Doctor Mary in Arabia

[ Middle Eastern Studies ]

Doctor Mary in Arabia


By Mary Bruins Allison

Edited by Sandra J. Shaw

Introduction by Lucie Wood Saunders, Ph.D., and John Clarke Saunders, M.D.

The memoir of a medical missionary who worked in the Middle East from the 1930s to the 1970s.



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6 x 9 | 365 pp.

ISBN: 978-0-292-70456-5

Until fairly recently, Arab women rarely received professional health care, since few women doctors had ever practiced in Arabia and their culture forbade them from consulting male doctors. Not surprisingly, Dr. Mary Bruins Allison faced an overwhelming demand when she arrived in Kuwait in 1934 as a medical missionary of the Reformed Church of America. Over the next forty years, "Dr. Mary" treated thousands of women and children, faithfully performing the duties that seemed required of her as a Christian—to heal the sick and seek converts.

These memoirs record a fascinating life. Dr. Allison briefly describes her upbringing and her professional training at Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania. She then focuses on her experiences in Kuwait, where women of all classes, including royalty, flocked to her care. In addition to describing many of her cases, Dr. Allison paints a richly detailed picture of life in Kuwait both before and after the discovery of oil transformed the country. Her recollections include invaluable details of women's lives in the Middle East during the early and mid-twentieth century. They add a valuable chapter to the story of modern medicine, to the largely unsuccessful efforts of the Christian church to win converts in the Middle East, and to the opportunities and limitations that faced American women of the period.

Dr. Allison also worked briefly in Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, and India, and she includes material on each country. The introduction situates her experiences in the context of Middle Eastern and medical developments of the period.

Timeline of Events
1. Early Life
    Earliest Memories • Milwaukee Childhood • Pella, Iowa, and Adolescence • Central College • Graduation and My First Job
2. Medical Training
    The Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania • Internships
3. Early Years in Kuwait
    Getting There • A New Life • Coming Out in Kuwaiti Society • Kuwait City • Mission History • Dr. Mylrea • Living with Mary Van Pelt • Weddings • My First Case • Under the Knife • Home • Mistake
4. A Real Doctor
    Practicing Medicine in Kuwait, 1936 • Cases in the Early Years • Trachoma • The Summer’s Heat • Expectations and Disappointments
5. Medicine and Marriage
    The Way of a Man with a Maid • Scotland to Kuwait, Overland—1939 • Back to Work! • A New Hospital, a New Nurse • Cases • Ayisha, and My Other Patients • Spring • With Norman in India
6. The War Years
    Back to the U.S.A., January 1942 • Divorce • The Dahanu Road Mission Hospital (India) • Monsoon • Asked Back
7. Kuwait Practice Renewed, 1945
    New Faces • New Cases • New Problems • Four Months at Qatar, 1948 • Changes and Obstetrics in Kuwait • Oman, 1949 • Running the Show in Kuwait • Slaves • To U.S.A. on Furlough, 1950 • Kuwait Builds, 1951 • Cars and Schools • Kuwaiti Women’s Lives and Health in the 1950s • The Morning Clinic • Kuwait Women’s Medical Report to the Board—October 1954
8. Questions of Mission
    A Question of Mission • Kuwait Hosts the Annual Mission Meeting, 1955 • Shirley and the Shaikh • Kuwait Internationalizes • Ramadan and Clinics, 1954 • Converts • Another Question of Mission: Air-Conditioners • Mission 1955–1956 • The Board Reassesses the Missions • Applying the Board’s Suggestions • Iraq’s Threat; Kuwait’s Growth • A New View of Islam
9. Changes in the Mission Field, 1958
    Back to the Mission • Fresh Recruits • The Sixties in Kuwait • My Brother, Paul Bruins • Times of Sorrow • Furlough, 1964–1965
10. Bahrain
    Bahrain’s Historical Background • Mission in Bahrain • Cases • The Closing of Kuwait’s Medical Mission, March 1967 • Interlude in Oman, 1968 • Back to Bahrain, Fall 1968 • Vacation in Kuwait, 1968 • Bahrain, 1970 • Back to the U.S.A. • The Way Back: Bahrain’s New Church
11. Oman
    Oman, 1971 • Historical Background of Oman • The Mutrah Hospital • The Mutrah Morning Clinic • Malaria • Cholera • Leprosy • Tazeea for Dr. Wells Thoms, October 1971 • Diversions, 1972 • Travels in Oman, October and November 1972 • Kuwait Revisited • My Last Year • Return to Dahanu Road • Cholera Epidemic • Turnover
Statistics and Hospital Data
    Annual Reports of the Kuwait Women’s Hospital to the Mission Board in New York • American Mission Hospital—Kuwait • Bahrain Attendance Records for Eleven Months of 1969 • Oman Mission Hospitals—Statistics, June 1 to Dec. 31, 1971 • Mutrah, Oman: Hospital Statistics, 1973 • Muscat, Oman: Assaada Hospital Statistics, 1973

"Dr. Mary Allison has written a fascinating book about her nearly forty years as a medical missionary in the Arabian Gulf. . . . Dr. Mary in Arabia is a valuable addition to the writings of foreigners about the Middle East. . . . Mary Allison provides detailed information on many aspects of life in the region to readers with few contemporary native sources at their disposal. . . . The fact that she is a complicated and interesting human being adds to the pleasure of reading what she has to say about her profession and the places where she practiced it."
Middle East Journal