The United Mission in Iraq
May 16, 2018
We've recently processed and put into the hands of researchers RG 509, records of the United Mission in Iraq.
Though individual Protestant missionaries evangelized in Mosul and Kirkuk in the nineteenth century, coordinated American mission work flourished within the postwar British sphere of influence. In 1924 the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., the Reformed Church in America, and the Reformed Church in the United States established the United Mission in Mesopotamia. The mission operated two schools: Baghdad High School Mansour, a school for girls in a western district of Baghdad; and the School of High Hope, a school for boys in Basra.
Limits on the capacity of foreign missionary societies to operate schools or own land led the United Mission to vest operation of the schools in two other organizations: the American Philanthropic Society of Northern Iraq, which served as a board of trustees for Baghdad High School Mansour; and the American Philanthropic Society of Southern Iraq, which oversaw the School of High Hope. Further oversight and fundraising was undertaken by an organization of active and retired mission workers from Iraq, styled the Iraq Fellowship. In the 1960s, the United Mission in Iraq cooperated with the Committee on Cooperation in the Upper Nile, styled as the Joint Office for the Upper Nile and Iraq.
During the reign of King Faisal II and Nuri al-Said, Protestant work in Iraq proceeded without violence, with one prominent exception. In 1938, Roger Craig Cumberland, a Presbyterian evangelist in Dohuk, was murdered in his home by two Kurdish men for distributing Bibles. In the 1960s, the United Mission in Iraq established a fund for relief projects in Cumberland's name.
The collection includes a set of acetate negatives (like other images in this post available via Pearl) taken for Baghdad High School Mansour, along with a small collection of yearbooks. Notable sponsors of the BHSM yearbook included the local Coca-Cola distributor, Pan-Am, and BOAC. Students took evident pride in their achievements, graduating to work in the American embassy, in libraries, or for Tapline and IPC.
Following Gamal Abdel Nasser's success against the former colonial powers France and Great Britain in the 1956 Suez crisis, a wave of nationalist sentiment flooded the Middle East. Pressures on western-allied governments culminated in revolutions in Lebanon and Iraq in July 1958. The deposition of Faisal II, and the establishment of the Iraqi Republic, marked the beginning of a period of struggle between factions of Arab nationalists, Iraqi nationalists, communists, and others. Following the 17 July Revolution in 1968, the Ba'ath Party came to power, and issued plans for nationalization of mission schools. After a year of uncertainty, schools were nationalized in the summer of 1969, and American mission workers were expelled. The United Mission in Iraq was dissolved in 1970.
Dedicated funds for work in Iraq still existed, however, in the Cumberland fund and in the general mission accounts. In 1979, a group of former mission workers in Iraq formed the Joint Committee for the United Mission in Iraq Interim Organization, with the apparent aim of identifying work to be supported in Iraq with these funds. The group persisted until at least 1988, at which point its funds were managed by the Presbyterian Foundation. The Presbyterian Mission Agency currently has two mission co-workers serving in Iraq.
Guide to the United Mission in Iraq Records, 1924-1988, 7 boxes
Iraq Mission Resource Page, Presbyterian Mission Agency website
Margaret Purchase Papers, PHS blog post