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ICYMI: Japanese alumni visit Thorold to pay respect to late school founder

In 1884, Thorold native Martha Cartmell founded elite Christian girls' school Tōyō Eiwa Jogakuin in Tokyo, Japan; 'When you go to Japan, everyone knows Tōyō Eiwa'

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: A version of article was originally published by ThoroldToday on May 11.

In 1884, at a time when Japanese girls were not allowed to be educated, a female missionary and Thorold native named Martha Cartmell helped change their lives.

With the help of the Methodist Church in Hamilton, she founded an elite Christian girls' school in Tokyo, Japan called Tōyō Eiwa Jogakuin.

On Friday morning, 15 alumni of the school made the trek to Thorold to see their heroine's birthplace.

At Lakeview Cemetery, they stopped to see the 60 cherry trees the alumni association had donated in Cartmell’s honour in 2013, near her former family homestead.

The Japanese delegation was greeted by Mayor Terry Ugulini who told ThoroldToday of the important relationship between Thorold and the alumni of Tōyō Eiwa Jogakuin.

Every five years, former students of the school come down to Thorold to see how the trees are doing, and they give the city a sizeable donation to take care of them.

The alumni were also greeted by Thorold resident Cathy Ker (nee Cartmell), who is a descendant of Martha Cartmell.

“This is wonderful,” Ker told ThoroldToday. “I call them my trees and every time I come to the cemetery, I go into the office and I tell him: ‘Take care of my trees!’”

Martha Cartmell is fondly remembered by the alumni of the school as she had an everlasting impact on women’s rights in Japan.

After arriving as a missionary in Japan in 1882, Cartmell quickly found that women weren’t allowed to be educated.

She petitioned the Imperial Court for permission to found her girls' school, which opened with two pupils, in 1884, in a small house; but the numbers increased rapidly.

Today, Tōyō Eiwa Jogakuin educates women from kindergarten all the way to university and beyond.

It was Ker’s cousin Marsha and her husband Bill Young, who discovered the family's connection to Martha Cartmell. 

After Ker got in touch with Reverend Ariga at the Church of Hamilton, which had ties to Tōyō Eiwa Jogakuin, Ker got invited to go to Japan and see the school herself.

“When you go to Japan, everyone knows Tōyō Eiwa,” said Ker. “When we visited we were treated like royalty. I told Reverend Ariga: ‘We don’t deserve all this,’ but he said: ‘It’s you representing Martha. You’re the family connection. They’re treating you with the same respect they would give Martha.’”

To keep the connection with Tōyō Eiwa alive, Ker comes and greet the Japanese delegation every five years.

“Because of Martha I’ve had all these wonderful experiences that I otherwise would have missed out on,” she said. 


-- With files from Cathy Pelletier.

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Bernard Lansbergen

About the Author: Bernard Lansbergen

Bernard was born and raised in Belgium but moved to Canada in 2012 and has lived in Niagara since 2020. Bernard loves telling people’s stories and wants to get to know those that make Thorold into the great place it is
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