Gamewell received world acclaim for organizing the defense of the Methodist Mission and the British Legation in Peking (Beijing) during the Boxer Rebellion of 1900. Born in South Carolina, he earned three degrees from Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, but was also trained in engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and at Cornell University, New York. He received honorary degrees from Syracuse and Columbia Universities.
He began his missionary service under the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1881 as principal of a boys’ school in Peking. In 1884 he was appointed superintendent of the West China mission. Three years later he was forced out of Chungking (Chongqing), Szechwan (Sichuan) Province, by anti-foreign riots, and returned to Peking to teach physics and chemistry as acting president at the future Yenching University. During the 56 days of the Boxer siege, he was “chief of staff” in charge of fortifications and the administration of vital services for some 3,500 people. Subsequently he served for 12 years as executive secretary of the Educational Association of China and then as an associate general secretary of the Methodist Episcopal Board of Foreign Missions in New York City.
His first wife, Mary Porter Gamewell (1848-1906), was the fourth appointee of the Methodist Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society and the first to go to China. In 1872 she opened one of the pioneer schools for girls (insisting on unbound feet). After her marriage to Frank Gamewell she showed remarkable courage in resisting mob attacks on the West China mission, as well as later, in Peking, where she ministered to refugees and wounded Legation defenders. Gamewell’s second wife, Mary Ninde Gamewell (1858-1947), was a daughter of Bishop William X. Ninde, a former president of Garrett Biblical Institute. She served with her husband for 21 years and wrote a number of books on mission work in China.
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.
- Photo: Frank Gamewell (second from left, standing) and the “Fighting Parsons” among their fortifications at the British Legation in Beijing