Ida Elizabeth Thompson 譚爱德 (1870-1939)

Mabel Gertrude Thompson (1882-1912)

by Bruce W. Lo 2012

Basic Biographical Facts

Born on May 12, 1870 in Mauston, Wisconsin; died on January 22, 1939 in Burbank, California.

Parents: Father Ozro B. Thompson; mother Elizabeth M. Thompson.

Siblings: two sisters Emma and Gertrude Thompson, ; two brothers J. Burton and Elmer H. Thompson.


Summary of Service: Establish the first Adventist girl school in China-Bethel Girl's School in Canton; preceptress of Central China Training Institute, preceptress of Shanghai Sanitarian Nursing School.

Figure 1: Ida Elizabeth Thompson

Family Background and Answering the Call

Ida Elizabeth Thompson was born on May 12, 1870 to the home of Ozro B. and Elizabeth M. Thompson in Mauston, Wisconsin. The family had three daughters: Emma, Ida, and Gertrude; and two sons: J. Burton and Elmer H. The two sons became medical doctors, while the three sisters became missionaries to China.

Her early years were spent in Wisconsin and Illinois, where she received her education. After graduation she worked for the Wisconsin Conference for a number of years. In the early 1900s, the Seventh-day Adventist Church enthusiastically embraced the concept of foreign mission. Ida Thompson answered the call to go to South America as a missionary. When she was preparing to go to Brazil, she heard that her sister, Emma Thompson and Emma's husband, Jacob N. Anderson were appointed missionaries to China by the General Conference Mission Board. Ida Thompson asked the church to send her to go with them to China instead. But there were insufficient fund in the General Conference mission budget, so the Wisconsin Conference stepped in and paid for her travel costs as well as her wages for the next few years. Ida Thompson became the first single female foreign missionaries of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Ida, Emma, and Jacob (together with the Anderson's 4 year old son Stanley) left Wisconsin on Christmas eve of 1901 to travel by train to San Francisco where they boarded the ship America Marau to head for Hong Kong.

Beginning the Work in China

The party arrived at Hong Kong on February 14, 1902, where they were welcome by the self supporting colporteur, Abram La Rue, who had been in Hong Kong for about 13 years. The first priority of the three newly arrived missionaries was to learn the Chinese language which proved to be more challenging than what they initially thought.

In May 1902, Ida Thompson began teaching English to two Chinese men from the local community in Hong Kong. She thought she might as well open a school to help more Chinese young men to learn English. With the help several local businessmen, they found a suitable place. The business-man allowed Ida to use the room behind the house free of rent; another lent her a few desks; La Rue, Mok Man Cheung, and Anderson found other school furnishing for her. After a thorough cleaning and a new coat of paint, Ida opened the English school in November of 1902. In February of 1903, the school was relocated to another rented property nearer to the center part of the city, and was renamed The English Conversation School. This was a boy school and the demand was great. The enrollment soon rose to 20 which was the maximum that they could take, even when they charged a school fee of 2 dollars per month. They had to turn many away. Unfortunately, Ida contracted malaria, and she had to stop teaching due to ill health in August of 1903. They could not find anyone to replace her. So the school was closed for a period of time.

When she recovered, she did not feel it was profitable to restart the boy school again because the main burden in her heart was to work as soon as possible among the Chinese women, whom she perceived as the group that needed the help most. In a letter she wrote in the June 2, 1904 issue of Review and Herald she reported, "...the poor women and girls (in China) enlist my sympathy and I feel that they especially need my efforts.7" In a letter written in the Summer of 1903, she actually confided to Elder William Covert, the president of the Wisconsin Conference, this great desire in her heart. She said, "If there were a small sum of money that could be use for this purpose, I certainly should undertake to open a girls' school.8" Covert read her letter of appeal in the Camp Meeting, and within five minutes a sum of five hundred dollars was raised for this work.

Bethel Girls' School Established in Canton

Sooner than normally expected of ordinary mails in those days, Ida Thompson was pleasantly surprised to receive a reply from Elder Covert who said, "Go ahead, and open the girls' school. Wisconsin will supply the means it needs for maintenance." Not just for one year, the girls' school was totally supported by private gifts from believers in Wisconsin for the first five years.

Elder J.N. Anderson and his Chinese language teacher traveled from Hong Kong to Canton 廣卅 (pinyin Guangzhou), a South China metropolis of 2.5 millions people, and found a good location in the suburb of Nanguan 南闗 for the girls' school. They rented a building for the school at the address Tongqingfang 同慶坊 in 1903 and on March 17, 1904, the Bethel Girls' School was officially opened with an initial enrollment of 17. But before the end of the week the number had risen to 24. This is the first formal Adventist school in China. Ida Thompson was the first preceptress (principal) of the school.

Ida Thompson explained in her account of the school in the book, With Our Missionaries in China,

"This name (Bethel Girls' School) was adopted in compliment with my native state. I came out to China from Wisconsin, and was maintained at the expense of that conference. The Wisconsin Conference had called their intermediate school "Bethel School"; so this name was chosen for our mission school. Aside from, Bethel - House of God - appealed to us as being an appropriate title for a Christian school set in the mist of a great heathen city.8"

Two years later, the church purchased a group of buildings erected by the Southern Baptist Mission originally intended to be a boy's training school, in a Canton suburb called Zhuguenli 珠光里. The school moved into the new facilities in 1906, and began to enroll boarding students as well as day students. Ida Thompson's original idea was to allow boarding students to be able to make a clean break from the idol worship practices that were prevalent in Chinese homes at that time. Soon the student number increased to 70 with 40 of them are boarding students. In the early years of the school, most of the students in Bethel Girls' School were not believers. But after they attended the school under the tutorship of Ida Thomson, many of these girls accepted the Adventist faith. Among the first group of students were three girls, Zhou, Liao, Liao, follow by Chen. These four girls all became Bible worker themselves and married pioneer national ministers during those early years.

Expansion and Merger

The Bethel Girls' School continued to prosper under the leadership of Ida Thompson. The mission felt that it may be time to purchase a larger property in the country side and to erect its own buildings for the school. They found a piece of land in the eastern outskirt of Canton and started the building program. The area was known as Tungshan (pinyin: Dongshan) 東山 (which means "east hill"), and the actual address was Xinuiwei 犀牛尾. With increased enrollment and with more boarding students, the school needed more teachers and workers.

By 1909 /1910, two more ladies joined the school team: they were Amanda Von Scoy and Mabel Gertrude Thompson . Gertrude Thompson is the younger sister of Ida Thompson, who also came from Mauston, Wisconsin. In 1911, she wrote a letter to Elder S.E. Jackson of the Minnesota Conference explaining the challenges of the mission filed; the letter was published in the October 31, 1911 issue of the Northern Union Reporter.9 Besides the three ladies: Ida, Amanda, and Gertrude, Susan Wilbur, wife of another missionary in Canton, Edwin Wilbur, also helped out in the school, at least until her husband got transfered to Shanghai.

January 10, 1911, the Bethel Girls' School held its first graduation service. About three hundred people attended the service, among them were Dr. Law Keem, and the Education Secretary of China Mission, B.L. Anderson. The class of 1911 consisted of only two graduating female students, but Ida Thompson was really proud of them, and felt that her efforts were rewarded, as both of the two girls chose to remain in the school to help with the teaching of the younger students after graduation. Those who are familiar with the history of modern Chinese will note that 1911 was the year in which the Qing imperial dynasty was overturned by the Nationalist government of the Republic of China.

In 1912, Gertrude Thompson was stuck by a sudden illness and died on August 8 at the age of 30. She joined the rank of many of our early pioneers who gave their lives while on mission service. She was buried in a cemetery near the Pioneer Memorial Church in Happy Valley, Hong Kong. On the right is a photo of her grave.

In 1915, World War I broke out, and there were some anxiety over the future of the school. It was in 1915 that the Bethel Girls' School moved to the beautiful new campus in Xinuiwei 犀牛尾, Tungshan 東山, where all buildings including classrooms, dormitories, and faculty homes were located in the same compound. Apart from a brief furlough in 1920, Ida Thompson remained the principal of Bethel Girls' School in Tungshan until 1922.

By 1922 the mission folks felt that the Chinese society is ready for a co-education school. So the Yizi Boys' School and the Bethel Girls' School were merged into a co-education school called the Sam Yuk Middle School 三育中学 with H.B. Parker as its first principal and Ida Thompson became the preceptress. Parker was later succeeded by A.L. Ham, the then president of the Canton Mission, when Parker returned to the US. The school remained on that Tungshan 東山 campus until 1937. During the period, 1922 to 1937, the name of the school changed several times, from Sam Yuk Middle School, to Ministerial Training School, Ministerial Training Institute, Canton Sam Yuk Training Institute, and South China Training Institute. In the same period, several Adventist pioneers had also assumed the position of school principal. They include, apart from Parkers and Ham, L.C. Wilcox, T.M. Lei, M.Y. Sum, and H.S. Leung. It was under the principalship of H.S. Leung that the school, known as South China Training Institute at the time, moved to its permanent location in Hong Kong to become the Hong Kong Adventist College of today.

Post Bethel School Years

Ida Thompson took a brief furlough in 1920 after the school mergers; but her hearts was still in China. Soon she returned to the mission field and worked in Central and Eastern China for the next ten years. She was at one stage the preceptress of Central China Training Institute, and later the preceptress of Shanghai Adventist Sanitarium. She labored for another ten years until her health conditions forced her to retire. In 1932, she returned permanently to the United States.

Upon return, she chose to live in Burbank, California near her elder brother, Burton Thompson, who was a medical doctor. After over thirty years of dedicated service in China, Ida Thompson passed away in Burbank on January 22, 1939. Her memorial service was conducted by Elders Frederick Griggs and Adlai Albert Esteb.2

Figure 2: Bethel Girls' School in Canton, China

Figure 3: School outing on the Canton City Wall, 1909

Figure 4: Ida Thompson with sister Gertrude Thompson, who came to teach at the Canton school from Wisconsin

Figure 5: Students at Bethel School

Figure 6: The first group of students at Bethel Girls' School-Mrs. Kang, Mrs. Chou, and Mrs. Wu

Figure 7: Mable Gertrude Thompson died in 1912 while in mission service. She was buried in a cemetery in Happy Valley, Hong Kong.

Figure 8: Bethel Girls' School in 1912

Figure 9: Bethel Girl's Schol and Yizi Boys' School merged in 1915 to become the Sam Yuk Middle School


1. CDP (1939) A Pioneer at Rest, The China Division Reporter, Vol. 9, No. 2, p.7, February 1939.

2. Esteb, Adlai Albert (1939) Obituary of Ida Elizabeth Thompson, The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, April 20, 1939, p.22.

3. Longway-Fisher, Florence (2002), Ida Elizabeth Thompson, in Chinese SDA History, Samuel Young (editor), China Union Mission: Hong Kong.

4. Longway-Fisher, Florence (1990), A Tribute to Miss Ida Thompson, in South China Reflections, Zane, D., Chow, B. & Lee, D. (editors). North America Sam Yuk Alumni Association. CA. pp.19-21.

5. Peng Fengzheng (1990), A Tribute to Miss Ida Thompson, in South China Reflections, Zane, D., Chow, B. & Lee, D. (editors). North America Sam Yuk Alumni Association. CA. p.69.

6. Tan Shouzhen (1990), Remembering Alma Mater Bethel Girls' School, in South China Reflections, Zane, D., Chow, B. & Lee, D. (editors). North America Sam Yuk Alumni Association. CA. pp.31-3.

7. Thompson, Ida E. (1904), Our School Work in China, The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, June 2, 1904, p.22.

8. Thompson, Ida E. (1920), Bethel Girls' School, in With Our Missionaries in China. by Emma Anderson, Pacific Press Pub. Association: Mountain View, CA, pp.43-63. Available online:;size=50;view=image;page=root;seq=1.

9. Thompson, M. Gertrude (1911), Bethel Girls' School: Letter from Gertrude Thompson, Northern Union Reaper, Vol. 6, No. 31, pp.1-2, October 31, 1911.

10. Zhou Jiachen (1990), From Bethel Girls' School and Yizi Boys' School, in South China Reflections, Zane, D., Chow, B. & Lee, D. (editors). North America Sam Yuk Alumni Association. CA. pp.36-37.

Last update 4/10/2013 by Bruce Lo