Skip to main content

Mary L. Matthews papers

 Collection — Box: 1-9
Identifier: MS 0874

Scope and Contents

The Mary L. Matthews papers consist of biographical information, diaries, correspondence, historical materials, publications, and photographs. The biographical information provided by Matthews includes notes and statements about her life, including her inspiration to become a foreign missionary. Notebooks and diaries span over a large period of time; most of the materials are from 1912, when she was noting the effects of the First Balkan War, and from 1916-1919 during the course and immediate aftermath of World War I. The content includes notes about everyday upkeep at the American School, visitors to the mission, and a large extent of information about political happenings, dropped shells, the presence of troops, and destruction of some parts of the city. The collection includes two boxes of correspondence, including letters to and from Matthews, filed chronologically. Letters range from 1863 to 1955. Matthews often writes home to her brother John G. Matthews, and to members of the missionary board such as James L. Barton, Kate Lamson, and others. Correspondence also includes letters to and from her fellow missionaries in the Balkan and Near East regions, in cities such as Salonica, Samokov, and Kortcha. Frequent topics include reports on the scholarly and religious progress of the American School girls, political and military activity, missionary bureaucracy, health and sickness, and travel notes. There are a number of materials regarding the American School for Girls, including its course lists, building floor plans, reports from 1911-1915, and the names and addresses of alumnae. Articles, and pieces written by Matthews herself, about events that transpired during her residency in the Balkans. These materials are separated into two general categories: history of the Balkan region, and history of other places in Mary's life such as her hometown of Oberlin, OH. Next, there are a variety of publications. The first category is missionary reports, often just a few pages long, and written by men who were operating in the Monastir area. Then there are missionary journals, small booklets which report on the activities and correspondence of missionaries, often with the scope of a specific year and/or geographical area. There are also several Biblical materials, such as booklets and pamphlets which contain verses and hymns. Matthews' collection consists of Biblical materials in multiple languages, including English, Bulgarian, and Serbian. The last section of her collection is two boxes of photographs. These are sorted into the following sub-sections: Mary Matthews, people (individual), group photos, the American School, Monastir, places, postcards, and pets. Within these broader topics, photos are often divided into identified versus non-identified photos. The content of most of these photos is of Monastir, the American School, and its residents; also represented are several Balkan and Near East cities, and the missionaries who were placed there. There are also some photos within the collection of Matthews' life post-Monastir, of which she spent a length of time in Phoenix, Arizona.


  • 1863-1950

Biographical note

Mary Louisa Matthews was born August 28, 1864 in Cleveland, Ohio. She attended Mount Holyoke Seminary from Sept. 1880 to June 1883, and was an active member in the Mount Holyoke Missionary Association (MHMA). She left school before graduation due to ill health. Matthews taught for 2 years at Fisk University while applying to be a missionary with the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missionaries (ABCFM). She was appointed to Monastir, in European Turkey, and arrived in 1888 as a teacher at the American School for Girls (American School). Her post lasted for 32 years, in which she took only three short furloughs to the U.S., in 1893-1896, 1904-1905, and 1913-1915. During this time, Matthews witnessed many geographical, political, and social changes, including the Young Turks' Revolution in 1908, the First and Second Balkan Wars in 1912-1913, and World War I from 1915-1918. Life at the American School consisted of academic and religious study, as well as relief work. Due to the multicultural nature of the region, Matthews’ work was often affected by political and wartime circumstances. After the departure of Miss Harriet L. Cole in 1909, Matthews was the head teacher at the American School and remained a primary missionary in the Monastir region until 1920. Due to unknown reasons, she let Monastir in 1920 and spent the next few years recovering in the U.S.. Eventually, she returned to work as a teacher in the American School for Girls in Salonica, Greece, and was appointed as Foreign Secretary for the Near East, a position that revolved primarily around fundraising. Matthews remained in close contact with many of her Monastir and other Near East associates, such as Rada Pavlova and Delpha Davis, throughout the rest of her life. She spent a great deal of time touring the U.S. upon her permanent return, including California and Phoenix, Arizona. Mary L. Matthews died in 1950.


3.5 Linear Feet (8 boxes)

Language of Materials



Matthews, Mary Louisa, 1863-1950; Missionary to the American School for Girls at Monastir, in present-day Macedonia. Mount Holyoke student from 1880-1883, non-graduating Class of 1885. Personal papers include biographical information, diaries, and correspondence to and from Matthews. The collection also includes Missionary publications, Biblical materials, documents from the American School for Girls at Monastir, and two boxes of photographs. Majority of the collection focuses on the 1900-1918 period.

Processing Information

Processed by Liz Knoll, MHC Class of 2016, in summer 2015.

Mary L. Matthews Papers, 1863-1950
Finding Aid
Finding aid prepared by Elizabeth Knoll.
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections Repository

50 College Street
8 Dwight Hall
South Hadley MA 01075-6425 USA