In writing this series, I have sought out accounts of brave women who may not be as well known within church circles. Here is another name which you may not recognise – Eleanor Chestnut.
Eleanor was an unhappy child, lonely and hungry for a mother’s love. Her father abandoned her at birth and her mother died when she was three years old. Taken in by impoverished neighbours and in spite of her lack of nurture, she later discovered a school where she could earn her way through both the academy and college. She enrolled and while studying, joined a Presbyterian church where she took an interest in missions.
In 1888 Eleanor entered the Women’s Medical College in Chicago where she completed the programs for both doctors and nurses – all while living in an attic and eating mostly oatmeal. After five years of study, including some time at Moody Bible College, she was appointed a medical missionary and assigned to South China where her work was complicated by a poor grasp of the language.
But her affection for the people was boundless and she sometimes took patients into her own home.
Eleanor used her bathroom as an operating room and once used her own skin for a graft on the leg of a coolie whose leg was not healing well after surgery. Establishing a women’s hospital she lived on $1.50 a month so the rest of her salary could be used to buy bricks.
Eleanor served China selflessly for ten years before her mission compound was attacked by an anti-foreign mob. She might have escaped had she not returned to help those injured in the attack and her final act of service was ripping a piece of her dress to bind the wound of a child.