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In 1917 Mary Matthews sat in the basement of a building in the city of Monastir and wrote a letter while under bombardment from German soldiers. She wrote that she was glad that she belonged to a Missionary Board which did not call its missionaries back just when they were needed most.

Helping those in need is how Mary had imagined her life while still a student at Mount Holyoke in 1880. Here she joined the Mount Holyoke Missionaries’ Association and looked forward to “do[ing] the Lord’s work wherever He may call us, even if it be in foreign lands.”

Mary departed for Monastir, European Turkey, in 1888 to teach at the American School for Girls, after receiving this official missionary work appointment by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. The city of Monastir (now known as Bitola in the present-day Republic of Macedonia) was only 15 miles from the borders of Serbia and Greece and was fought over by Turkey, Serbia, and Bulgaria, and in World War I was bombarded by the Germans.

During the more than 30 years that Mary would spend in Monastir at the American School, the nationality of her adopted city would change multiple times. Originally she arrived in European Turkey; then the Young Turks took charge after a revolution in 1908; next Serbia gained control of the city in the First Balkan War in 1912; then Bulgaria took control in 1915; the Serbian army recaptured Monastir in 1916; and finally, the city was fought over by many, including the Germans, British, and French during World War I, with Serbia again in charge by the time Mary departed in 1920.

Through all of these transitions and turmoil, Mary helped: she taught the students at the American Girls School with a curriculum that paralleled that of Mount Holyoke; she managed an orphanage; she was in charge of distributing funds from men working in the United States to their families in Monastir; and she fed, clothed, and protected her students and neighbors during multiple wars. Like so many Mount Holyoke women, Mary saw what needed to be done and she did it.


She will go down in history as one of the heroines
standing by the women of that country in the midst of peril
when she might have gone to safety leaving them in need.

Dr. J.L. Barton, American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, 1919