Thoburn, Isabella
( 1840-1901 )
   early tethodist missionary in India
   Thoburn was born near St. Clairsville, Ohio, on March 29, 1840. Her brother, James Thoburn, went to India as a missionary in 1859 and once there began to encourage his sister to join him.
   Isabella began her adult life as a schoolteacher. She responded favorably to the idea of going to
   India, but waited until she could receive the approval of the church. She was in correspondence with the women who founded the Methodist Woman's Foreign Missionary Society and was at the top of the list when they began to commission missionaries for service abroad. Thoburn and Clara Swain, the first two missionaries authorized by the society, arrived in Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1870.
   Thoburn went immediately to her post in Luc-know. Three months after her arrival, she opened a girl's school in the Lucknow bazaar. The following year, the society purchased a seven-acre estate, formerly a palace, for her use. She turned the palace into a boarding school. Thoburn worked in Luc-know for more than three decades, concentrating much of her educational and evangelizing efforts among the women of the zenanas (harems).
   On visits home, Thoburn traveled across the country, speaking on behalf of the Indian mission. She also served for a year (1887-88) at the deaconess house and taught in the Chicago Training School, both organized by Lucy Rider Meyer (1849-1922), who pioneered deaconess activity in Methodism.
   Upon her return to India, she discovered that her boarding school had evolved into a Girls' High School (1887). At her suggestion, it soon added a college department, and later a teachers' course and a kindergarten (1893). Thoburn picked up her duties as principal and also began a semimonthly Hindi-language newspaper, Rafiq-i-Niswan (Woman's Friend). Meanwhile, her brother, James, had been named India's first Methodist bishop in 1888.
   In 1895, the Indian government granted Thoburn a charter for a full woman's college. Luc-know Woman's College opened in 1896 as the first Christian institution of higher education for women in Asia. She headed the college and her efforts thereafter were largely devoted to its development and support. Thoburn died in Lucknow on September 1, 1901. The college she founded was renamed in her honor in 1903. It would later became the woman's college of Lucknow University.
   Further reading:
   ■ Marjorie A. Dimmitt, Isabella Thoburn College (Cincinnati: World Outlook Press, 1962)
   ■ William F. Oldham, Isabella Thoburn (Chicago, Jennings & Pye, 1902).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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