People > Alice Pettee Adams

Alice Pettee Adams

Alice Pettee Adams, whom a great nation has honored, may be named without dissent one of Jaffrey's most distinguished daughters. She was born in Jaffrey, August 3, 1866, in the same pleasant upland region that in 1791 gave to the world a man of like spirit in his lifelong service to the people of India, Levi Spaulding, one of the most devoted of early American missionaries.

Appointed to missionary service in Japan by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, in March, 1891, Miss Adams in March, 1931, was granted a year's leave of absence on account of impaired health, and while at her old home in Jaffrey gave to the Jaffrey History Committee a fascinating account of her life work, of which the following pages afford only a faint glimpse.

Tracing her ancestry to Henry Adams, immigrant ancestor of two Presidents of the United States, John Adams and John Quincy Adams, Miss Adams is of strong New England stock. Beginning her life work in the small district schools of Jaffrey when sixteen years old, she proved herself a born teacher. To fit herself for broader usefulness she took the so-called college course at Bridgewater (Mass.) Normal School, graduating in 1888. Returning to Jaffrey she became principal of Conant High School with her sister, Sarah L., as assistant. Miss Adams had taught for a year at East Jaffrey and the first term of the following year at Jaffrey Center when the call came to what proved to be her life work. A Normal School friend, Miss Annie Keene, became her substitute for the remainder of the year, her sister, Miss Sarah L. Adams, continuing as assistant.

From an early age influences directed Miss Adams' thoughts to what became her life work. Her cousin, Dr. James H. Pettee, was missionary of the American Board to Japan, while the pastor of her Jaffrey Center church, Rev. W. W. Livingston, had been missionary to Turkey. A difficult task, with small hope of reward beyond successful achievement, appealed to her spirit of service. Settlement work, then in its infancy, had a great attraction for her and, with her room-mate, she decided to give one-tenth of her life to missionary work. She wrote Dr. Pettee in Japan, stating her purpose and desire not to go to Japan as a regular missionary but as a teacher in government schools, and after ten years of service to return to become a teacher of her favorite subjects, mathematics, zoology, or botany in some school or seminary for girls, with social work as an avocation. Dr. Pettee replied that he soon would come home on furlough and then would discuss plans with her. Miss Adams' fitness for the work being at once recognized, little difficulty arose in her being appointed, early in 1891, by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions as a missionary to Japan. But her aim was a higher and broader service to humanity. Her passport to Japan specified connection with aschool there as teacher. Under this restriction she was first assigned to teach English two hours a day in a mission school for boys, the while giving her spare time to study of the Japanese language. After five years a change of law permitted her release from school connection, when she entered in earnest upon her chosen career.

Miss Adams became the founder of Hakuaikai Institution, the first social settlement in Japan, located in the slums of Okayama, flourishing city of two hundred thousand inhabitants. "Hakuaikai" means "loving all"; in this spirit the work was undertaken and expended to a stage where it merits and receives the favor of the best and most enlightened people of Japan, including the Emperor and Royal Family. It also has had constant support and encouragement from the American Board of Missions and from personal friends in this country. The work, started in the poorest district, was carried on in the old flimsily-built houses until gradually money was raised, land bought and new buildings erected. Progress has been continuous—more money, more land, more buildings, more service.

Of this great work Miss Adams has been promoter and supervisor. So similar in names and fields of endeavor has Hakuaikai Institution fbeen to Toynbee Hall in London and Hull House of Miss Jane Ad-idams in Chicago that on more than one occasion Alice Adams has been honored with the title of "Jane Addams of Japan." For the marvellously expanded work of the Institution much money has been required, about one-third of which is furnished by the American Board. Of the native support Miss Adams says, "I wish I could help you see how generous, how cordial and how helpful the people are." Out of their slender resources they give more generously than is the case in similar circumstances here in America. Wealthy people in Japan, also, have been most helpful with contributions. The Institution at present includes a medical department, kindergarten, primary school for those barred from government schools, and a sewing school for girls from fourteen to twenty-two years of age graduated from primary schools. Religious work is conducted in all departments.

All Japanese children are required to attend school, but not all schools are free. Books and supplies are not furnished in government schools, but in the Institution everything is supplied, even meals for under-nourished children, beneficiaries paying a nominal half cent a month for endowment. Miss Adams says, "We take people so poor they cannot attend government schools, also illegitimate children. There is no school for defective children in Okayama, and only two in all Japan, so it falls to us to care for those among the poorer people. We also take children barred from other schools on account of infection from sores. Maintenance expense is about one thousand yen (equivalent to $500. in the United States) per month, and to raise this amount requires much effort."

On her return to America the present year (1931) Miss Adams left Mr. and Mrs. Olds, Okayama American Board missionaries, in charge of the Institution, telling interested Japanese that they must raise money to carry on the work. She doubted their ability, but they said, "We'll make it a success." And they did. By custom a bazaar is held annually and last year 374 yen were cleared. This year, in Miss Adams' absence, she is informed the amount is 614 yen. This means that well-to-do friends have given additional goods for the sale, thus showing their approval of the work.

Scarcely less important than educational work is that of the medical department conducted entirely by Japanese. They are proud of this work as their own, while the doctors, giving their services, all are graduates of the University and include some of the best specialists in the city. When recently it was necessary to enlarge the medical department, the Imperial Government allowed 3,000 yen for the purpose. This amount proving insufficient, the trustees suggested the sending out of an appeal for funds signed by Miss Adams and bearing her picture. This course resulted in additional contributions of 3,000 yen—an ample amount. The medical department includes a dispensary and infirmary with from one hundred to one hundred and sixty-five patients daily.

So great has been the appreciation of Miss Adams' work that she has been honored six times by the Japanese Government. In 1922 she received the Blue Ribbon Decoration shown on her photograph, she being the twelfth person and the first woman to be so honored. She has been received by the present Emperor three times; once when he was Crown Prince, once when Prince Regent, and again when as Emperor he attended a military review at Okayama. On his enthronement medals were given all Social workers in service over thirty years, including Miss Adams. er medal bears on its reverse, in Japanese characters, the date and basis of gift, while on its obverse the engraver endeavored to represent the spirit of service of the social worker, working with Christ, the Saviour, by two figures guarding a child standing between them, with angel figures above. In 1928, after thirty-seven years of devoted service, she was awarded a pension of three hundred yen annually for life by the Japanese Government "for distinguished public service," the first instance of such a grant to an American.

It is said to be impossible for an Occidental and an Oriental to have mutual understanding — a saying not true of Miss Adams in Japan. To a rare degree she has identified herself with her people. Her career in America, planned to follow ten years of mission work, long since was abandoned gladly. Her appointed work was in Japan, where the need was far greater than in America. The Japanese now have become "her people" and she can say, "I feel just as much, or more, at home there than here. I just enjoy my work, and the beautiful way these people stand behind me is perfectly grand." The work that she founded and watched over for forty years has become so much a part of herself that she says, "It is like my child. I feel like a mother toward my work. My interest is there, and when I must give it up and someone else carries it on it will seem like a stepmother taking my place. But," then follows the comforting reflection, "of course you can get good step-mothers for children in need."

Miss Adams' American friends are proud to know that her work in Japan has been appreciated and that she has been honored there as few women have been honored before. The influence of the Institution of "Loving Service to All" will continue. To few has it been given to establish so securely a place in the grateful memory of another race as to Alice Pettee Adams in Japan.

Additional Resources

Bridgewater State College (1991). Bridgewater Magazine, Vol. 1, No. 4. Retrieved from on March 10, 2013.

Alice Adams

Alice Adams.

Name: Alice Pettee Adams
Born: August 3, 1866
Place of Birth: Jaffrey, NH
Died: May 9, 1937
Place of Death: Newtown, MA
Occupation: Teacher, Principal of Conant H.S., Missionary
Place of Burial Unknown