Arlington Yutzler (1881-1958), The Foreign Mission School, ca. 1950
Collection of the Hughes Memorial Library, Cornwall, CT
The Foreign Mission School was a bold new venture in evangelism: to find in this country, convert, and educate young men, predominantly people of color, from indigenous cultures around the world, and send them home to be native preachers, translators, teachers, and health workers. It was established by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, who held the view that Christianity and civilization were inseparable gifts to be brought to the heathen. Cornwall was chosen for the site because of its pious citizenry, healthy climate, and willingness to donate land, work, and money to a devout cause. This small institution, which during its short lifetime taught about one hundred young men, quickly gained a wide celebrity here and abroad as a manifestation of the “Second Great Awakening” of American religious fervor. Its successes linked little Cornwall to great issues of the day – the worldwide missionary efforts; the settlement and conversion of Hawaii; the abolition movement; and the Trail of Tears, which resulted from the forced removal of the Cherokees from Georgia under president Andrew Jackson in 1838-9.
Despite good intentions, the founders failed to understand the inherent conflicts between the mission of the school, the understanding of the community, and the goals of the students themselves. The collision of these conflicting ideals led to upheaval in Cornwall and the abrupt closing of the school in 1826, only nine years after it opened and permanently changed the American missionary movement.
About the painting: Inspired by the story of the Foreign Mission School, Cornwall resident Arlington Yutzler created this work to illustrate the events of that period through multiple vignettes. The left section of the painting depicts the typical small New England town with its steepled white church; the right section, a ship at sea, represents the missionary journey overseas to spread Christianity. At the bottom, a center medallion shows a mentor looking down on his students. The Foreign Mission School building is in the background, and the students are depicted as learners. While the depiction stereotypes the students through dress, hair and skin color—meant to convey their ethnic identity—in reality, the students would have worn western-style clothing.