It was . . . a heavy problem to know what to do with the orphans and other helpless people who depended on me for life.
—Emma Darling Cushman, qtd in Basil Joseph Matthews, The Book of Missionary Heroes (1922),
Nurse and missionary Emma Darling Cushman was born in 1864 in Burlington, NY; her family was related to Robert Cushman, an organizer of the Mayflower‘s voyage to the New World in 1620. She was a teacher before she obtained her nursing credential from Patterson [NJ] General Hospital and served as superintendent of Scarritt Hospital in Kansas City. She joined the American Board of Foreign Missions and worked at the Talas Hospital (Cesarea, Turkey) and the American Hospital (Konia, Turkey).
Cushman did not depart when foreigners were ordered to leave Turkey at the outbreak of World War I; she eventually had what was effectively the rank of consul so she could act for some 17 countries. She often worked on behalf of prisoners from many nations, including imprisoned clergy, and established a home and school for some 3000 refugee children in Corinth, Greece. She was particularly concerned with the care of women and children who had experienced psychological trauma, including those who had been in harems.
After the war she worked for Near East Relief. The Trained Nurse and Hospital Review reported in June 1921 that the League of Nations had appointed Cushman to a commission investigating the plight of deported women and children in Turkey and environs. Among her other contributions are caring for Armenian orphans, assisting in the evacuation of thousands of Christian orphans from Anatolia (aka Asia Minor), supplying services to those affected by the 1928 earthquake in Corinth, and averting disaster to the orphanage and the children in her charge when forces in the “Seventh Revolution” in Greece arrived in her area (the reader may be amused by the newspaper account at the link, in which the 61-year-old Cushman is referred to as a “plucky girl”). The honors she received include the Balkan War Medal from Great Britain, the Cross of the Legion of Honor from France, the Gold Cross of the Redeemer from Greece, and the Distinguished Service Medal from Near East Relief. She died in December 1930 in Cairo, where she had traveled to spend Christmas with some of her former charges; her death was attributed variously to black water fever, malaria, and anemia.
For more information:
• Excerpt from “Cooperation the Keynote at Corinth” by Emma D. Cushman, The New Near East Sept. 1926 (posted by permission of the Near East Relief Historical Society, Near East Foundation)
• Cushman obituary (Niagara Falls [NY] Gazette)
• “Emma Cushman: Missionary in Turkey and Greece” (Congregational Library & Archives, Boston)
• “An Intrepid Leader” (Near East Foundation, Syracuse, NY)
• Photos of Cushman (Congregational Library & Archives, Boston)
• “The Power of an American Nurse in Lawless Turkey” (The Trained Nurse and Hospital Review, Feb. 1922)