Ferguson, Abbie Park and Anna Elvira Bliss
Abbie Ferguson and Anna Bliss were the founders of Huguenot College, and leaders of the early South African Reformed women’s missionary movement. New Englanders and daughters of Congregationalist ministers, they graduated from Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in 1856 and 1962 respectively. Having absorbed the missionary legacy of Mount Holyoke’s founder, Mary Lyon, Ferguson and Bliss became teachers. In 1873 they answered the appeal of Andrew Murray for teachers from Mount Holyoke to open a female seminary in South Africa. With financial support from the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) in South Africa, Ferguson and Bliss founded Huguenot Seminary (later Huguenot College) in Wellington as the first woman’s college in South Africa. Ferguson became the first president, and in 1910 Bliss became the second. Graduates from Huguenot fanned out across southern Africa, establishing schools and transforming the education of girls. Ferguson especially inculcated missionary fervor in her students, and in 1875 Johanna Meeuwsen left Huguenot for missionary service in the Transvaal. In 1878, upon reading the ten-year report of the Woman’s Board of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, Ferguson and her students founded the Huguenot Missionary Society, which supported alumnae as missionaries in southern Africa, such as A. A. Louw. Virtually the entire first generation of women missionaries from the DRC, both single and married, were Huguenot graduates. Approximately fifty Huguenot students had become missionaries by 1904.
Ferguson herself wished to become a missionary in the South African gold fields but was persuaded to remain at Huguenot. In 1889, with Mrs. Andrew Murray and Huguenot graduates as officers and leaders, the Vrouesendingbond (Woman’s Missionary Union) emerged from the Huguenot Society as the first national organization for Afrikaner women. The Vrouesendingbond appointed and paid all salaries of single women missionaries in the DRC. In 1890 Ferguson used her own money to begin a mission study class at Huguenot that became the nucleus of the Student Volunteer Movement in the Cape Colony. In 1904 the class became a separate missionary training school for women, Friedenheim, under the DRC. Ferguson’s brother, George, joined her in 1877 until his death in 1896 as head of a missionary training institute for men. Abbie Ferguson and Andrew Murray participated together in movements to promote higher spiritual life. After her retirement from the presidency of Huguenot, Ferguson helped to establish a Women’s Interdenominational Missionary Committee in South Africa.
Dana L. Robert
See Ferguson, Bliss, and Andrew Murray’s accounts of their work in the 1898 Huguenot Seminary Annual.
Other sources on Ferguson and Bliss include George P. Ferguson, The Builders of Huguenot (1927).
Dana L. Robert, “Mount Holyoke Women and the Dutch Reformed Missionary Movement, 1874-1904,” Missionalia 21 (1993): 103-123.
The archives of Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, Mass., contain files on Ferguson and Bliss. The major collection of their papers, journals, and correspondence is held in the NGK archives in the Cape Archives, Cape Town, Republic of South Africa.
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.