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Published Date: June 5, 2022

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Workshop Highlight: “Male, Female, Slave, and Free in the Context of a Pandemic: In the Thought of Katharine Bushnell”

I teach at a Christian university in Chicago, Illinois, called North Park University. My students are the face of Chicago—many of them, mostly women, are second-generation kids of immigrants from Central and South America, India, Pakistan, China, Korea, Bosnia—really from all over the world. I try to find role models for them. Katharine Bushnell is among my favorites.

Katharine Bushnell was born in Peru, Illinois, on February 5, 1855—not too far from Chicago. She came to Northwestern University in 1873, where she was mentored by Frances Willard, who was the Dean of Women. In 1879 she went as a medical missionary to China. There she witnessed the sexual slavery of lower-level Chinese girls at the hands of the British and high society men. Back in the US, in 1886, she witnessed the sexual slavery of girls in the lumber camps of Wisconsin. She travelled to India in 1889, where she investigated the sexual slavery of low-caste girls at the hands of the British soldiers and the Indian high-caste men.

Bushnell was devastated by what she saw in China, the US, and India. In response she co-wrote two crucial books, The Queen’s Daughters in India (1899) and Heathen Slaves and Christian Rulers (1907). 

All this was happening to girls right in the middle of brutal famines and the bubonic plague. This was soon to be followed by the 1918 influenza pandemic. Millions of lives were lost. Yet the ones who suffered most were girls and women. Bushnell concluded that girls and women were enslaved on the pretext of the famines, bubonic plague, and the pandemic.

Following her experiences in China, the US, and India, Bushnell wrote her magnum opus, God’s Word to Women (1923). She had in mind the sexually enslaved women as she studied the Bible. She struggled with the question of what it means to be “male, female, slave, and free in the context of a pandemic.”

At CBE’s 2022 International Conference, I will underline the answers found in Bushnell’s works.

This article is from “The Fullness of Galatians 3:28,” the Summer 2022 issue of Mutuality magazine. Read the full issue here.