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Emma Thompson (Mrs. J.N. Anderson). 

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Anderson, Emma Marie (Thompson) (1865–1925)

By Michael W. Campbell


Michael W. Campbell, Ph.D., is North American Division Archives, Statistics, and Research director. Previously, he was professor of church history and systematic theology at Southwestern Adventist University. An ordained minister, he pastored in Colorado and Kansas. He is assistant editor of The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia (Review and Herald, 2013) and currently is co-editor of the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Seventh-day Adventism. He also taught at the Adventist International Institute for Advanced Studies (2013-18) and recently wrote the Pocket Dictionary for Understanding Adventism (Pacific Press, 2020).

First Published: September 14, 2022

Emma Marie Thompson Anderson was a pioneer Adventist missionary to China, author, bookkeeper, Bible worker, and educator. She along with her husband, Jacob, and sister, Ida Thompson, were the first group of official missionaries to China in 1902. Her Chinese name was: 譚爱瑪 (pinyin: Tán àimǎ).

Early Life

Emma Thompson was born May 6, 1865, in Lone Rock Valley, Wisconsin, to Ozro (1839-1928) and Martha Elizabeth (1844-1912) Thompson.1 She attended a country elementary school, and later a high school in Mauston, Wisconsin. At the age of 17, she began teaching at a public school and would continue teaching for the next five years. She subsequently studied for three years at the University of Chicago and Nebraska State University.2 In 1887, she became a Bible worker in the Wisconsin Conference. She also attended a short course of instruction in giving Bible readings from George B. Starr in Chicago, Illinois.3 She served as Sabbath School secretary and then president of the Sabbath School Association for the state and promoted religious education.4 For the next five years, she served as a Bible worker in the Wisconsin Conference.5 On December 22, 1896, she married Jacob Nelson Anderson. They had three children, Stanley (1897-1980), Karen Elizabeth (1904-1983), and Benjamin (1905-1971); the latter two of which were born in China.

Journey to China

In 1901 Emma responded to a call with her husband, Jacob, out of a sense of “conviction of duty and the call of the Mission Board” to serve in China.6 Emma noted that they made final preparations from her parents’ home. They traveled first to Chicago, where they were supposed to leave on Christmas day but had to catch a train two days later since their luggage had not been properly arranged. This allowed them to visit friends and pack some additional gifts: a typewriter and kodak camera.7 W. O. Worth and W. R. Donaldson gifted them with two bicycles.8 They traveled by tourist class, which gave them a four-by-six-foot space on the train for the four of them, Jacob, Emma, their son, Stanley, and Emma’s sister, Ida. They counted their blessings that despite the cramped quarters, they believed their travel most certainly better than that of the apostle Paul on his missionary journeys.9 Their trip over the Rocky Mountains was spectacular, ultimately going through the Salt Lake Valley and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. They arrived in San Francisco only a few hours before their ship, American Man of the Tayo Kisen Kaisha, left at 1:00 p.m. on January 4, 1902:

Looking back to the wharf crowded with Chinese of all ages and different social castes, we began to realize for the first time that we were leaving home and native land, to enter a new and strange world, a sample of which was before us.10

Eight days later, the Anderson party arrived in the harbor of Honolulu, Hawaii. After passing a quarantine inspection, they were given permission on a tropical Sabbath morning to attend church. They were met by C. P. Moon from the Adventist Hawaiian Chinese school. Despite the “singing birds, smiling flowers, and waving palms, all inviting [them] to worship,” her sister, Ida, was “too weak to sit up,” so she went straight to the sanitarium instead. The beautiful flowers and tropical fruit made it seem “dream-like” and a “fairyland.” They showed up in time to participate in Sabbath School. This turned out to be one of the most “refreshing” Sabbaths of their lives.11

Twelve more days across the Pacific Ocean brought the Andersons to Yokohama, Japan. Soon after leaving Hawaii, their young son, Stanley, became ill with chickenpox, requiring the family to be quarantined. This did not stop Ida from going ashore with Dr. Rosa Palmborg, a Seventh Day Baptist missionary also on the same boat, to tour Tokyo. Some of the Adventist missionaries in Japan were able to visit them on board the ship. After traveling along the coast of Japan, they finally made it to their destination, the harbor of Hong Kong, on February 2, 1902. Their journey had taken a total of twenty-nine days.12

Missionary Work

Soon after the Andersons settled into their new home, they befriended several children. One of the children, named Agan, was a young man of sixteen years who came to work for the Andersons as a helper. Over time they won his confidence, and he learned to sing “Jesus loves Me” with their son, Stanley, who also liked to look at pictures of Jesus in the book, The Desire of Ages. After several months, he gave his heart to Jesus.13

During their early ministry in China, Emma teamed up with her sister, Ida, and frequently took her children, initially Stanley and later Elizabeth (after the latter was born), and together they went to visit some of the women in the countryside. She befriended them, held Bible readings, and developed a network of women interested in the Adventist message.14 Emma was especially concerned with widely accepted custom of the day, which gave preferential treatment to men and denigrated women, resulting in many undesirable practices against Chinese women. She determined to devote much of her efforts to the improvement of the lives of Chinese women through education and healthy practices.15

Widespread changes occurred between 1905 and 1906, setting off a wave of nationalism and a desire to modernize China. A lack of confidence in the Qing dynasty and a desire for Chinese national strength resulted in, as Emma noticed, the popularization of girls’ schools and changes in dress. The queue hairstyle for men that had been required of the Han by the Manchu ruling dynasty rapidly started to disappear.16 On a personal level, Emma expressed gratitude for the funds raised for missions that enabled them to have a mission home in which to live—it saved a significant amount of money instead of money spent on high rental markups.17 The Andersons avoided having a mission “compound” instead living among the people with all of its “sights, sounds, and smells.” Furthermore, she developed relationships with people including a young man, about twenty years old, and another “harmless insane man,” who both lived in front of their home. Her expressed wishes were to have access to resources so that these individuals could obtain “proper [medical] treatment.”18

On June 24, 1907, a major turning point was the baptism of the first three girls (aged 11, 14, and 16) from the girls’ school. For this special occasion, and to be culturally sensitive, the missionaries rented a boat so they could have some privacy to mark the occasion in the Pearl River.19 Emma’s special task was keeping the mission books. In 1907, she was asked to return to Hong Kong where the General Conference provided remuneration and rent for an apartment while she audited the church books. Unfortunately, she found “$50 stolen from the office” account.20 By this time, she also had become fluent in Mandarin and assisted in the creation of Sabbath School lessons and as part of the Sabbath School committee for the newly organized work that same year.21 Emma served as the first chronicler of the history of early Adventist missionary work in China, detailing for example, the important contributions of Abrama La Rue along with Erik & Ida Pilquist.22 Emma continued to look for opportunities to do ministry, especially as her husband increasingly traveled to encourage other missionaries, conduct evangelism, and lay out strategic plans. She stayed behind to provide continuity and stability effectively running the home missionary base. One of her chief concerns was the missionary home and how to raise children in a cross-cultural (“third culture”) environment. Such concerns reflected racial biases and the difficulty of trying to balance both embracing the culture one was in and retaining one’s own national identity:

The missionary’s home should afford an opportunity for the Western mode of life, that the children may be reared in the custom and practises [sic] of their native soil, and not degenerate into native practises [sic]. It is just as essential that the missionary preserve his own family in its native characteristics as that he refrains from alienating his converts from the customs and practises [sic] of their native life.23

She was especially helpful with her nursing skills, and, for example began to develop a reputation as the “foot doctor” because she was so successful at helping those who cut their feet to get better or women with bound feet.24

Permanent Return and Illness

While in China, Emma contracted a tropical disease. She left with her husband to attend the 1909 General Conference session. Due to her illness, she remained in southern California. Here she underwent two major operations. By late 1909, it was reported she was able to speak at the southern California camp meeting about missions in China.25 Her continued poor health necessitated church leaders voting to have her move to the Washington Sanitarium for further medical treatment in March 1910.26 Jacob meanwhile returned to China in late 1909 but came back in late 1910 on permanent return from mission service to assist his wife with her continued medical challenges. They would initially relocate to Washington, DC, where Jacob taught in the Foreign Mission Seminary, and Emma could have ready access to medical treatment at the Washington Sanitarium. From 1915 to 1924 they resided in Lincoln, Nebraska. While there, Emma wrote the books, With Our Missionaries in China and A-Chu and Other Stories, which described in detail their early experiences along with the subsequent growth of the Adventist missionary work in China (1920). They once again returned to Washington, DC, in late 1924. She passed away on November 25, 1925, in Takoma Park, Maryland. Her last words were “His will be done,” and “It is all very bright.”27 She was buried in the Mauston-Oakwood Cemetery in Mauston, Wisconsin.28 A collection of diaries, letters, and other papers is part of the Heritage Room collection at Union College.29


Anderson, J. N. “First Baptism in China: A Memorable Day.” The Missionary Magazine, May 1902.

Anderson, J. N. “Baptism in the Pearl River, Canton, China.” The Youth’s Instructor, August 27, 1907.

Anderson, Mrs. J. N. [Emma]. “Canton (China) Workers’ Meeting,” ARH, June 18, 1908; The Present Truth, July 16, 1908.

Anderson, Mrs. J. N. [Emma]. “Chinese Lepers.” The Present Truth, October 15, 1903.

Anderson, Mrs. J. N. [Emma]. “The Comfort of the Truth.” The Signs of the Times, August 9, 1905.

Anderson, Mrs. J. N. [Emma]. “Crumbs from the Canton (China) Workers’ Meeting.” ARH, July 30, 1908.

Anderson, Mrs. J. N. [Emma]. “Facing the Orient.” The Youth’s Instructor, May 1, 1902; May 8, 1902.

Anderson, Mrs. J. N. [Emma]. “Feeling After God.” ARH, June 2, 1903.

Anderson, Mrs. J. N. [Emma]. “A Glimpse About Canton.” ARH, October 4, 1906.

Anderson, Mrs. J. N. [Emma]. “How the Chinaman Takes His Rice.” The Present Truth, July 26, 1906; Life and Health, July 1906.

Anderson, Emma Thompson. “The Influence of a Changed Life.” The Signs of the Times, March 23, 1904.

Anderson, Mrs. J. N. [Emma]. “A Sabbath-School Missionary Exercise.” Echoes from the Field, November 26, 1902.

Anderson, Mrs. J. N. [Emma]. “The Sign Over the Door.” The Signs of the Times, February 3, 1904.

Anderson, Mrs. J. N. [Emma]. “Facing the Orient.” The Youth’s Instructor, June 5, 1902; June 12, 1902.

Anderson, Mrs. J. N. [Emma]. “The Missionary and His Home.” ARH, September 26, 1912.

Anderson, Mrs. J. N. [Emma]. “Some Missionary Experiences.” The Youth’s Instructor, January 29, 1903; February 5, 1903.

Anderson, Mrs. J. N. [Emma]. “Waiting Ones.” ARH, December 27, 1906.

Anderson, Mrs. J. N. [Emma]. “A Woman’s Story.” ARH, July 2, 1908; The Present Truth, September 10, 1908.

Anderson, Emma. With Our Missionaries in China. Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1920.

Anderson, Emma T. A-Chu and Other Stories. Washington, DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1920.

“Emma T. Anderson obituary.” ARH, December 24, 1925.

General Conference Committee, General Conference Archives. Accessed September 13, 2022.

Houser, Estella. “Word from China.” Atlantic Union Gleaner, October 29, 1902. [Excerpt from letter from Mrs. Anderson] Republished in Echoes from the Field, November. 12, 1902.

Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia. Second revised edition. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1996. S.v. “Emma Thompson Anderson.”

Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook. Battle Creek, MI: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1894.

Wilbur, E. H. “Baptism of Chinese Girls.” The Signs of the Times, November 4, 1907.


  1. Anderson Family Tree,, accessed August 4, 2022,

  2. “Emma Thompson Anderson obituary,” ARH, December 24, 1925, 23.

  3. Ibid.

  4. Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia [1996], s.v. “Emma Thompson Anderson.”

  5. Emma Thompson’s 1892 diary shares the details of what her life was like during this time period. The diary is available online at

  6. “Emma Thompson Anderson obituary,” ARH, December 24, 1925, 23.

  7. Mrs. J. N. [Emma] Anderson, “Facing the Orient,” part 1, The Youth’s Instructor, May 1, 1902, 139.

  8. Ibid.

  9. Ibid.

  10. Ibid.

  11. Ibid.

  12. J. N. Anderson, “First Baptism in China: A Memorable Day,” The Missionary Magazine, May 1902, 198.

  13. Mrs. J. N. [Emma] Anderson, “A Sabbath-School Missionary Exercise,” Echoes from the Field, November 26, 1902, 2-3.

  14. Mrs. J. N. [Emma] Anderson, “Feeling After God,” ARH, June 2, 1903, 15-16.

  15. Mrs. J. N. [Emma] Anderson, “The Comfort of the Truth,” The Signs of the Times, August 9, 1905, 12.

  16. Mrs. J. N. [Emma] Anderson, “A Glimpse About China,” ARH, October 4, 1906, 12.

  17. Mrs. J. N. [Emma] Anderson, “A Glimpse About China,” ARH, October 4, 1906, 12.

  18. Mrs. J. N. [Emma] Anderson, “Canton, China,” Life and Health, January 1907, 12.

  19. J. N. Anderson, “Baptism in the Pearl River, Canton, China,” The Youth’s Instructor, August 27, 1907, 1; E. H. Wilbur, “Baptism of Chinese Girls,” The Signs of the Times, November 4, 1907, 700.

  20. General Conference Committee Minutes, September 30, 1907, 355.

  21. “Recommendations Adopted by the China Mission at the Shanghai Council, February 10-20, 1907,” Union Conference Record, June 24, 1907, 2.

  22. Mrs. J. N. [Emma] Anderson, “Our Work in China,” The Caribbean Watchman, July 1907, 10; “More Workers for Honan: Our Work in China (Concluded),” The Caribbean Watchman, August 1907, 10-11.

  23. Mrs. J. N. [Emma] Anderson, “The Missionary and His Home,” ARH, September 26, 1912, 15.

  24. See note in Life and Health, June 1907, 170.

  25. W. A. Spicer, “Southern California,” ARH, September 9, 1909, 16.

  26. General Conference Committee, March 4, 1910, 168, General Conference Archives, accessed September 13, 2022,

  27. “Emma Thompson Anderson obituary,” ARH, December 24, 1925, 23.

  28. “Emma Marie Thompson Anderson,” Find a Grave, accessed April 24, 2022,

  29. Jacob Nelson Anderson Collection, Collection 2, Union College Heritage Room, Lincoln, Nebraska, accessed April 24, 2022,


Campbell, Michael W. "Anderson, Emma Marie (Thompson) (1865–1925)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. September 14, 2022. Accessed April 19, 2024.

Campbell, Michael W. "Anderson, Emma Marie (Thompson) (1865–1925)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. September 14, 2022. Date of access April 19, 2024,

Campbell, Michael W. (2022, September 14). Anderson, Emma Marie (Thompson) (1865–1925). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved April 19, 2024,