Harriet Bedell

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Harriet Bedell (March 19, 1875 – January 8, 1969) was an Episcopal deaconess and missionary to the Cheyenne Nation in Oklahoma, Alaskan Natives (spending 15 years at a missionary school), and the Seminole Indians of Florida. She is remembered on the calendar of saints of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America with a minor feast day on January 8.

Deaconess Bedell with a medicine man and Bobby Jim Tiger outside the Seminole mission

Early life and education[edit]

Harriet Bedell was born in Buffalo, New York. She went to local public schools and became a schoolteacher. In the early 1900s, she was inspired by preaching about vocation and the need for missionaries among the Native Americans.

In 1906 she studied at the New York Training School for Deaconesses, learning a range of topics from nutrition to medicine to theology.


When she completed her training, she was sent as a missionary-teacher to the Cheyenne Indians in Oklahoma. She cared for the sick and poor, performed religious duties, and taught women and children. While active in ministry among the Cheyenne, she was adopted into the tribe and given the name “Bird Woman”.[1] [2]


In 1916, she accepted a post in Stevens Village, Alaska, 40 miles south of the Arctic Circle. It was located between Fort Yukon and Rampart. She worked alone there for three years with the Koyukon people. She also helped to form an Episcopal boarding school for rural native children in nearby Tanana, for children who could not travel to local schools.

By 1931, the Great Depression adversely affected raising funds for the school, which was supported privately. She traveled to New York to help raise money. The church paid off the debt for the school, but was not able to continue operations. There was no work for Bedell to return to.[3]

Deaconess Bedell on the porch of the Mission of Our Savior, Collier City, Florida


While on a speaking tour, she visited a Seminole Indian reservation in Southern Florida. Concerned about their living conditions, she returned to work with them to improve their quality of life. She set up a mission in Collier City, Florida.

She encouraged the women of the tribe to revive the doll making and basket weaving skills, which had become nearly extinct, and to sell their work to the tourist trade. She also encouraged Indian women to incorporate their brilliant patchwork designs into clothing for both men and women. Sales from the arts and crafts store at Blades Cross Mission helped to provide improved income for the Mikasuki-Seminoles, who preserved traditional ways.

She continued her ministry until 1960, when Hurricane Donna destroyed the mission. The storm caused tremendous damage through Florida and up the East Coast. Throughout Collier County, strong winds and coastal flooding combined destroyed 153 homes, inflicted major impact on an additional 409, and 1,049 others suffered minor damage.[4]

Deaconess Bedell was one of the most popular writers in the national Episcopal mission periodical, The Spirit of Missions.


  1. ^ "Harriet M. Bedell", Episcopal Women History Project
  2. ^ Lesser Feast and Fasts: 2006 (Church Publishing, 2006)
  3. ^ "Bedell Collection", Florida Memory, Institute of Library and Museum Services, State of Florida
  4. ^ "Special Storm and Flood Report by the American Red Cross for U.S. Weather Bureau". American Red Cross (United States Weather Bureau): 1. October 20, 1960. http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/archive/storm_wallets/atlantic/atl1960/donna/preloc/redcros1.gif. Retrieved September 19, 2013.

Further reading[edit]

  • "The Deaconesses of the Church in Modern Times", Compiled by the Rev. Lawson Carter Rich Reprinted from The Churchman, 4 May 1907. (Transcribed by Wayne Kempton, Archivist of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, 2007), at Project Canterbury