Mary Edwards was the founder of Inanda Seminary, Natal, South Africa. Born a Quaker in Ohio, she became a teacher and in 1856 married William Edwards. After his death in 1867, she volunteered to the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions and was sent to Natal as the first missionary of the newly founded (Congregational) Woman’s Board of Missions. In 1869 she founded Inanda Seminary for Zulu girls, where she introduced academic subjects, domestic science, modern methods of agriculture, and, at age 80, nurses’ training. She pushed constantly to raise the intellectual standards of the school, despite prejudice against higher education for African girls. Early Inanda graduates became teachers at day schools. Financial support of the school was always difficult, so the pupils did their own housework and gardening. Taking only one furlough, in 1875, Edwards remained in Africa for the rest of her life. After 1892 she no longer supervised the academic side of Inanda but continued to lead the agricultural and industrial work. By 1909 she was practically blind but remained at Inanda as a spiritual support until her death. Inanda became the best secondary school for Zulu girls in South Africa and continued despite severe disabilities forced upon it by the apartheid regime.
Dana L. Robert
Edwards wrote articles for the women’s missionary periodical Life and Light for Heathen Women. Mabel E. Emerson, Mary K. Edwards (pamphlet in Pioneer Series, 1917); Agnes A. Wood, “Shine Where You Are”: A Centenary History of Inanda Seminary, 1869-1879 (1972). Material on Edwards can be found in the archives of the ABCFM at Harvard Univ., Cambridge, Mass.
This article is reproduced, with permission, from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, copyright © 1998, by Gerald H. Anderson, W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.