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Distributed for University of British Columbia Press

A Heart at Leisure from Itself

Caroline Macdonald of Japan

A truly remarkable person, Caroline Macdonald (1874-1931) was a Canadian woman who spent almost her entire working life in Japan and who played a significant role there in both the establishment of the YWCA and in prison reform. A native of Wingham, Ontario, she was one of the first women to attend the University of Toronto, where in 1901 she graduated with honours in mathematics and physics. But rather than follow an academic career, she opted in 1904, through her connections with the Presbyterian Church and the YWCA in Canada and the United States, to move to Tokyo to work as a lay missionary and social worker. During the 1920s, she was the best-known foreign woman in Tokyo.

In A Heart at Leisure from Itself Margaret Prang follows Caroline Macdonald’s life and career, focusing on her work in Japan on behalf of incarcerated criminals. Working mostly with male prisoners and their families, Macdonald became an international interpreter of the movement for prison reform work for which she is still warmly remembered in Japan. She regarded herself as a missionary but was also highly critical of much missionary endeavour, her own work being more in the practical than spiritual realm. Her death in 1931 elicited tributes from all over the world, particularly from Japan. Perhaps the most fitting came from Arima Shirosuke, the prison governor with whom Macdonald worked most closely. Reflecting on her life, Arima observed that he thought it was her absolute conviction that every human being was a child of God and her “effortless” practice of that faith that placed Macdonald “beyond every prejudice” of religion, race, or class. She was, he said, “a heart at leisure from itself.”

This book throws light on Japanese-Canadian relations in the first few decades of this century. Macdonald’s career reveals the cross-cultural influence of the YWCA in Japan, the role of the Protestant churches there, and the evolution of prison reform in Japan and the people

368 pages

Table of Contents




1 Pioneering Canadian Roots

2 Christ and the Empire of the Mikado

3 “Women’s Work for Women”

4 From Tokyo to Aberdeen: “The Lady Student”

5 “Grubbing at the Lingo”

6 The New Era of Taisho and “the Woman Question”

7 “God’s Strange Leading”

8 Prisoners and Prisons

9 “A Gentleman in Prison”

10 Tackling ”the Social Cosmos”

11 “Jesus Was a Labouring Man”

12 “Turning Earth’s Smoothness Rough”

13 “The Faith that Rebels”

14 From Noda to Geneva

15 “Whether We Live or Whether We Die”



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