Clara Converse, 1879

After graduating from Vermont State Teachers School at age 16 and working as a public school teacher, Clara Converse entered the newly established Vermont Academy in 1877.
After graduating from Vermont State Teachers School at age 16 and working as a public school teacher, Clara Converse entered the newly established Vermont Academy in 1877. Graduating with the Class of 1879, she was one of Vermont Academy’s first female graduates, as well as one of only two women in her class. After receiving a degree from Smith College, Converse returned to Vermont Academy, where she taught Greek, German, rhetoric, and mathematics from 1884-1889. Florence Sabin was one of her students. Converse felt compelled to serve the Lord and resigned her post in 1889 to apply for a missionary position with the Women’s Division of the American Baptist Mission. The mission was searching for a suitably qualified educator to take over the leadership of a new school for girls established by Baptist missionaries in Yokohama, Japan. She began her new responsibilities in January 1890.

Over the next 35 years, Converse built this school, which adopted the name “Soshin Jo-Gakko,” meaning Truth-Seeking Girls School, into a respected institution of women’s education in Japan. Soshin came under the direct control of the Japanese government when the unequal treaties were renegotiated in 1899. Miss Converse proved the worth of her school’s methods to the authorities, and Soshin soon received a license from the Ministry of Education. While she was building Soshin, Converse purused other missionary activities, including teaching Sunday school, Bible classes, and founding a kindergarden. Following her retirement as principal of Soshin in 1925, Converse continued her involvement with the school and her other missionary works. In 1929, Emperor Showa (Hirohito) conferred the Blue Ribbon Medal upon her, honoring her many years of service in education to the Japanese nation. In a letter to former Headmaster Laurence G. Leavitt, Converse expressed hope that Vermont Academy would continue to promote the intellectual, physical, and spiritual formation of young adults, and the values that had many times been a source of strength to her as she labored to build up the Soshin School. Those values, which she gained from Vermont Academy and applied at Soshin, are best summed up in the advice that Miss Converse left to her students in Japan, words that have endured as both a motto of Soshin School and a precious memory of its founder to this day: “Trust in God. Be true to your best self.”
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