Mary Bruins Allison

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Dr. Mary Bruins Allison, M.D. (March 19, 1903 - September 15, 1994) was one of the first American women to be trained in medicine in the United States who chose to use her skills as a missionary doctor in Arabia. As the daughter of a minister, her understanding of religion, passion for medicine and desire to be a medical missionary in Arabia grew with her from early childhood. She went to college in the small town of Pella and then attended medical college in Philadelphia whilst learning Arabic during her free time. In 1934, after a few internships at various American hospitals after graduating from medical school, she went to the Middle East to use her medical skills as a missionary doctor. In her forty year career, she worked primarily in Kuwait, as well as India, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman. In her capacity in Kuwait, she treated different types of women, from the poor marginalized Iranian women to the wives of the various royal families in the region. Despite limited trained medical staff, medical resources and cultural, lingual and religious barriers, Dr. Mary attended to over two hundred patients a day. Her commitment was unwavering, to the extent that she sought additional training during her brief leaves. During her time in the Arab world, she contributed greatly to establishing modern medical care in the countries she worked in;[1] she was asked several times by the rulers of Bahrain and Oman to help set up hospitals in their countries. She eventually returned to the United States in 1975.

Early Life and Education 1903-1934[edit]

On March 19, 1903, Mary was born in Holland, Michigan to Henry Bruins and Mary Huizinga.[2] In 1907, her father accepted to be a minister at the First Reformed Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In 1917, the Bruins family moved yet again to Pella where Mary attended Pella High School.[3] In the fall of 1922, Mary started college at Central College in Pella, Iowa. She joined the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia in the fall of 1928.[4] In 1932, she got an internship at Wisconsin General Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin. She studied Arabic from 1933-34 at Hartford Theological School in preparation of her missionary life.[1] In 1934, she did her second internship at the University of Illinois at Chicago because her first internship had not included obstetrics, which she need in her career as a medical missionary in the Middle East.

Career 1934-1975[edit]

Kuwait[edit]

Mary arrived in Kuwait in 1934.[5] Her early missionary life in Kuwait City consisted of Arabic studies[6] in the mornings and working at the mission hospital in Kuwait City. The hospital was built on a piece of land by the Kuwait Bay that was made available courtesy of Shaikh Mubarak who had invited the Arabian Mission to live in Kuwait and run a hospital.[7] At this time in Kuwait, the oil concession was granted to a joint American and British enterprise, forming the Kuwait Oil Company Ltd. The British were the formal protectors of Kuwait since 1899. As a result, there was a Political Agent in Kuwait City who handled Kuwait’s foreign concerns.[8] Mary interacted with many foreign nationals at gatherings organized by the British community.

Mary mostly treated the women patients due to the gender barriers that the local culture had set.[9] She treated women from all social classes, from the richest lady of the land who was her first case, to the poorest Kuwaiti women originally from Iran.[10] She was forced to attend to the VIPs first, who consisted of aristocratic women, and so she charged them an extra fee. Most of the patients at the hospital were Iranian women (Ajam Kuwaitis). Some of these women became irreplaceable helpers at the hospital. Arab women would not do the jobs at the hospital because they regarded them as dirty and disgusting.[11]

Mary delivered several babies in a week but also had to deal with numerous pre-natal complications. One main problem was that a significant number of men did not permit their wives to deliver their babies in the hospital and only took them to the mission after developing complications. Most of these women went to their mothers’ homes to deliver their babies.[12] For this reason, some women died due to these complications in their homes. Dr. Mary was therefore many times forced to leave the hospital and make house calls on women who were in labor. However, as the years went by, more and more pregnant women went to the hospital for pre-natal care and to give birth.

In 1940, Mary followed her husband to India and worked there for two years. She then returned to the States and worked at a medical practice in New Jersey. In 1943, she rejoined her husband in India, and despite their decision to divorce, she stayed and worked at Dahanu Mission Hospital[13] till 1945. She decided to return to Kuwait as it was the only one place that felt like home. In 1948, a request to start a hospital in Doha was put out by the sheikh of Qatar, where Mary worked for four months.[14] In 1964, a medical malpractice complaint was filed against Mary; this subsequently led to the end of her career in Kuwait.[15] She was transferred to Bahrain in 1964.[16]

Around 1967, a strong belief that the Church should undertake its main mission efforts in places where people were ready to receive the Gospel was developing. Some board members of the Reformed Church Board could not understand why the Church was supporting a hospital for an oil rich country that provided medical care for its people by bringing trained staff from all over the world. In March 1967, the medical mission was closed.[17]

Bahrain and Oman[edit]

By 1970, Mary had worked in Bahrain for five years and was over sixty-five years old, the age limit at which a missionary must retire.[18] Although Mary disagreed with this rule because she felt that she felt that the hospital and Arabia still needed her, she retired from Bahrain and returned to the US. Her retirement was short lived; in 1971,[19] she received a call that the mission board was sending her to Oman to work at the Mutrah Hospital. The Sultan of Oman wanted to run free hospitals but was short on medical staff due to the increased workload.[20] Here, she treated many diseases including malaria, leprosy and the cholera epidemic of 1974. She retired for the last time in 1974[21] and left in 1975 for Redlands, California.

Personal life[edit]

Mary met her British husband Norman Allison in 1937. The two got married on June 14, 1937.[22] Despite sharing a great love for each other, the different demands of Mary’s mission work and Norman’s post as naval officer in India caused a their relationship to be strained and distant, and hence they divorced in 1943.

Death[edit]

Mary died on September 15th 1994. It was the end to an illustrious career and a remarkable life that upheld the highest Christian values and one very worthy of emulation.[23]

References[edit]

  1. ^ United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. 1991. The World's Women 1970-1990. New York: United Nations.
  2. ^ Allison, D. M. (1994). Doctor Mary in Arabia (First ed.). (S. Shaw, Ed.) Austin, Texas, United States of America: University of Texas Press. p. 1.
  3. ^ Allison, D. M. (1994). Doctor Mary in Arabia (First ed.). (S. Shaw, Ed.) Austin, Texas, United States of America: University of Texas Press. p. 6.
  4. ^ Allison, D. M. (1994). Doctor Mary in Arabia (First ed.). (S. Shaw, Ed.) Austin, Texas, United States of America: University of Texas Press. p. 13.
  5. ^ Doumato, E. A. (2000). Getting God's ear: women, Islam, and healing in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 54.
  6. ^ Scudder, L. R. (1998). The Arabian Mission's story: in search of Abraham's other son. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. p. 347
  7. ^ Walls, A. (1996). American Mission Hospital. UNDP, Kuwait. Dar Al-Athar Al-Islamiyyah.
  8. ^ Ismael, J. S. (1982). Kuwait, social change in historical perspective (First ed.). Syracuse, New York, United States: Syracuse University Press.
  9. ^ M.D., E. T. (1958). My Arabian Days and Nights. Crowell.
  10. ^ Drexel University College of Medicine: Archives & Special Collection. (n.d.). Kuwait Women's Hospital, hospital statistics, 1933 - 1961. Papers of Mary Bruins Allison, M.D. 1934-1985 (ACC-215).
  11. ^ M.D., E. T. (1958). My Arabian Days and Nights. Crowell.
  12. ^ Doumato, E. A. (2000). Getting God's ear: women, Islam, and healing in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. New York: Columbia University Press. p.187.
  13. ^ Drexel University College of Medicine: Archives & Special Collection. (n.d.). Mary Bruins Allison to dear family. Dahanu Mission Hospital, statistics.
  14. ^ Scudder, L. R. (1998). The Arabian Mission's story: in search of Abraham's other son. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
  15. ^ Scudder, L. R. (1998). The Arabian Mission's story: in search of Abraham's other son. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. p. 182.
  16. ^ Scudder, L. R. (1998). The Arabian Mission's story: in search of Abraham's other son. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. p. 210.
  17. ^ Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah. (n.d.). Kuwait and America: A Partnership Still Evolving. Kuwait City, Kuwait.
  18. ^ Church Policies on Missionary Retirement Davidmays.org. Retrieved 8 January 2012
  19. ^ Scudder, L. R. (1998). The Arabian Mission's story: in search of Abraham's other son. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. p. 303.
  20. ^ Bosch DT. The American Mission Hospitals in Oman, 1893-1974, 81 Years. Muscat, Oman; 2002.
  21. ^ Scudder, L. R. (1998). The Arabian Mission's story: in search of Abraham's other son. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. p. 303.
  22. ^ Doumato, E. A. (2000). Getting God's ear: women, Islam, and healing in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. New York: Columbia University Press. p.54.
  23. ^ http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=49808445

Further reading[edit]

  • Allison, D. M. (1994). Doctor Mary in Arabia (First ed.). (S. Shaw, Ed.) Austin, Texas, United States of America: University of Texas Press.
  • Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah. (n.d.). Kuwait and America: A Partnership Still Evolving. Kuwait City, Kuwait.
  • Doumato, E. A. (2000). Getting God's ear: women, Islam, and healing in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Drexel University College of Medicine: Archives & Special Collection. (n.d.). Kuwait Women's Hospital, hospital statistics, 1933 - 1961. Papers of Mary Bruins Allison, M.D. 1934-1985 (ACC-215).
  • Drexel University College of Medicine: Archives & Special Collection. (n.d.). Mary Bruins Allison to dear family. Dahanu Mission Hospital, statistics.
  • Ismael, J. S. (1982). Kuwait, social change in historical perspective (First ed.). Syracuse, New York, United States: Syracuse University Press.
  • M.D., E. T. (1958). My Arabian Days and Nights. Crowell.
  • Scudder, L. R. (1998). The Arabian Mission's story: in search of Abraham's other son. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
  • Walls, A. (1996). American Mission Hospital. UNDP, Kuwait. Dar Al-Athar Al-Islamiyyah.

External links[edit]