A school principal, Gillett had wanted to be a missionary since childhood. After the death of her widowed mother, she was free to apply to the Board of Missions of the Protestant Episcopal Church, Appointed a missionary teacher, she sailed to China in 1844. She immediately met Elijah Coleman Bridgman of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, who believed her to be God’s answer to his prayers for a wife. They married, she transferred to the Congregational Church, and the Bridgmans began work in Canton.
They adopted two small girls, and after the Bridgmans had transferred to Shanghai, Eliza began a girls’ school that became the first Protestant school for girls there. Her successful school work continued until 1862, when her health broke following the death of her husband. After a furlough in America during which she was run over by a sled, she resumed work in Peking in 1864. There she opened Bridgman Academy, the predecessor to the Woman’s College of Yenching University. Bridgman was widely acknowledged to be an exceptional teacher, and she gave money liberally to Congregational missions in China. After returning to Shanghai to help open a new school, she died and was buried beside her husband.
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 Bridgman, Daughters of China; or Sketches of Domestic Life in the Celestial Empire (1853) and The Life and Labors of Elijah Coleman Bridgman (1864). See obituary by Henry Blodget, “The Late Mrs. E. C. Bridgman,” The Chinese Recorder 4 (March 1872): 261-263; (April 1872): 298-302. Eliza Bridgman’s handwritten autobiography and journals for 1856 and 1865 are held in the archives at Yale Divinity School, New Haven. Conn. The ABCFM archives at Harvard Univ., Cambridge, Mass., hold her response to the Episcopal Church’s unsupportive stance regarding her marriage.