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“These Are Bloody Times in Which We Live…”: The Journal of Mary Lewis Shedd


June 17, 1918

One of the first collections I processed at Burke was MRL2: Mary Lewis [Mrs. W. A.] Shedd Papers, 1918. This journal made an impact on me not just because of the first-hand account it provides, but also because this copy appears to be completely unique.

The collection is comprised of a 42-page typed copy of Mary Lewis Shedd’s journal, which gives in great detail the events from February to October, 1918 in Urmia, Persia (written as Uremia or Urumia by Shedd) and the withdrawal of Assyrian Christians. Along with experiencing this directly, she was privy to other information because of her husband and includes this in her journal. The journal has been published as The Urumia Exodus: More Leaves from the War Journal of a Missionary in Persia. The collection available at the Burke contains more detail and entries than the published version.

Born in Glen Lock, Pennsylvania on January 15, 1873, Mary E. Lewis became the third wife of William Ambrose Shedd [1865-1918], Presbyterian missionary to Persia and later United States consul in Urmia, in July 1917. According to the forward by Laura McComb Muller in The Urumia Exodus,

Out of Persia, the little-known neutral country that lies between Russia and Turkey… Since the war began, its northern province, and especially the city of Urumia, has been either at the mercy of the Turks or in the hands of the Russians… the Christians endured a five months’ siege in the mission compound…

The published Urumia Exodus jumps from an entry dated March 11 to August 28, 1918. A note is included which says,

When the curtain rises again, five months later, upon the people of Urumia, not only is the scene changed, but a different party is in power. Following the treaties between Germany and the Bolsheviki, the Turks had again advanced and were taking their revenge. (The Urumia Exodus, Page 14)

The longer, unpublished Shedd journal in MRL2 includes entries from this time. Mary has heard news of what is now known as “March Days” or “March Events,” which refers to the infighting and massacre of up to 12,000 Azerbaijanis and other Muslims that took place between March 30 and April 2, 1918 in the city of Baku, then part of the Russian Empire:

This led to the discussion of the potential for Christians to be sent away from the area for safety:

Developments can be traced by reading further through Shedd’s journal:


Mary’s last entry is July 28, after which she is silent until September 24, 1918 when she is located in Hamadan, Persia. She begins to recall the last few weeks:

The Shedds were forced to evacuate Urmia on July 31, 1918, along with thousands of other Assyrian Christians, as the Ottoman Army threatened nearby. She writes in great detail about the confusion, including:

They retreated for six days, at which point her husband became ill with cholera and died shortly thereafter:


"Fifty thousand hunted, terror stricken refugees had passed on, the desolate, rocky mountains loomed above us, darkness was all about us and heaven too far away for prayer to reach."

Mrs. Shedd’s group escaped further from the warzone with the aid of the British towards Iraq, and buried her husband along the way, about seven miles east of Sain Kala.

Mary reached Hamadan August 24. On October 2, she wrote that probably seven or eight thousand died, were killed, or were taken prisoner on the journey she had recently completed.

Despite everything, in her last journal entry Mary Lewis Shedd writes:

Mary would later write a biography of her husband, The Measure of a Man: The Life of William Ambrose Shedd, Missionary to Persia, published in 1922. While not much more is known about her life, she continued her work as a missionary. She appears in New York Passenger lists in 1919; 1930; and 1933. Microfilm copies of Mary Lewis Shedd’s passport, and New York Passenger Lists are available at the National Archives and Records Administration.

All images from: MRL 2: Mary Lewis [Mrs. W. A.] Shedd Papers, The Burke Library Archives (Columbia University Libraries) at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

Further Sources

Mary Lewis Shedd’s first journal was published as a fifty-one page monograph, The War Journal of a Missionary in Persia [1915], available at the Burke Library, Union Theological Seminary (see MRL Pamphlet 1890 and 2069).

The second journal is The Urumia Exodus: More Leaves from the War Journal of a Missionary in Persia [1918]. This can be found at the William Smith Morton Library, Union Presbyterian Seminary, and in the Special Collections of Northwestern University (http://nucat.library.northwestern.edu/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?BBID=1940338). The New York Public Library has it available on microfilm (http://catalog.nypl.org/record=b14791152~S1).

Mary Lewis Shedd’s biography of her husband, The Measure of a Man: The Life of William Ambrose Shedd, Missionary to Persia was published by the George H. Doran Company: New York in 1922. Many libraries have the book, and it can also be found online in its entirety (http://www.archive.org/stream/measureofmanlife00shedrich/measureofmanlife00shedrich_djvu.txt).