Fidelia Fiske

Fidelia Fiske

Fidelia Fiske was the founder and first principal of a female seminary at Orumiyeh in Persia (Urmia in present-day Iran).

The seminary, established in 1843 and modeled on the Mount Holyoke system, was an important feature of the mission to the Nestorian Christians of Persia, the first American mission in Persia. In addition to Fiske, the mission was staffed by a host of important figures in religious, historical, and linguistic studies related to the region, including Joseph Cochran, David Tappan Stoddard, Justin Perkins, Austin H. Wright, and William R. Stocking.

Fiske was born in 1816 in Shelburne, Massachusetts. She was educated in Shelburne district schools and spent one term at Franklin Academy. At age 17, she began teaching in the Shelburne schools. Six years later, in 1839, Fiske enrolled at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. Her education was interrupted in 1840–1841 while she recovered from typhoid fever. After graduating in 1842, Fiske taught for one year at Mount Holyoke.

Influenced by Mary Lyon, she responded to a call the next year from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions to serve the Nestorian Christians of Persia. She sailed from Boston in March 1843 with Perkins, an American Presbyterian missionary and linguist from the city of Holyoke. In Orumiyeh, Fiske was in charge of founding a girls’ boarding school. After mastering the Syriac language, Fiske overcame vast cultural obstacles to establish a school that became highly regarded. Likewise, her services as a nurse for the region and her missionary work into the countryside and among mountain tribes won her respect and helped set an example that slowly improved the lives of Persian women.

Fiske’s school had grown to an enrollment of some 40 pupils by 1858, when ill health forced her return to the United States. After leaving Persia, Fiske taught at Mount Holyoke from 1859 to 1864. While serving as an unofficial chaplain at Mount Holyoke and traveling and speaking widely on her missionary work she wrote Memorial: Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of the Mt. Holyoke Female Seminary (1862) and contributed to Thomas Laurie’s Woman and Her Saviour in Persia (1863). In 1863, she was offered the principalship of Mount Holyoke, which she turned down because she intended to return to Persia when her health improved. That did not happen; Fiske died in her hometown of Shelburne on July 26, 1864. Her book Recollections of Mary Lyon was published in 1866. 

Class Year: 
1842

Mount Holyoke College

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