A Heart at Leisure from Itself: Caroline MacDonald of Japan

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UBC Press, 1997 - Biography & Autobiography - 368 pages
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A truly remarkable person, Caroline Macdonald (1874-1931) was aCanadian woman who spent almost her entire working life in Japan andwho played a significant role there in both the establishment of theYWCA and in prison reform. A native of Wingham, Ontario, she was one ofthe first women to attend the University of Toronto, where in 1901 shegraduated with honours in mathematics and physics. But rather thanfollow an academic career, she opted in 1904, through her connectionswith the Presbyterian Church and the YWCA in Canada and the UnitedStates, 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 followsCaroline Macdonald's life and career, focusing on her work in Japanon behalf of incarcerated criminals. Working mostly with male prisonersand their families, Macdonald became an international interpreter ofthe movement for prison reform work for which she is still warmlyremembered in Japan. She regarded herself as a missionary but was alsohighly critical of much missionary endeavour, her own work being morein the practical than spiritual realm. Her death in 1931 elicitedtributes from all over the world, particularly from Japan. Perhaps themost fitting came from Arima Shirosuke, the prison governor with whomMacdonald worked most closely. Reflecting on her life, Arima observedthat he thought it was her absolute conviction that every human beingwas a child of God and her 'effortless' practice of that faiththat placed Macdonald 'beyond every prejudice' of religion,race, or class. She was, he said, 'a heart at leisure fromitself.'

This book throws light on Japanese-Canadian relations in the firstfew decades of this century. Macdonald's career reveals thecross-cultural influence of the YWCA in Japan, the role of theProtestant churches there, and the evolution of prison reform in Japanand the people involved in it.


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About the author (1997)

Margaret Prang is professor emerita of the Departmentof History at the University of British Columbia. She is a formerpresident of the Canadian Historical Association, foundingco-editor of the journal of BC Studies, and the author of abiography of N.W. Rowell.

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