Mary Slessor centennial

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Here in Scotland we are recognizing the life of Mary Slessor, a Scottish woman who died 100 years ago this month. Mary was a missionary in Africa at a time when women traveling alone were frowned upon, to say the least.

Mary lived in what is now Nigeria, and quickly became widely loved. She adopted local dress and became fluent in the language. She seems to me like one of those people whose door was always open. And she absolutely dedicated her life to helping people.

At that time, the local people believed that twins were the work of the devil, so they were killed upon birth. Mary put a stop to the practice by adopting the babies as her own. She also campaigned tirelessly to put a stop to practices of severe punishments against women like flogging and being forced to drink poison.

She was a true diplomat, encouraging hostile tribal leaders to communicate among themselves to facilitate trade. She even talked with cannibals to try to convince them to change their lifestyle.

She traveled deep into the jungle often to bring medicine to the sick, and she created schools so the local children could learn to read and write.

It’s hard to imagine what her life was like with malaria, illness from dirty drinking water and the constant danger of violence. Some lines in her diary illustrate what must have been a fairly typical day.


Carrying sand, cleaning corn patch, mudding and rubbing walls.

Patients from early morning; man bitten by rat; another by snake.

School begun, nearly a hundred scholars.

Chiefs here by daybreak for palavers.

Terrific thunderstorm. School-boys drenched. Got a big fire on in hall, and all sat round the blaze and I gave them a reading lesson.

Two women murdered on the way from market and their heads taken away.

Fever; trying to make meat safe.

Cut my first two roses from the rose bush — lovely, a tender gift from God. Heaps of sick babies. Full up with work till late at night. Dead tired.


Mary is still recognized in Nigeria, and the Mary Slessor Foundation continues her work there.

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