Hannah Riddell

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Hannah Riddell
Barnet, north of London
OccupationAnglican Missionary
Known forFoundation of a leper hospital, Kaishun Hospital, in Kumamoto in 1895 and giving great influence to leprosy control of Japan

Hannah Riddell (1855–1932) was an English woman who devoted her life to the care of patients with leprosy in Japan.

Riddell and Whight Memorial Hall (Kumamoto, Japan)


Early life and her determination[edit]

Hannah Riddell was born in 1855 in Barnet, then a village to the North of London. Her father was a sergeant in the Army who was engaged in the training of the local militia.

In 1877 the family moved to Mumbles in South Wales, and Hannah and her mother started a private school. The school was a success for some time but in 1889 it went into bankruptcy. Hannah's next job was as a superintendent for the YWCA in Liverpool. In 1890 she was selected by the Church Missionary Society (CMS) as a missionary to Japan. She arrived in Japan in 1891 and was transferred to Kumamoto, Kyūshū.

At Honmyoji, the most popular temple in Kumamoto, she witnessed leprosy patients begging for mercy and made up her mind to dedicate her life to their care.

The Kaishun Hospital[edit]

Hannah successfully approached influential people such as leaders of the CMS, university professors, industrialists and statesmen, and, later, the imperial family of Japan. She created a close circle of supporters such as Grace Nott, one of the five missionaries who had come to Japan with her, and Professors Honda and Kanazawa. Founding a hospital was an extremely difficult task, but Kaishun Hospital (known in English as the Kumamoto Hospital of the Resurrection of Hope) was opened on 12 November 1895. Negotiations with the CMS were laborious, but in 1900 Hannah won control of the hospital, simultaneously quitting the CMS. She devoted the rest of her life to fund-raising for the hospital. Professors Honda and Kanazawa helped with obtaining the land for it.

The start of the Russo-Japanese War in 1904 brought a great financial crisis. English donors, fearing trouble because of the fleet of Russian warships approaching Japan, immediately stopped sending money to Japan. However, Marquis Okuma, who had donated many cherry and maple trees for the grounds of the hospital, joined with Viscount Shibusawa to invite many officials and prominent persons to the Bankers' Club in Tokyo to listen to Hannah Riddell's appeal. At the meeting Professor Kanazawa spoke for Riddell to the effect that Kaishun Hospital was a good hospital worth supporting, since Riddell was independent of the CMS. As a direct effect of the meeting Riddell's financial troubles ended.

Japan's first leprosy prevention law was promulgated in 1907. In 1914 Riddell wrote in a long letter to Marquis Okuma: "I think the expenses of the government policy would not cost more than a single gunboat and the yearly expenses could well be met by a tax of about one sen (one hundredth of one yen) on every person in the land. The gain to Japan and to the humanity would be immeasurable."

Further work in Kusatsu, Okinawa and Kumamoto[edit]

Hannah Riddell was interested in missionary work independent of the CMS. She sent missionaries to Kusatsu, a hot spring resort where lepers gathered. Later Mary Cornwall Legh, another English Anglican missionary, did substantial work there. She also sent Keisai Aoki, who was a patient and a Christian, to Okinawa, where, notwithstanding great difficulties, he succeeded in building a shelter, leading to the establishment of Okinawa Airakuen Leprosy Sanatorium.

Although fundraising was delayed by the outbreak of the Great War in Europe, in 1924 a Japanese-style Anglican church was completed in the grounds of the Kaishun Hospital.[1] Formally consecrated by Bishop of Kyushu, Arthur Lea on the 24th of June, the church was characterized by a long wheelchair ramp imported from England.

In 1918 Riddell established the first scientific research laboratory in Japan for the study of leprosy.

Ada Wright[edit]

Ada Wright, Hannah Riddell's niece, came to Japan in 1896 and joined her in managing her work for lepers. After Riddell's death in 1923 Wright became the director of the Kaishun Hospital. In 1940, however, she was questioned by police over her possession of a short-wave radio and on 3 February 1941, the closure of the hospital was suddenly declared, and patients were transferred to the Kyushu Sanatorium (Kikuchi Keifuen). In April Ada Wright escaped to Australia. She came back to Japan in June 1948 and died in 1950. The ashes of both Hannah Riddell and Ada Wright were buried in the hospital grounds.

Riddell's sex segregation policy of leprosy patients[edit]

Leprosy is a chronic disease caused by mycobacterium leprae. An effective therapy was discovered in 1941 by Faget, after Riddell's death. Traditionally Japan and Japanese leprologists at that time adopted a segregation policy, but Riddell's thinking was unique. She firmly believed that the only way to stamp out leprosy in Japan was by segregation of the sexes, and she always insisted on it. She was against male and female patients even becoming friendly. Kensuke Mitsuda, a noted leprologist, commented that Riddell believed that what ended leprosy in England in the Middle Ages was the legal abolition of cohabitation of the sexes. The patients at the Kaishun Hospital accepted her segregation, but they could visit their families when indicated.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tobimatsu, Jingo. "Hannah Riddell". www.anglicanhistory.org. Project Canterbury. Retrieved 29 August 2014.


  • Hannah Riddell, An Englishwoman in Japan. Julia Boyd. Charles E. Tuttle, 1996.
  • Hannah Riddell. Jingo Tobimatsu. Riddell-Wright Memorial Society, 1993(reprinted), 1937(by Kaishun Hospital, original version).
  • Yuukarino Minoru wo Machite, the Life of Riddell and Wright. edited by Mamoru Uchida, Riddell-Wright Home for the Aged. 1976. in Japanese.
  • Hansen's disease in Japan: a brief history. Kikuchi I. Int J Dermatol 1997,36:629-633.

External links[edit]