ (ed.). “Come, Follow.” The Call to Service [By Various Authors]. London: [Inter-Varsity Fellowship of Evangelical Unions], 1937.

_____. “The Bazars of Tangut and the Trade-Routes of Dzungaria.” Geographical Journal 84, no. 1 (July 1934): 17-31.

_____. “A New Era in the Gobi.” Geographical Journal 100, no. 5-6 (Nov. – Dec. 1942): 193-205.

_____. Whither Central Asia? London: Central Asian Mission, [1942].

Cable, Mildred and Francesca French. Dispatches from North-West Kansu. London: China Inland Mission, 1925.
Dispatches from North-West Kansu

_____. The Red Lama. London: China Inland Mission, 1927.

_____. Through Jade Gate and Central Asia: An Account of Journeys in Kansu, Turkestan and the Gobi Desert. London: Constable & Co., 1927.

_____. A Desert Journal: Letters from Central Asia. London: Constable, 1934.

_____. A Woman who Laughed: Henrietta Soltau, who Laughed at Impossibilities and Cried: “It shall be done.” London and Philadelphia: China Inland Mission, 1934.

_____. Ambassadors for Christ. London: Hodder and Stoughton, Ltd., 1935.

_____. The Story of Topsy: Little Lonely of Central Asia. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1937.

_____. Grace, Child of the Gobi. London: Hodder and Stoughton, [1938].

_____. Toward Spiritual Maturity: A Handbook for Those Who Seek It. London: Hodder and Stoughton,1939.

_____. A Parable of Jade. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1940.

_____. The Gobi Desert: The Adventures of Three Women Travelling Across the Gobi Desert in the 1920s. New York: Macmillan Co., 1944. Also, Coventry: Trotamundas, 2008.

_____. China, Her Life and Her People. London, University of London Press, [1946].

_____. The Book which Demands a Verdict. London: S.C.M. Press, 1946.

_____. The Bible in Mission Lands. New York and London: Fleming H. Revell Company, [1947].

_____. George Hunter, Apostle of Turkestan. London: China Inland Mission, 1948.

_____. The Making of a Pioneer. London: Hodder and Stoughton, [1949].

_____. Journey with a Purpose. London: Hodder & Stoughton, [1950].

_____. Wall of Spears: The Gobi Desert. London: Lutterworth Press, 1951.

_____. Why not for the World? The Story of the Work of God through the Bible Society. London: British and Foreign Bible Society, 1952.

Mather, Percy Cunningham with Mildred Cable and Francesca French (eds.). The Making of a Pioneer. Percy Mather of Central Asia. [Letters of P. C. Mather]. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1935.


Benson, Linda K. Across China’s Gobi: The Lives of Evangeline French, Mildred Cable, and Francesca French of the China Inland Mission. Norwalk, CT: EastBridge, 2008.

Brothers, Barbara and Julia Marie Gergits. British Travel Writers, 1910-1939. Detroit: Gale Research, 1998.

Foster, Shirley and Sara Mills (eds.). An Anthology of Women’s Travel Writings. Manchester; New York: Manchester University Press; New York: Distributed exclusively in the U.S.A. by Palgrave, 2002. [Includes extract from The Gobie Desert. With notes and an introduction by Foster and Mills.]

Griffith, Valerie. Not Less than Everything: Courageous Women who Carried the Christian Gospel to China. Oxford; Grand Rapids, MI: Monarch Books with Overseas Ministries Fellowship; Kregel, 2004.

James, Kate. Women of the Gobi: Journeys on the Silk Road. Melbourne: Pluto Press Australia, 2006.

McCredie, Brian D. Tales from the Wild, Wild Gobi: Intrepid Women and Adventures Beyond the Great Wall. New Delhi: Indialog Publ., 2006.

Morris, Mary and Larry O’Conner. Maiden Voyages: Writings of Women Travelers. New York: Vintage Books, 1993. Includes extract of The Gobie Desert.

Platt, William James. Three Women: Mildred Cable, Francesca French, Evangeline French: The Authorised Biography. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1964.

Thompson, Phyllis. Desert Pilgrim: The Story of Mildred Cable’s Venture for God in Central Asia. London and Philadelphia; Chicago: China Inland Mission; Moody Press, 1957.

Tinling, Marion. Women into the Unknown: A Sourcebook on Women Explorers and Travelers. New York: Greenwood Press, 1989.

Studies in Travel Writing.” A list of published anthologies.

China Inland Mission is now known as Overseas Ministries Fellowship (OMF) International.