Saturday, July 16, 2016

Grace Bates and her mission-related memorabilia

I've been working on an  explainer --- something that will help visitors to the museum understand where Grace Bates' colorful collection of memorabilia from India (with a few items from Japan, too) came from and why it's here. It's interesting stuff and brightens the west wall of the Lewis Gallery, but is not especially "Iowa."

Grace, even though she spent almost half her life in India, was very much Iowa, however --- and rooted in Lucas County. But she was not, as many who know something about Lucas County history sometimes speculate, related to either the historic Bates House hotel or to Bates Studio, long a fixture on the west side of the square.

Instead, Grace was the daughter of a Methodist preacher --- the Rev. Alfred Levi Bates --- and his wife, Kate (Marshall) Bates, who grew up in Chariton as the daughter of another Methodist preacher, the Rev. Robert Marshall. Although licensed to preach and active in Methodist churches wherever he lived, the Rev. Mr. Marshall spent most of his life in business.

Kate met Alfred when he was assigned to preach at the Methodist church in Lacona and they were married in Chariton during 1889. The couple served many churches in the Des Moines Conference during the next 20 years and Grace was born  on March 13, 1895, when he was pastor of the Columbia Methodist Church, just across the line in Marion County. She had three siblings, including an older sister, Ruth.

The Rev. Mr. Bates died during 1910, when he was 51 and preaching at Diagonal, and his remains were brought to Chariton for burial. Kate Bates then moved her family to Indianola so that the children could attend Simpson College which both she and her husband also had attended. Once the youngest son had completed his education, Kate moved back to Chariton.

In this family, it was the daughters who felt the call to carry on the family's tradition of service within the church although at that time women could not be licensed to preach.

Both Ruth and Grace trained at Simpson to teach and during 1919, Ruth traveled to India to teach in mission schools under the auspices of the Women's Foreign Missionary Society of the Methodist Church. She died there two years later, however, on July 28, 1921, of complications following surgery for appendicitis and was buried in Kaladinge Cemetery, Naini Tal.

A year later, Grace sailed for India to fill her sister's shoes --- and never looked back. With the exception of four furloughs, she spent the next 38 years of her life in India as a teacher and school administrator.

Grace became intensely interested in the language, Hindu religious traditions and culture of the youngsters she taught --- and collected, sent home to her mother in Chariton and brought home herself may souvenirs and reminders of her life there.

During her visits home on furlough, she was expected to travel widely in the Des Moines Conference to talk about her work --- and encourage giving to support it. So some of the material that came eventually to the historical society most likely served as props during those visits.

Grace reached mandatory retirement age on March 1, 1960, but returned home to Chariton --- where her mother had lived until her death during 1951 --- on pre-retirement furlough, employed full-time  --- often six days a week --- as a missions ambassador to churches in the conference.

After March 1, she settled down in Chariton to enjoy her retirement, becoming active in both the Chariton Methodist Church and her community.

In 1969, however, she decided to move to Los Angeles to live in a home for retired missionaries and in preparation for that move gave many of her belongings away. Many of the artifacts related to her service in India were given to the historical society --- and a majority of these items currently are on display although for many years they lived in storage boxes.

Grace herself died in Los Angeles on June 25, 1979, age 84, and was buried there.

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