1875  — 1958

Matilda Calder Thurston

Missionary, teacher, and founder of Ginling College, China.

Born in Hartford, Connecticut, Matilda Calder received a B.S. degree in 1896 and a Litt.D. in 1925, both from Mount Holyoke (Massachusetts) College. After beginning her teaching career in 1897 at a private school in Middletown, Connecticut, she traveled to Marash, in central Turkey to teach at the American Board School for Girls from 1900 to 1902.

In 1902 she married John Lawrence Thurston, of the Yale Mission to North China, and they moved to Changsha, Hunan Province, China, where they founded a branch of the Yale Mission. They returned to the United States the following year because of John Thurston’s ill health. After his death in 1903 she served as a traveling secretary for the Student Volunteer Movement from 1904 to 1906.

She returned to Changsha, China, in 1906 to teach at the boys’ school of the Yale Mission and to help at the hospital there. In 1913 the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions in the U.S.A. appointed her to Nanking, where she helped to found Ginling College and served as its first president until 1928. Following her resignation as president, she continued at Ginling as an adviser, teacher, and supervisor of building construction from 1920 to 1936; she was treasurer of women’s activities from 1939 to 1942. She was repatriated on the Gripsholm in 1943 and lived in Auburndale, Massachusetts, until her death.


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.


  • Matilda Thurston, Ginling College, pt. 1 (1955). 
  • Thurston’s personal papers are available at the Mount Holyoke College library/archives, South Hadley, Mass., and in the Ginling College files in the archives of the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia at the Yale Divinity School library/special collections.
  • Photo credit: Mrs. Lawrence Thurston as President Emeritus of Ginling College, 1937. Yale Divinity Library Special Collections.

About the Author

Joan R. Duffyd

Archives Assistant, Yale Divinity School Library, New Haven, Connecticut, USA