Not Imitation but Practicality:
The Modern Girl and the Missionary Higher Education for Women

Rui Kohiyama (Tokyo Women’s Christian University)

    It is widely recognized that Protestant missionary schools, largely American, contributed much to producing new, “modern” and “Western” images of womanhood from the earliest period of modernization in Asia. Then, how was the Modern Girl in 1920s related to the education in such schools? The paper attempts to answer this question using the example of Tokyo Woman’s Christian College (TWCC), a college established in 1918 in Tokyo run by an interdenominational cooperation of American and Canadian Protestant missions.

    Studies of the Modern Girl in Japan so far mainly concentrated on analyzing discourses and representations as appeared in discussion in popular magazines, or images in novels, advertisements, photos, movies, etc. Many of them suggest that the Modern Girl was a middle-class phenomenon, while others depict the café waitress, who did not belong to the middle class, as the prototype of the Modern Girl. This makes a notable difference from the fact that the New Woman, who appeared in Japan approximately ten years before the Modern Girl, was always seen as associated with a small number of elite women who had college education. It remains ambiguous where the Modern Girl socially belonged. The paper tries to explain the reasons for this ambiguity by introducing the three key elements that had shaped the image of new womanhood after the Meiji Restoration-- education, class, and the influence of the West— to the analysis of the Modern Girl.

    In the main body of the paper, I will clarify the process of adopting western clothes and short hair, both of which I define as major symbolic markers of the Modern Girl, among women of the intellectual middle class in general and the TWCC students and alumni in particular. For this, I will examine Fujin no Tomo (Women’s Friend), a women’s journal especially targeted for intellectual and Christian female constituency as well as students’ papers, journals of alumni, biographies and memoirs of graduates at TWCC. For women of this kind of class background, practicality was a predominant feature for adopting western clothes and short hair. For TWCC women in particular, those who had studied abroad and held stable jobs, and those who had strenuous involvement in social activism after marriage tended to choose such appearance. Thus, the typical elitist Modern Girl with college education was the one who studied abroad and had a decent occupation. Then, how was such an elitist woman related to a café waitress? The final part of the paper will analyze the various discourses in the above materials in further detail and attempt to answer this question.

    In Shanghai, the students or the graduates of Ginling College in Nangjing, a women’s college established as part of the same interdenominational missionary project among American women that backed TWCC became well-known representations of the Modern Girl, or the New Woman as known in Chinese. A comparative study between the Ginling College and TWCC will provide useful perspectives on the formation of the Modern Girl image. By exploring the case of the TWCC, the paper will present a basis for such a comparison in the future.