In 1840 and 1841, Fidelia Fiske lost a year from college while she fought for her life. She had contracted typhoid. Still weak, she went back to school in the fall of 1841 and completed her degree.
Thanks to the faith of Mary Lyon, there was a college for Fidelia to attend. Mary had opened America's first women's college, Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, just a year earlier. Fidelia was one of the most dedicated women that the new school produced.
Despite her poor health, Fidelia was determined to make a mark for Christ. Her determination sprang in part from her girlhood reading: by the time she was eight, she had read Cotton Mather's Magnalia Christi Americana and Timothy Dwight's Theology. At seventeen she began teaching in district schools.
Upon her graduation, friends talked her out of becoming a missionary to Persia. However, when she found out that the person selected to take her place was not able to go, she listened to her heart and rode 35 miles in an open sleigh to ask her mother's permission to go. On this day, March 1, 1843, she sailed from Boston Harbor for Smyrna on the Emma Isadora. She wrote to her sisters, "It may be that my usefulness will greatly depend upon your prayers for me. Sisters, pray for me."
Conditions in Orumiyeh, Iran shocked her. The filth in homes appalled her. Husbands beat their wives; wives disrespected their husbands; children were reared like cattle; the sick were left to die alone. Despite her homesickness, Fidelia took on the responsibility of founding and managing a girl's boarding school. Fifteen years later, she was still in charge of the school, which had slowly grown to forty pupils. She had had to convince the villagers to allow girls to remain single long enough to get an education. By freely offering her nursing skills, she won friends. However, her health and eyesight weakened to the point she had to quit. The forty-two-year-old woman prepared to return to America in 1858. Then she took stock of what she had accomplished. When she arrived in Persia, she did not know a single woman who was a Christian. When she left, she knew 93, most of whom had been her pupils.
In the few years remaining to her life, she taught at Mount Hope, imparting the faith lessons she had learned. In spite of a nervous breakdown and failing health, she wrote a book on Persian women, another on Mount Holyoke and Recollections of Mary Lyon. The last was printed after her death. She died at the age of forty-eight of a disease of her lymph glands.
- "Fidelia Fiske." Women in American History by Encyclopedia Britannica. http://search.eb.com/women/articles/ Fiske_Fidelia.html
- "Fidelia Fiske." Mount Holyoke College. Archives and Special Collections. http://www.mtholyoke.edu/offices/library/ arch/col/ms0536r.htm
- Royer, Galen B. Christian Heroism in Heathen Lands. Elgin, Illinois: Brethren Publishing House, 1914.
- Various internet articles.
Last updated June, 2007