A Londoner from a well-to-do nonconformist family, Aldersey attended classes in Chinese taught by Robert Morrison when he was on home leave from 1824 to 1826. Not then free from family ties, she made gifts to the London Missionary Society (LMS) that enabled Maria Newell to go to Malacca (1827). In 1837 she herself was able to go to Batavia (present-day Jakarta), where she started a school for Chinese girls. When the treaty ports in China were opened (1843) she moved the school to Ningpo, where she continued to work until 1861.
Never an agent of any society, she maintained close links with the LMS. Several of her teaching staff were Chinese-speaking daughters of missionaries; at least four became missionary wives, including Maria Dyer (see Maria Dyer Taylor), who married James Hudson Taylor (against Aldersey’s wishes). Another protegee, Mary Ann Leisk, became the wife of William Russell, later bishop in north China. In 1861 Aldersey handed her school over to the Church Missionary Society and retired to Adelaide, Australia, where she lived until her death. She appears to have been the first single woman missionary to have worked in China.
- E. Aldersey White, A Woman Pioneer in China: The Life of Mary Ann Aldersey (1932).
- John Pollock, Hudson Taylor and Maria: Pioneers in China (1962);
- Donald MacGallivray, ed., A Century of Protestant Missions in China (1807-1907) (1907).