Mary Briscoe Baldwin

A female missionary who transformed education in Greece and Syria

I long to be instrumental in God’s hands in bringing those who are sitting in darkness, ignorance, and superstition, into the beautiful light of the knowledge of the gospel. I have ever esteemed the title of ‘Missionary’ the highest of all earthly titles, and desire to labour on in this glorious work until I die.

Mary Briscoe Baldwin, 1860 (Pitman, 1880, p. 18)

Mary Briscoe Baldwin is the granddaughter of Major Isaac Hite, Jr. and Nelly Madison Hite, as well as the grandniece of James Madison. Despite her impressive lineage and affluent upbringing, Mary decided that traditional domestic life wasn’t her calling and instead dedicated her life to mission work abroad. In 1835, she was the first unmarried female missionary that the Protestant Episcopal Church’s Mission Board sent to a foreign land.

A lot of religious roles in the early 19th century were very male-centric, so it was really unthinkable for Mary to shatter that norm, and yet she did. She was a missionary, an educator, a sister, a friend, a caretaker, and an entrepreneur. This exhibit explores Mary’s journey from Middletown, Virginia to Athens, Greece and from Athens, Greece to Joppa, Syria.


Mary Briscoe Baldwin is born on May 20, 1811 at Belle Grove Plantation.


Dr. Cornelius E. Baldwin, Mary’s father, dies.


The American Episcopal Church starts a mission in Athens, Greece.


Nelly Conway Hite Baldwin, Mary’s mother, dies of consumption.


Episcopal Church sends Mary as a missionary to Athens, Greece.


Mary travels home to Virginia to visit her family.


Mary’s youngest sister, Ann Maury Hay, becomes a widow with her only son, John Baldwin Hay. In this same year, her eldest sister, Eleanor Davison, dies, too, leaving behind three orphaned children under Mary’s care.


Ann Maury Hay moves to Athens, Greece with her son, John Baldwin Hay, and her niece, Edmonia. Together they live with Mary.


During the Cretan Revolt, Mary took an administrative role in an international relief program for Cretan refugees in Athens. She remained in this role until the end of the revolt in 1869.


Mary moves to Joppa, Syria to live with Ann Maury Hite and John Baldwin Hay.


Mary reopens the Joppa Mission School for boys out of Palm Cottage, her family’s home.


Mary dies on June 20, 1877 in Joppa, Syria, after dedicating 42 years of her life to mission work.

Early Life

Mary was born at Belle Grove Plantation and grew up in her family’s nearby home of Cedar Grove. Her early life was filled with as much joy as it was grief, with as much insecurity as there was confidence. See how Mary’s journey took her from Middletown, Virginia to Athens, Greece.

Life in Athens

Mary took on an adventure in a foreign land, diving right into her mission work in Athens, Greece. She was beloved by her students and her colleagues, and her devotion to mission work took her from the classroom to caring for refugees during the Cretan Revolt. Explore her life in Athens and learn how she earned the accreditation of founding female education in Greece.

Holiday in Italy

Mary took a much needed holiday in Italy in 1842. Read about her travel experiences in her own words.

Life in Joppa

After the Cretan Revolt from 1866-1869, Mary longed to join her sister, Ann Hay, and nephew, John Hay, in Joppa, Syria. In this final leg of her mission work, Mary continued to do what she did best: she started the Joppa Mission School.

Death and Legacy

Mary dedicated her entire life to mission work, touching and changing so many lives along the way.

By the grace of God I early in life gave my heart to the Lord, and in course of time received the high honour of appointment as missionary of our Church in a foreign field – which position, I thank God, it is still my privilege to hold.

Mary Briscoe Baldwin in a letter written on May 17, 1852 (Pitman, 1880, p. 180)

Learning Activities

In this section, we provide three learning activities that help build on Mary’s story:

> Become a botanist.

> Explore 20th century American tourism to the Holy Land.

> Transcribe historical handwriting.

Pitman, E. R. (1880). Mission Life in Greece and Palestine: Memorials of Mary Briscoe Baldwin, Missionary to Athens and Joppa. Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Co.