AND HARRIET (FISCHER) NILSON
dates and places of their years in Turkey with ABCFM
graduates from Beloit College. Begins
short term in Tarsus, Turkey
1912—Harriet Fischer graduates from Wheaton College. Teaches one year in California.
goes to Adana Turkey to begin short term in the girls’ school.
and Paul are engaged. Paul finishes
his term in Tarsus, returns to study in Hartford Theological Seminary.
term is finished, also war conditions force Americans to leaveTurkey
graduates from Hartford. Paul and
Harriet married in June.
Faith Elizabeth is born. The
family returns to Tarsus.
to 1924—Paul becomes head of Tarsus. Organizes
relief activities, as Turkish War for Independence begins causing food shortages
etc. in Tarsus. Baby Faith dies.
Three more babies are born and die. Doctors
insist on a transfer to a healthier climate.
Paul studies for graduate degree in education at Universisty of Chicago.
One baby born, one conceived during this interval.
returns to Kayseri/Talas station in Turkey (higher, drier climate)
Some general mission work, Mostly work on reopening the school in Talas.
There had been both a boys’ school and a girls’ school, as well as a
hospital in Talas. Harriet
returns with a toddler and an infant, May and Paul Jr.
(Paul Senior is Paul Emmanuel, Paul Jr. is Paul Herman)
reopens the Talas boy’ school. Nilsons continue there until the fall of
1952. Sylvia is born Sept. 1928,
Dorothy is born June 1930.
whole family on furlough in America. Technically
a mission couple is supposed to have a furlough every seven years.
During war conditions it didn’t always work that way.
brings the four children back to America for school.
School shorthanded, Paul can’t leave.
finally gets a furlough with Harriet in charge of the school.
Both are on furlough together. Much
travel to speak in churches, etc.
last year in Talas.
General mission work among the many ancient Christian groups in that far
eastern section of Turkey.
– Retirement from the Mission board. They
get an invitation to teach in a private Turkish school, specializing in English.
(To supplement the over-crowded public schools, businessmen in many towns
in Turkey opened private schools where they tried to get British or American
teachers to teach. English was now
the favored international language.)
and Harriet, plus Jim and Dorothy (Nilson) Fyfe teach in the private school in
Paul and Harriet settle in Wheaton for their declining years.
introductory information: Paul
E. Nilson’s father had come to
Fischer came from a family of educators. Her
father, a second generation German, taught
German and astronomy at
am sending some selections from the
book I wrote about my parents for my relatives.
The sources for the book include my parents’ letters and reports, the
first edition of Dr. Frank Stone’s Academies
for Anatolia, Allen Bartholomew’s A
History of Tarsus American School, Justin
McCarthy’s Ottoman Peoples, End of Empire, and
Halide Edip Adivar’s memoir, House
the first part of these selections I use the Nilson’s names, Paul and Harriet.
In the Talas section I use ‘my mother,’ and ‘my father.’
since I was a child during those years.
I hope this change of names is not confusing.
paragraph about education in the
computer does not have the Turkish letter markings.
When I copy directly from the old letters, I use the old spellings.
Sometimes I use ‘sh’ because
I don’t have cedilla. I hope you
can fill in the correct markings.
FROM STORIES FROM THE VINEYARD
Dorothy Nilson Fyfe
were a number of minority populations in the
In the late 1800s, early 1900s there was an effort to make some reforms.
It was possible for a woman like Halide Edip Adivar to rise to public
prominence, both as a writer and as an educator. According
to her memoir, House with
Wisteria, her education was a
combination of a school centered in
the mosque, private tutoring, and
education in one of the American girls’ schools in
Fischer graduated from
the school year, teachers, doctors and nurses from
Paul’s term in
It was a difficult time for the newly engaged couple,
living in the shadow of war that engulfed Europe and spread east as the
Ottoman Empire came in on the side of
the other missionaries during hot summer months, Harriet journeyed up into the
foothills of the
The mission property in Goezneh, as I knew it later, in 1963,
had one large building which was like a deck open to a view down the
mountain side, with kitchen behind, and a large sleeping room on each side.
I don’t know if there were more buildings in 1915, but Harriet’s
letters are mostly about tents. There
were nine people staying up there, one family with children and a number of
other teachers. They took turns
leaving at least one person on duty at the buildings in
Harriet wrote many
letters during the quiet days in Goezneh, then sent them down to a post office
whenever someone went to
At the end of the summer of 1915, Harriet’s letters mention a
group of the missionaries planning to leave, uncertain just when,
uncertain whether they would sail from Mersine or
felt duty bound to stay in
a postcard, to young Mr. Nilson at
Hartford Seminary, dated January 16th 1916, Mrs. Christie wrote, “Our
two months vacation ends this week. I
shall be very glad to be in regular school work again….a number of students
cannot return for 2nd term. The
boys of military age are not likely to be here….How we’d like to have you
here. and someone else who
is here would love to have you here still more. Yes she is here for her
Christmas vacation and is more of a peach blossom than ever. She wears evenings
a lovely garnet red silk dress and tucks a rose in her hair.
Happiness becomes her….”
(The “someone else” of course was Harriet Fischer.)
letters are filled with uncertainty.
She did not comment on any war activities.
But she constantly wondered when would she get to leave?
When would someone come to take her place?
There is a gap in the letters from June of 1916 until February of 1918,
by which time she was back in
a story she wrote after her retirement, I have learned a little of her journey
headed east by train, then reached a two mile long tunnel which was being dug
through the Amanus mountain range. Two
Harriet reached the
the close of World War One the Ottoman Empire was divided among
puppet Ottoman government summoned Mustafa Kemal, hero of Gallipoli,
to lead the small army it was allowed, but he defiantly began to
form his own army. They set
out to reclaim the areas under allied protectorates.
then was the situation when Harriet and Paul returned to
January 22nd, 1920 the elderly Christies left
Harriet kept a baby book of the development of their little girl, Faith
Elizabeth. The last sentences in
this booklet state, “…became sick Feb. 26, listless and smileless…March 18
took her to hospital (probably in
During this private grief, Paul turned to public action.
The French had introduced legalized prostitution,
and many citizens in the decaying morals of a town under siege tried to
escape reality in drink. Paul
countered by organizing a Temperance Society, and distributing a translation of
an American pamphlet on sexual hygiene.
He wrote in a report to mission headquarters:
is a mess! Turkish brigands growing
in power, the French withdrawing from outstations…now only in control of the
railroad. …City Turks fleeing from French, Armenians fleeing from Turks…everybody
afraid of everybody else.” (Stone,
p. 222 )
In the summer of 1920 there was a brief cease-fire between the guerillas
and the French. Paul and Harriet
sought some relief from the oppressive heat by riding
out to the vineyard. As they
started back, Turkish chetis appeared
and led them on their horses to
the foothills of the
The French commandant in
The Nilsons were only held captive for three days.
But immediately after they were kidnapped, telegrams had been
sent to mission headquarters in
Upon being released from their brief captivity, Paul and Harriet
were busy with relief work. The
French had cut off supplies from reaching
With the collapse of the Ottoman government and the withdrawal of
occupying allied forces, a new
Turkish state was declared on October 29th, 1923.
The Congregational mission debated the question, should they close the
schools? The young leaders of the
new republic didn’t quite know what to do about the foreign schools.
They had strong nationalistic pride, but were drawn to the quality of
education offered in the American schools. One
thing was sure, they did not want religion, even their own Islamic faith, taught
in the schools. Back in
Meanwhile Harriet had three more pregnancies. Those three babies also
died. (One up in Namrun)
When she became pregnant again, the
doctors insisted that she return to
Emily was born on May 16th of 1925.
The family lived in student housing at the
Paul Herman was born on January 28th of 1927.
When he was old enough to travel Harriet returned to
new government of
A NEW VENTURE
There had once been a medical mission and both a boys’ school and a girls’ school in Talas. These had been closed for several years. In 1927 while the Nilsons were waiting for permission to reopen the schools, they were active in general mission work, which centered in a reading room in what had once been a Protestant church. My father was busy overseeing the repairs and renovating the property in Talas. Throughout his missionary career he benefited from his experience in construction – which he had learned from his father. He also visited other villages around with his stereoptican slide machine.
He describes one such slide show to a neighboring town in February 1927:
Up on the slopes of
Besides the church is an American building.
Miss Gerber built a substantial school building
and cared for many an orphans. Her
picture looks down on the Turkish boys who are now studying in those halls to be
teachers in Turkish village schools.
My father writes of one slide show where the wives of the faculty
attended unveiled and mingled with the men.
At that time in remote villages only the most modern women appeared
unveiled. He showed pictures of
George Washington and Benjamin Franklin.
During the time of waiting for government permission to reopen Talas, my
father also taught English in the Turkish high school in
five years of negotiations by leading spokespersons of the Congregational
OF TALAS in the 1930’s
After she retired, Mother wrote quite a long description of Talas so I
will base this section on her article. I
know from the dates on letters, that Harriet’s mother,
Julia Blanchard Fischer and sister Ethelwyn visited Talas once before
1929. Quite likely they traveled
Talas is a
small town about five miles from the city of
I remember it in the 1930s and ‘40s, the approach to Talas and most of its
business and government buildings are on
flat land, but the road rises to higher ground quite rapidly.
To reach the American school every vehicle has to follow the sweeping
road which climbs another thousand feet around the village, forming a
giant ‘S’ curve. A passenger who
does not want to ride with the luggage another two miles around
can get out and walk up 130 steps carved out of a rock precipice.
(Mother writes that at
three years old, I climbed those steps, one step at a time, plod, plod,
plod. It made Mother impatient to
keep to my pace until she realized that she could climb all the way without
stopping to rest. Those who dashed
up had to rest along the way.)
each side of the steps there were terraced vineyards
belonging to neighbors. The
school building was at the top, a four story stone box-like building, with a
smaller box on the side for the Nilson living quarters.
There was a large playing area for the school boys, with a sunken
volleyball court. The school also
had its own vineyards, apricot orchard, almond and walnut trees, all of which
helped to reduce the grocery bill. There
was a foot and a half thick wall whose flat surface was used for drying up to
ten bushels of apricots. These were
stewed for deserts in the winter, as well as eaten fresh during the summer.
Mother writes that the wall also served as a track for us children to run
along, and she often had to look the other way and try not to think of the sharp
drop on the other side of the wall.
from the mountain streams filled caves for the school water supply, and also
filled two irrigation ponds where we children learned to swim. Drinking water
was boiled. Beyond the
vineyard and the irrigation pool there was a grassy shaded area surrounded by
lilac bushes and a honeysuckle covered wall, where the children of the previous
principal (the Wingates) were buried. Mother
liked to go there and sit on a bench by the three small graves,
to get away from bustle and noise of a school full of active boys.
And I think her thoughts may have turned from the graves of the Wingate
children, to the three small graves she had left behind on the grounds of the
YEARS AT TALAS
The first day of the opening of the boys’ school included a brief English lesson, and also an introduction to the new Turkish alphabet, in which they learned to write “Bu Amerikan Mektebi dir. Lisan, sana’at, ve ticaret orenecegiz.” (We will learn language, trades and business). Because the alphabet had been changed American teachers had to teach the boys to read and write their own language. A Turkish teacher gave an oral geography and history lesson. Textbooks in the new alphabets were not yet available.
My father continued his story of the first day by telling of the visit of
a teacher and forty students from the Zincidere teacher training school to offer
congratulations on the reopening of the Talas school.
They had walked all the way , about four miles.
(Information about this first day comes from
Stone, pp 277, 278).
The government made a great
effort to teach people the new alphabet, and also to make sure that the remote
villages had a chance at an education. Students
who attended the government teacher training schools got a free education in
return for promising to teach a certain length of time in a village school.
The Talas Amerikan Koleji was a private boarding school offering
“language, trades and business.” Tuition
was paid by the families with some scholarship funds.
The basic course was four years including English and French, math,
science and Turkish history, and some business classes. In addition the Turkish
government helped to finance a number of poor village students who attended a
two year trade course with less emphasis on learning English.
My father was passionate about the need for these young Turks to learn a
useful trade. The poor village
students were closest to his heart.
Boarding students were required to provide some of their nonperishable
food supplies, so when the father brought the boy to school, he often led
a camel with a load of bulgur, rice, and other staples.
I remember that these trade students made skis for the winter.
But more important, these students were able to get jobs, often in the
airplane factory in
Among the first group of students was a boy named Hasan from a nearby
village. He could not afford to come
as a boarder, so lived with an uncle in Talas and walked home to his village on
weekends. He had a serious hearing
impairment which caused the other
students to torment him and call him ‘Deaf Hasan.’
In frustration he would lash back so was frequently in trouble.
Finally my father told the assembled students the story of Helen Keller,
and said “Perhaps some day Hasan will outstrip you.”
When the teasing stopped Hasan applied himself to his studies (English,
Turkish, book keeping, math, shopwork and the required Turkish subjects).
By the end of the year he was second in his class, and began to mix with
the other students, to the extent that they urged that he be accepted as a
boarder with them. So my father
appealed for scholarship money from his many contacts in
In the early 1930s depression in
of the schools in eastern Anatolia had closed during World War I and the Turkish
Nute had been a teacher with my
important person was Emily Block, ‘Aunt Emily.’ She came to
have just read a number of letters from Ibrahim Ertash, the school secretary
around 1946. I remember this quiet,
pleasant man in the office, but did not know his story until reading these
letters and some of my father’s. He
was one of the early students in the school, an orphan from Zincedere.
After graduation he worked eleven years in the
airplane factory in
the early 1930s Mother was busy with us children.
She was the station treasurer and also taught mathematics in the school.
She wrote some translations,
some from English to Turkish, and also some Turkish authors into English, such
as Gonulsuz Olmaz, by
Ahmet Agaoglu .
father still went to the villages
around to show pictures, only now they were black and white movies instead of
the old still pictures. We sometimes
went with him. I remember a health
movie about tuberculosis, a film about Toscanini, and some cartoons of Felix the
cat. He had the ability to
make friends with street urchins, villagers, and high government officials.
1941 The Turkish education system had developed its own trade schools and no
longer needed the trade school program in Talas.
What they wanted from the mission school was education that would prepare
Turkish youth for positions in the professions.
The school was to have one
year preparatory English classes, then three years junior high level school,
preparing the students to continue in the Tarsus American high school, or
The years of World War II were difficult years for the
school. My parents’ vacation year
should have come in 1941, but there were no teachers to take their place.
In June 1943, Mother brought the four of us to
My father’s vacation year was long overdue.
He left Mother in charge of
the school for the 1945/46 school year.
While at sea on the journey to
In 1952 my parents were