Held at: Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College [Contact Us]500 College Avenue, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania 19081
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
Quakers began their mission work in East Africa in 1902 with the establishment of the Friends Africa Industrial Mission led by Arthur Chilson, Willis Hotchkiss, and Edgar Hole, Quakers representing the programmed Five Years Meeting (now Friends United Meeting). Its purpose was evangelism, using industrial training as a means to introduce Christianity. In the 1920s, the work was expanded to founding schools, with boys and girls boarding schools established at Kaimosi Station which also hosted a mission doctor. Chilson was a staunch revivalist, convinced of the imminent Second Coming, and the missions were Bible-based evangelical and pentacostal. By the 1930s, African Christians were actively establishing their own Holy Spirit movement, with many former members separating from the Friends Church. Friends Africa Mission was also adversely affected by financial pressures due to the Depression in the United States and differing theological views of the strict fundamentalists and Quakers with a more "modern" approach that placed less emphasis on evangelizing.
The Micheners were among this later generation of Quaker missionaries. Margaret Parker, a nurse, arrived with the Micheners. The 1930s were a time of tension within the staff of American Friends African Mission, both theological and personal, and the missionaries also encountered growing opposition to colonial rule. The Micheners endorsed better relations and respect for the Africans and their right to be responsible for their own churches and government. They resigned their positions in 1938, partly for financial responsibilites for their growing family and also because of the internal staff tensions. A former British colony, Kenya gained independence in 1963. The Micheners returned to work in the schools and hospital in Kaimosi in 1967-1969.
Robert Bryan Michener (known as Bryan) was born July 14, 1898, in Wichita, Kansas, the son of Dr. Homer and Susanna May Michener. He attended Earlham College in 1918, volunteered for reconstruction work in France at the end of WWI, and graduated from Friends University in 1922. He earned his medical degree from McGill University in 1928 and married Edith Fannie Riner in 1927. She was born in 1901, the daughter of Henry and Fannie Riner. She also was graduate of Friends University, Class of 1924, and earned an A.M. from Kansas University. From 1930 to 1938, the Micheners served with American Friends Board of Missions in Kaimosi, Kenya Colony, British East Africa. Bryan Michener was a medical missionary at the hospital and subsequently head of the Boys' Normal School. Edith first taught English at the Boys' School and then organized the Girls' Boarding School. The Micheners had five children, three who were born in Kenya: Robert Benjamin (1931); Alice Kasande (1934); and Bryan Paul (1937). Twin daughters Margaret Joan and Dorothy Jean were born in 1939, The family returned to Kansas in August 1938, and Dr. Michener worked in public and student health. The Micheners were active Friends and helped with the placement of Japanese-American students in the 1940s. They were asked to return to Kenya in 1967-1969. In their retirement they settled in Boulder, Colorado. Edith Michener died January 1, 1984, in Boulder, and Robert Bryan Michener died Sept. 18, 1992, in Newton, Massachusetts.
The collection contains the correspondence of Robert Bryan Michener and Edith Riner Michener while serving as Quaker missionaries in Kenya, East Africa, in the 1930s. Working under the auspices of the American Friends African Mission, a program of the Five Years Meeting, R. Bryan Michener served as a physician at the hospital in Kaimosi and then principal of the Boys' School. Edith Michener first taught English at the Boys' School and then organized the Girls' Boarding School. Their correspondence is largely addressed to family members in Kansas and American Friends Board of Missions. It provides insight into their professional and personal lives in East Africa as well as the tensions within the mission system and colonial Africa of the period.
Gift of Alice Schaefer, daughter of the Micheners. Acc. FHL 2018.048
Received in 5 loose-leaf binders with papers stored in plastic sleeves. The letters were removed from non-archival plastic sleeves and placed in acid-free folders. The original order is retained. Robert Bryan Michener included indexes at the front of Binders 1 and 2. The contents include photocopies and originals.
Two books, Friends in East Africa by Harold Smuck and Go Into All the World, A Centennial Celebration of Friends in East Africa added to book catalog.
- Quaker missionaries
- Quakers -- Africa, East
- Quakers -- Africa -- History
- Society of Friends -- Africa, East -- History
- Quaker Physicians
- Quaker educators
- Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College
- Finding Aid Author
- Susanna K. Morikawa
- Finding Aid Date
- December 2018
- Access Restrictions
Copyright has not been assigned to Friends Historical Library. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted to the Curator. Permission for publication is given on behalf of Friends Historical Library as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by reader.
- Use Restrictions
Permission to reuse, publish, or reproduce items in this collection beyond the bounds of Fair Use or other exemptions to copyright law must be obtained from the copyright holder or their heirs/assigns. See http://rightsstatements.org/vocab/InC-RUU/1.0/.
Index, 1930-1938, by R.B.M. Also a second typed index 1930-1933. Photocopies with added handwritten notes. Also loose in binder, R. Bryan Michener's commitment pledge to Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions, 1920, while a student at Friends University.
Certificates from the American Friends Board of Missions for Edith and Robert Bryan Michener. Bryan was working at the Lying-In Hospital, New York, and Edith taking classes at Columbia. Mimeographed typed letter to "Dear Dad and Alice" from Bryan. Two letters from Edith to "Sis." She mentions spending time with Carolena Wood and other Hicksite Quakers.
Letters to Edith's sister, Alice Riner and the family describe their planning their posting, the journey. They sailed on the Bremen in October to England and there to Marseilles, then to Kaimosi, Kenya. Michener joined the Kaimosi staff which inclluded with A. A. (Archibald Albert) Bond and E. B. (Everett) Kellum and describes the difficulty of winning the trust of the local population.
Group letter from Bryan and Edith describes their journey and first months in Africa. Describes the medical practice, schools, local life and culture. Edith gave birth to son Robin in Mango Hospital of the Church (Anglican) Missionary Society in Kampala, Uganda, in a private pavilion for Europeans. All Whites were referred to as "Europeans."
In July they attended the Annual Prayer Conference. Edith was teaching school and cooking classes.
Their quarterly report notes that the government was supporting the missions since funding from the U.S. is suffering during the depressed economy. Bryan's father died January 1932 (recorded at University Friends Meeting, Wichita), and his brother John handled the estate. Details of Bryan's medical practice, especially maternity.
First page is Index of Kenya letters 1930-1938. Photocopy of typed index by r.b.m. with note that his index is incomplete.
Letters from Bryan to family and Edith to "Sis" (Alice) and family, and Friends African Mission. Snapshots of Bryan, Edith and son Robin and the boys'school. Description of mission surgical policy and procedures, daily life, Edith's school. They celebrated son Robin's first birthday
Vacation in Africa, Annual Prayer Conference with missionaries from all denomination. Bryan's quarterly report to Friends Mission described the churches operated by other denominations in East Africa.
On vacation, hiking Kilimanjaro with native porters. Building girls school and addition to the hospital. Bryan was on a committee to write a report on the "Economic future of Africans in Kenya" and found disagreements in the opinions of fellow authors the Hoyts and Dr. Bond. Money was an issues, and poor European settlers came in for treatment. A new maternity building opened in February. Dr. Bond reported that Africans were demanding more control in politics. Edith described her girls' boarding school.
Edith organized the girls' boarding school. Debate among the various missions about co-education. The Micheners were enjoying the company of their fellow Americans, the Bonds, Hoyts, and Kellums and held Quaker meetings. The letters mention the gold miners working nearby which included Hoyt. Missions, including members from other denominations, held the Annual Prayer Conference, but did not otherwise coordinate. The Micheners took a two week vacation in September, hiking in Kenya.
Girls' school year came to a close, and Bryan wrote medical reports. He noted that the mining companies employed their own doctors for the Europeans. Bryan was critical of Rufus Jones's report on missions in the Orient which was made without actual experience in the field. Notes mMany faith and church missions in Africa.
After Christmas, the Micheners took a hiking trip to Mount Elgon on the boarder between Kenya and Uganda. Bryan was critical of Arthur Chilson (1870-1939), Quaker evangelist who had come to Kenya in 1902 He started a new mission in Burundi in 1933, part of the African Inland Mission. There are indications of increasing tensions - with strict fundamentalist missionaries as well as the Kenyans wanting more control over their institutions. Quarrels among the missions, and the Prayer Conference was called off.
Edith described increasing tensions at the mission as some of the staff become more fervent in their pentacostal beliefs. Edith and Bryan enjoyed a weekend at the Church of God Mission in nearby Kima. Reports to the Friends East Africa Mission Board from the African about unhappiness with some of the whites, especially Hoyt. A daughter, Alice Kasande, was born October 16, and they spent their vacation at the Pentecostal Assembly of Canada Mission, hiking and climbing, December into January.
They were hoping that Edith's sister Alice would visit. More problems with Hoyt and other staffers who have been undercutting the more moderate Dr. Bond and antagonizing the locals. The Micheners attended a local feast in March, and they enjoyed a visit by English Friends, the Wyatts.
Increasing problems within mission personnel as strict standards of dress and doctrine were instituted. There was talk of war in Abyssinia (Ethiopia) and Somalia and expanding war between colonial powers. The Hoyts and Fords continued to divide the staff and locals by their Second Coming theology, creationism, and attitudes, and the Africans continued to complain about them. The Micheners submitted their resignations in December, requesting to be released when their tour was over. They went on a final trip to Nairobi
Bryan's letter of January 5 described his and Edith's hikes on the peaks of Kilimanjaro. He noted that plant collectors from Kew Gardens in England were collecting plants for identification. Edith and Bryan delayed their submitting their resignations until after the Friends Mission Board meeting at which time it would be decided if Friends should continue the mission. Italy invaded Ethiopia, and moral among the different missions continued to decline.
Bryan expressed unhappiness that the U.S. in peace time was spending more money than any other nation on the military. Having been loaned to help at an adjacent hospital, on his return the Board reassigned him to serve as supervisor of the boys primary school, in charge of the educational department. Friends were holding large monthly revival meetings, by report, over 1,000 attending.
Dr. Michener was holding duties at the school and filling in at the hospital as needed. Their son Robin was sent to boarding school for a better education. Their second son, Bryan Paul, was born in September. Bryan urged his mother to come to live with them in East Africa. They received the news that Kansas Yearly Meeting had resigned from the Five Years Meeting, putting the African Friends Board of Missions in an awkward position since over half of its workers were members of a yearly meeting that was not part of the F.Y.M. They were disappointed that a stronger peace statement didn't come out of the Friends World Conference in Philadelphia and were critical of American being the major arms manufacturer.
The family went on vacation in January. They visited an American woman, Mrs. Morgan, born Thomason from a Philadelphia Quaker family, whose husband, an ex-British army officer, worked the gold fields while she managed the coffee plantation. In planning their six week voyage home on a freighter, they intended to visit the Cyril Harveys and Whitsons in Media, Pennsylvania, as well as friends in New York. Their final group letter was written from the Indian Ocean in July.
Handwritten note in Edith's (?) hand, identifying album as before and after the Super Master Notebooks, many originals.
Includes some later notes. Loose handwritten note: "These pages are before and after Super Master Notebooks. Many are originals."
Correspondence with Merle Davis, Administrative Secretary of American Friends Board of Missions (Five Years Meeting), primarily about salaries. With five children to educate, Bryan Michener was unable to continue service in the African missions.
Health Surveys for R. Bryan and Edith Michener, finding them fit for returning to Africa after their furlough. Edith was two months pregnant.
Includes correspondence to the Mission Board, 1939, primarily about financial matters. The Micheners settled in Wichita, Kansas, and Bryan Michener went on lecture tour on behalf of the American Friends Board of Missions (Richmond, Indiana) to meetings in Indiana and Illinois.
A letter from Merle L. Davis, American Friends Mission Board, May 15, 1945, reports that Bryan Michener's request to be considered for work in Africa was tabled at the board meeting. In 1960, the Micheners asked represent Missouri Valley Friends Conference at the Friends World Conference meeting in Kenya. Arrangements were explored but they were unable to go.
Personal correspondence received, most to Edith, from former students, teachers in Kenya
Correspondence from Kenya, most letters from the Bonds, Arthur and Myra
The Micheners returned to Kenya in 1967-1970. Includes letters concerning Hezekiah W. Ngoia, former pupil and Presiding Clerk of East Africa Yearly Meeting. Their personal belongings were misrouted in shipment to U.S., 1970. Mimeographed newsletter, The African Friend/Record, 1961-1962 (Whittier, CA). Newsletter of East Africa Yearly Meeting (1967-1968?), school magazine of Kaimosi Girls' High School (1968).
The Micheners retired to Colorado on their return to the United States. 1981 note from son Bob (Robin) mentions reviewing the letters and his childhood memories. Edith died January 1984. A letter to R. Bryan Michener from the General Secretary of East Africa Yearly Meeting who had been a student at Kaimosi expressed condolences with appreciation for their service and reforms.