Prompts · Treasure Chest Thursday

Kittie Bendelow, Missionary to Burma

I have a postcard addressed to Mrs. Bolt, my 3x great-grandmother, in care of Mrs. Bendelow at 320 Linwood Avenue, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A. The front shows a picture of the Shwedagone Pagoda in Myanmar. Written on the front by the sender was the following description: “This building is just like the Burmese people, showy, [?], glittering on the outside, as far as they know how to do – and that’s all.” Makes me think the writer was a judgy white person. The card was postmarked 4 times, the first on April 21, 1906 at Thandaung, Myanmar, and the last was May 20, 1906 at Detroit.

So my questions were: Who sent this postcard to my great-great-great grandmother Mary J. Bolt? And who’s Mrs. Bendelow?

Searching for the name “Bendelow” in Detroit in 1906 led me to Miriam Jane (Keen) Bendelow. Originally from England, the Keen family came to the United States in the early 1850s when Miriam was about five years old. In 1860, when Miriam was 12, the family was living in Detroit. Miram married Edward Bendelow on January 3, 1876.

Miriam Keen Bendelow, c1884-1892

They had 5 children: Catherine Keen Bendelow (1880-1968; AKA Kittie), Charles (1883-1906), Edward Jr. (1885-1958), Cora (1888-1968), and Herbert (1891-1980). When Charles died on May 12, 1906, his obituary stated his address as 320 Linwood Avenue and 1502 Eighteenth Street.

Detroit Free Press, 5/13/1906, Page 5

According to the notes of the July 28, 1908 Detroit Common Council meeting, an ordinance was passed changing the names of several streets. Perhaps it had already informally gone into effect, since Charles died in 1906. Section 14 of the ordinance states “that the name of the street…known as 18th Street, extending north of [Grand] Boulevard, is hereby changed and shall hereafter be known as Linwood avenue.” (p. 1033). Detroit had a massive address renumbering effective January 1, 1921, so I’m not sure if addresses on 18th Street were changed in 1908 at the same time as the name change. Anyway, the point is the Bendelows lived at 320 Linwood in Detroit, the address to which this postcard is addressed.

Miriam’s daughter Kittie Bendelow graduated from the Washington Normal School in January 1901 and was assigned to teach at Amos School for a salary of $35 (not sure if this was weekly or monthly). According to the 1903 Detroit City Directory, she was teaching at Estabrook School and lived at home. She requested a leave of absence in December 1904. The June 3, 1905 Detroit Free Press tells us why, in an article titled “Two Young Women in Mission Work”: “Kentung, Burmah, will probably be Miss Bendelow’s field of work. She has been an earnest worker at the Eighteenth Street Baptist Church, and has been wanting to enter the Baptist mission field for some time. Her parents seriously objected, but Miss Bendelow resigned her position as a school teacher about six months ago in spite of their opposition to take up missionary work” (p. 3).

Picture from “The Helping Hand,” v. 32, no. 2 (Feb. 1905)

A “Farewell Missionary Rally” was held on September 3, 1905 at the 14th Avenue Baptist Church, with speakers including Kittie Bendelow (Detroit Free Press, 9/3/1905, p. 9). She left from Boston for Burma (now Myanmar) on September 23, 1905 as part of a group of 21 missionaries of the American Baptist Union (Detroit Free Press, 9/24/1905, p. 4). Kittie was financially supported by the Woman’s Baptist Foreign Missionary Society of the West. She arrived in Burma on November 6, 1905 on the S.S. Mandalay, along with Dr. and Mrs. Walter Rittenhouse.

Church Life, a journal produced by the First Baptist Church of Chicago, published a letter from Kittie dated March 29, 1906 in the June 1906 issue. Among other things, she states, “You may be glad to know I weigh 2 pounds more than I did in America. Since coming here, I have had fever for a week but am entirely recovered now and am hard at work on Karen” (p. 16-17). The Karen are a group of people in southern Myanmar. The mission Kittie worked at specifically focused on this group. Dr. Rittenhouse had a letter he wrote on April 6, 1906 published in the same issue of Church Life (p. 4). He discussed their trip and arrival (remember, Kittie was also with them):

Mrs. Rittenhouse and I spent a week in Rangoon, shopping and sight-seeing. Rangoon has several English stores with complete stocks of all lines, that at least remind one of Chicago department stores. Knowing this we had reserved most of our shopping for Rangoon. The new missionaries were entertained in the homes of the missionaries and teachers in the Baptist College… . The chief objects of general interest are the Swe Dagon Pagoda, and The Lakes, a beautiful public park on the outskirts of the city. Swe Dagon is the largest Buddhist pagoda in the country. We were there during the Feast of Lights. At night the place shows off to the best advantage. The light of the thousands of candles and the full moon, illuminate the tinsel and colored glass and hide the dirt and grossness.

It is so interesting to think that this recounting of the trip to the Pagoda is likely the same trip Kittie purchased the above postcard for my ancestor! Eventually Kittie was stationed at Schwegyin. In 1909, the secretary of the Michigan chapter of the Woman’s Baptist Foreign Missionary Society of the West, stated in the organization’s Annual Report, “We…rejoice in the work which Miss Kittie Bendelow is doing in Schwegyin, Burma, and desire to do more for her each year” (p. 51). Kittie earned a salary of $500 for the year. Also in the 1909 Annual Report, the Schwegyin mission was said to have 7 missionaries and 62 churches with a membership of 2,503. They also say that there were 16 baptisms during the year. In a letter discussing the Karen school (apologies for offensive language), Kittie said,

There are about 35 heathen Karen villages within half a day’s walk from Schwegyin. During the past few months, the teachers have been going out one at a time preaching in these villages, taking with them a few of the pupils to sing. The Karens love music so much that they come together to hear the singing and then there is a chance to talk to them.

In 1912, Kittie resigned from her mission – it was accepted with “deep regret” (Missions: A Baptist Monthly Magazine, v. 3, no. 11, p. 849). She arrived back at Boston on July 17, 1912. At the August 22, 1912 Detroit Board of Education meeting, it was noted that Miss Bendelow had returned from her leave of absence, and, at the September 12th meeting, she was assigned to Morley School with a salary of $80.

You might think this is the end of Kittie’s story – that she taught, got married (or remained a spinster), had kids (or not), and died. Not quite. According to a post on a Genealogy.com forum, “she married a Burmese man with the last name of Alexander and was disowned by her father, Edward Bendelow. She had 2 children, Charles and Jane. She was in a POW camp during World War 2, but made it out alive. She died in 1968 but never returned to the United States.” Let’s see what the documents say.

Kittie did leave Liverpool, England on July 17, 1914 bound for Rangoon. She was in 1st class on the ship Bhamo, and was listed as a 33-year-old teacher with her “country of intended future permanent residence” listed as Burma. She arrived in Rangoon on about August 1. She married a man named Stanley Alexander in Rangoon about 3 weeks later on August 24, 1914. This is the last mention I can find for her until her father’s obituary in July 1935, in which she is listed as one of his two daughters, “Mrs. Kittie Alexander.”

To conclude, I think I’ve solved most of the mystery. The sender was Kittie Bendelow, teacher and missionary to Burma, and daughter of Mrs. Miriam Bendelow, who was the recipient at 320 Linwood. Now to figure out how Mary J. Bolt knew the Bendelow family. Through the Baptist church? That would be new information for me! Was she friends with Miriam from somewhere else? She would have been about 13 years older than Miriam.

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