“Virginia’s Fairest Flower”

“Virginia’s Fairest Flower” is buried in Hong Kong Cemetery, but a commemorative marker stands on a prominent street corner in her old home town. Henrietta Hall Shuck was a pioneer in girls’ education and the first U.S. woman missionary to China. She was commissioned by the Baptist Church at the age of 17 in 1835, along with her husband Jehu Lewis Shuck.

When I moved to Kilmarnock in the year 2000, Mrs. Shuck’s Virginia historic marker was in the front yard of the Edmonds’ home, half a block from Main Street. This was one of the five Sears houses in town, built from mail order kits in the early 1920s. The marker was later moved to a prominent corner, where Church Street converges into Main, and surrounded by attractive plants. Only recently, I learned that the corner is the actual site of her childhood home, which was torn down and replaced by an auto repair business in 1957.

Whatever may be said of missionaries of that time, Henrietta was an adventurous young woman. She gave birth to her five children in China, educated as many as 32 students at a time, and also took in orphans. The first Western woman to live in Hong Kong, and the product of a girls’ boarding school, Henrietta insisted on including girls in her school, admitting one girl for every boy.

Henrietta Hall Shuck attempted to prevent childhood marriage and foot-binding by asking her students to stay with her until age 21. Her life and legacy remind us that even today, two hundred years after her birth, fifteen million girls of primary-school age will never enter a classroom.

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