Bridgman was born in Belchertown, Massachusetts, and graduated from Amherst College (1826) and Andover Theological Seminary (1829). In response to the urging of Robert Morrison of the London Missionary Society and of pious American merchants who offered free passage, Bridgman was ordained and was appointed for service in China by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in 1829.
He arrived in Canton in 1830, where he was welcomed by Morrison. He studied Chinese and soon began the literary labors to which he devoted much of his life. In 1834 he became the first joint secretary of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge; he was a founder of the Morrison Education Society and its president for many years, and active in organizing the Medical Missionary Society in China (1838). Later he edited the journal of the North China branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. In 1832 Bridgman started a mission press and began publication of the Chinese Repository, which he edited until 1847. From 1839 to 1841 he worked at Macao, preparing a Chinese chrestomathy to aid in language learning. During negotiations to secure American access to China, Bridgman assisted as translator and adviser from 1842 to 1844. Shortly after baptizing his first convert he moved to Shanghai in 1847, where he was primarily occupied in working on Bible translation, his version appearing shortly after his death.
In 1845 Bridgman had married Eliza Jane Gillett, an American Episcopalian missionary. She had founded and managed for 15 years the first girls’ school in Shanghai. After her husband’s death she moved to Peking, secured substantial property and started Bridgman Academy, noted for educating a large number of Chinese women leaders.
This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright (c) 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of The Gale Group; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.
Eliza Jane Bridgman, The Life and Labors of Elijah Coleman Bridgman (1864). Missionary Herald 58 (1862): 75-78 and 68 (1872): 110-112, provides informative obituaries of Elijah and Eliza Bridgman, respectively. Eliza’s Daughters of China, or Sketches of Domestic Life in the Celestial Empire (1853) has an introduction by Elijah.