Christian Equality: Katharine Bushnell - pioneer for women’s human rights from a biblical perspective
Katharine Bushnell (born Sophia Caroline Bushnell) (February 5, 1856 - January 26, 1946) was a Christian writer, physician, medical missionary to China, and Bible scholar skilled in both Hebrew and Greek, and social activist.
Of particular interest to her was the status of women in the Bible, believing it had been mistranslated and misinterpreted. She was a forerunner of feminist theology. Her lifelong quest was for biblical affirmation of the integrity and equality of women.
Biography of Katharine Bushnell
Katherine Bushnell was born February 5, 1856, in Peru, Illinois. She attended Northwestern University for pre-medical studies and medical school at Chicago Women's Medical College where she specialized in nerve disorders.
She established a pediatrics hospital in Shanghai while a missionary sponsored by the Woman's Mission Board of the Methodist Episcopal Church. There she was influenced by translations of the Bible into Chinese which she thought were dishonestly done to subjugate women. She began comparing the English translation to the original Greek New Testament and found similar patterns of what she considered intentionally biased mistranslations. That motivated her to study Hebrew on her long sea travels.
In 1885 she joined the Woman's Christian Temperance Union as the National Evangelist of the Department of Social Purity. She helped found the Anchorage Mission in Chicago which sheltered homeless women.
She appeared before the Wisconsin Legislature to expose white slavery in a lumber camp, although the state of Wisconsin denied its existence. She was first defamed for allegedly creating "cruel lies" which later were proved to be factual. In 1887, Wisconsin passed Senate Bill 46 to address white slavery.
Bushnell then traveled with Elizabeth Andrew to India where the government of India had denied allegations that its soldiers were frequenting Indian prostitutes. The government was proved wrong by Bushnell and Andrew’s wealth of evidence, as well as corroborating results from an independent investigation.
The women's efforts led to a reprimand for Lord Roberts, the Commander-in-Chief, India. They coauthored two books about their experiences, The Queen’s Daughters in India, and Heathen Slaves and Christian Rulers. The British government subsequently commissioned her to look into the opium trade between India and China.
She died January 26, 1946.
God's Word to Women
Throughout the nineteenth century, women struggled with "oppressive interpretations of the Bible that deprived them of their power and dignity." Bushnell has been called the most prominent voice declaring the Bible as liberating of women.
Her book, God's Word to Women, is a culmination of her life's work. It was compiled from a correspondence course of the same name. In it, she works through every biblical portion interpreted to mean that women are inferior to men. This included the topics of women not being allowed to preach, required subordination to their husbands, polygamy, and head coverings. She wrote that male-biased mistranslations of the Bible, instead of "hasting the coming of the day of God, are hindering the preparation for that coming."
Supposing women only had translated the Bible, from age to age, is there a likelihood that men would have rested content with the outcome? Therefore, our brothers have no good reason to complain if, while conceding that men have done the best they could alone, we assert that they did not do the best that could have been done.
“The work would have been of a much higher order had they first helped women to learn the sacred languages (instead of putting obstacles in their way), and then, have given them a place by their side on translations committees,” Katharine Bushnell, in her book God's Word to Women.
God's Word to Women did not have mass appeal when first published because of its scholarly content and the few scholars interested in the topic. It relies on translation of ancient Hebrew and Koine Greek and ancient Hebrew culture. However, the book is now valued highly by Christian egalitarian scholars. Originally published in 1921, it is now in public domain and is available online both electronically and in print. A website dedicated to her work is GodsWordtoWomen.org
1. ^ a b Kroeger, Catherine C. "The Legacy of Katherine Bushnell: a Hermeneutic for Women of Faith." Priscilla Papers, Fall 1995. Available through Christians for Biblical Equality
2. ^ Katharine Bushnell, God's Word to Women (Piedmont, California: Published via reprint, ed. Ray Munson, Box 52, North Collins, N.Y., 1976), cited by paragraph, 794.
- · Kristin Kobes Du Mez, "The Forgotten Woman's Bible," Ph.D. dissertation on Bushnell and women-centered Protestantism in America Includes a biography (In PDF format; restricted to campus access.)
- · Bushnell, Katharine (1921). God's Word to Women. ISBN 0-9743031-0-0.
- · Lisa Thompson (Spring 2006). "Fighting the other slave trade". Christian History & Biography 90: 43-45.
- · Tyrrell, Ian . Woman's World, Woman's Empire: The Woman's Christian Temperance Union in International Perspective, 1880-1930. The University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0-8078-1950-6.
Source: Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Wikipedia, “Katharine Bushnell,” (accessed April 18, 2008). Minor edits by Christian Equality.