Mary McCornack Thompson Diaries, 1887-1962

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Mary McCornack Thompson was an American Presbyterian missionary who spent over forty years (1889-1932) traveling and teaching in South Africa and Rhodesia. The collection contains diaries, and a few letters. Main subjects are missionary life and travel in Africa. Materials range in date between 1887-1962.
2.4 Linear Feet
96 Items
Material in English
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

The Mary McCornack Thompson Diaries date from 1887 to 1962 and are arranged into two series: Diaries and Correspondence. The bulk of the collection consists of 90 journals that contain detailed accounts of Mary McCornack Thompson's work as a Presbyterian missionary and teacher with the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in South Africa. During her 43 years as a missionary Thompson worked briefly at the mission station at Esidumbi in South Africa, but she spent most of her time at the Mount Selinda mission in the Melsetter region of Rhodesia ( Zimbabwe). In the diaries, Thompson wrote of her daily activities as a missionary, including building and expanding the mission, encounters with locals, learning Zulu, wildlife, meeting other missionaries, teaching and praying. These detailed entries offer a glimpse into the social conditions, race relations, and native cultures of various South African regions. Thompson also recounts her many travels throughout Africa, Europe, Asia, the United States, and Canada. Included in the collection is one folder of correspondence, mainly from William L. Thompson (Thompson's husband) regarding the collection and the transfer of Mary's diaries to Oberlin College.

The Diaries Series documents Thompson's almost daily activities between the years of 1887-1933, spanning all five of her missionary trips to Africa. Volumes 1-6 describe her first missionary trip (1887-1899), detailing her preparations for travel to Africa, her arrival, and her first encounters with native Africans. During this time Thompson married another missionary, William L. Thompson, and together they traveled for four months, mostly on foot, from South Africa to Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). They settled at Mount Selinda, which would be their home in Africa for the next forty years. Volumes 6-8 describe Mary Thompson's visits to the United States between her missionary trips, including taking cooking and photography classes, and traveling around the U.S.

Volumes 8-35 detail her second trip to Africa (1901-1910), during which time the mission at Mount Selinda began to expand rapidly. Thompson often writes about elections at the mission, as well as prayer services and sermons. She occasionally mentions world events such as the explosion of Mt. Pelee in Martinique, the Russian Revolution, and the detention of Queen Wilhelmina of Holland. She also describes her experiences with local natives who teach her the Zulu language. Volumes 35-40 cover Thompson's trip back to the United States in 1910. She describes lectures and meetings, and discussions on the outbreak of World War I. Her diary entries become less frequent during her stay in the United States.

Volumes 40-57 span her third trip to Africa (1911-1917), and entries tend to be bit longer and more descriptive. On this trip volumes 44-49 were written in diary volumes entitled "Warriors of Africa," whose covers depict African natives, and volumes 52-55 in volumes bearing the title "Empire Exercise," portraying historical events. Volumes 57 and 58 describe Thompson's travels during 1916-17 (at the height of World War I) to Hong Kong, Japan, Canada, and the U.S. Volumes 59-60 recount her time back in the United States; much of the content revolves around religious and political meetings on World War I, and the 1918 U.S. midterm elections..

Volumes 61-77 detail her fourth trip to Africa (1919-1925), and volumes 78-89 her fifth and last trip to Africa (1926-1932). Volume 80 does not begin until page 92, and is filled with various writing; some entries appear to be copies of diaries of historical figures. The diary entitled "Notes on Work at Moody Bible Institute" contains lecture notes, thoughts, scripture quotations, and observations by Thompson while attending a higher-education Christian organization, Moody Bible Institute, in Chicago in 1918, between her third and fourth missionary trips to Africa.

The Correspondence Series contains six letters regarding the collection and transfer of Mary McCornack Thompson's diaries after her death in 1936. The first five letters are from by William L. Thompson (Thompson's husband), to his nieces Margaret and Jay Urice, who are locating and collecting Mary's diaries. The sixth letter is from Jay Urice to Mr. Julian Fowler, a librarian at Oberlin College, about having Mary's diaries sent to Oberlin.

Biographical / historical:
Missing Title
Date Event
1858 Mar. 30
Mary Elizabeth McCornack born
Circa 1879
Graduated from Oberlin College, in Ohio
Enlisted in the missionary service, and sent to the mission station at Esidumbi, South Africa by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions
1889 June 1
Left New York for first missionary trip to Africa, via London and Portugal
1889 July 12
Arrived in Cape Town, South Africa
1893 June 14
Married to Dr. William Lamarcus Thompson in South Africa
1893 Oct. 19
Traveled by boat and foot for four months to a new mission at Mount Selinda, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe)
1899 Jan. 9
Left the mission for New York, via Durban
In the United States
1901 Apr.-1910 July
Second missionary trip to Mount Selinda, Rhodesia
Attended church/missionary business meetings in the US (New York, and Cleveland)
1911 Sept. 15
Left from Boston for third missionary trip to Mount Selinda, Rhodesia via Liverpool, and London
1912 Mar. 17
Arrived at Mount Selinda mission
1917 Apr.
Left the mission for the Far East
1917 May
Traveled to Hong Kong, Kobe, Kyoto, and Yokohama
1917 June
Traveled to Victoria, Canada, then south to Seattle, Portland and Chicago attending meetings
1919 Jan.-1925 June
Fourth missionary trip to Mount Selinda, Rhodesia
1926 Sept.-1932 June
Fifth (and last) missionary trip to Mount Selinda, Rhodesia
Retired from mission work after 43 years
1936 Mar. 10
Died in Penny Farms, Florida at the age of 77
1947 Jan. 4
William Lamarcus Thompson died in St. Cloud, Florida at the age of 89
Acquisition information:
The Mary McCornack Thompson Diaries were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book Manuscript Library as a gift in 2004.
Custodial history:

Originally, the papers of Mary McCornack Thompson were at Oberlin College, but were reacquired by the family at an unknown date.

Processing information:

Processed by Loren Crippin

Encoded by Loren Crippin

Completed October 30, 2006

Accessions 2005-0019, 2005-0020 were merged into one collection, described in this finding aid.

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For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.
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Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], Mary McCornack Thompson Diaries, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.