Intro: Minnie Vautrin was a wonderful and courageous missionary who saved thousands of girls from being raped and maimed. Although I did not win anything in this contest, I am proud to share her story.
Contributions from women line history's pathway. These women range from fierce legends like Joan of Arc to everyday people such as the volunteering lady next door. They make their marks in various places, times, and areas. However, these heroines are also very similar. They all possess the selflessness, courage, and resolve needed to lay aside their own comforts for the sake of accomplishing greater good. Minnie Vautrin was exactly that kind of person. She rescued thousands of women during a reign of immorality.
Wilhelmina "Minnie" Vautrin was born on September 27, 1886 in the humble town of Secor, Illinois. When her mother passed away, Minnie was at age six taught to take care of the house and of her younger brother. She excelled in school, later going on to earn a Master of Arts in education. At that time, interest in Chinese missions rapidly grew in the church. This current soon swept Vautrin in, and she landed a job as the president of Ginling Girl's College of Nanking, China in 1919. She personally wrote to several boards, securing funds for Ginling. In addition, she launched a "good neighbor policy" in which participating students visited the poor and taught Sunday school to local children. Under Vautrin's administration, Ginling blossomed from a small missionary school to an esteemed university.
Yet the crux of Vautrin's service did not come until 1937, when World War II brought a flood of Japanese soldiers into eastern China. That summer and fall, she repeatedly refused to evacuate Nanking, claiming that she belonged there. At that time, Ginling was included in an "International Safety Zone" granted neutrality by both the Chinese government and Japanese embassy. Vautrin set to work transforming Ginling into a refugee camp for women and children. She hired teenage service corps and established an International Red Cross rice kitchen. Then, China's Nationalist capital fell to Japan on December 9. The Japanese Army violently swept into Nanking, looting buildings and slaughtering civilians on a mass scale. Yet the most terrifying of their crimes was the rape; the soldiers raped an estimated twenty to eighty thousand women and girls, often mutilating their victims afterwards. Vautrin welcomed ten thousand women and children into Ginling, raising money and organizing staff to provide for needs like clothing and medicine. She also helped refugees relocate male relatives. The grateful Chinese nicknamed her a "Goddess of Mercy."
However, some soldiers ignored protective orders from the Japanese embassy and barged into the safety zone. Vautrin was constantly on the guard for soldiers coming into to Ginling. When they did enter, she stubbornly held them back. After the Safety Zone was formally disbanded in 1938, Vautrin offered informal secondary and college education for young women who chose to remain on Ginling. In addition, she started a homecraft-industrial project in which poor women learned literacy and religion as well as skills like sewing and farming. Unfortunately, her health began to deteriorate as the war waged on. She was sent back to the U.S. in 1940.
Vautrin returned a celebrity in the missionary world, but she considered herself a "failure," disappointed at being unable to help more people. At age fifty-five, she ended her life on May 14, 1941 amidst a nervous breakdown. In her lifetime, she touched hundreds by furthering women's education and protected thousands more from molestation. That is no failure. Minnie Vautrin gave true hope in living hell. Her courage, dedication, and sacrifice will forever be engraved in the path of history and the hearts of the people to whom she poured out her life.
Chang, Iris. The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II. New York: Basic Books, 1997.
Follis, Don. "Illinois missionary became heroine in China." Peoria Online Trader. 19 Dec. 1997. 21 Apr. 2009. [html link]
Hu, Hua-ling. American Goddess at the Rape of Nanking: The Courage of Minnie Vautrin. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2000.
Vautrin, Wilhelmina "Minnie." Terror in Minnie Vautrin's Nanjing: Diaries and Correspondence, 1937-38. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2008.