A Heart at Leisure from Itself: Caroline Macdonald of Japan


346 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7748-0522-6
DDC 267'.5952





Reviewed by Patricia Morley

Patricia Morley is professor emerita of English and Canadian studies at
Concordia University, Japan Foundation Fellow 1991-92, and the author of
Margaret Laurence: The Long Journey Home and As Though Life Mattered:
Leo Kennedy’s Story.


As Margaret Prang notes, why do we know next to nothing about a person
whose contemporaries thought her so outstanding? Canadian diplomat Hugh
Keenleyside placed Caroline Macdonald “among the most remarkable men
and women” he had ever known.

Macdonald (1874–1931) graduated from the University of Toronto in
1901 in math and physics, and moved to Tokyo to work for the YWCA. Her
career in Japan in social work made her the best-known foreign woman in
Tokyo during the 1920s. Working with prisoners and their families, the
Canadian missionary brought international ideas about prison reform to
the Japanese context. Macdonald also established a settlement called
“the Home of the Friendless Stranger” (Shinrinkan) and worked with
labor union leaders and liberal politicians. She was deeply involved
with feminist causes and played a part in working to change the position
of Japanese women. For her services to Japan, she received an award from
the Emperor.

Drawing on Macdonald’s letters and papers, preserved in the United
Church of Canada’s archives at Victoria University in Toronto, as well
as on the records in Japan, Prang’s meticulously researched and
sympathetic portrait shows Macdonald’s intense identification with her
adopted country and her close friendships with the Japanese. This
inspiring and fascinating story of an admirable woman touches on many
important issues and ongoing problems, and should be in every library.


Prang, Margaret., “A Heart at Leisure from Itself: Caroline Macdonald of Japan,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 16, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/1174.