Relegating “Race Hatred” to the Ottoman Past: Mary Mills Patrick’s Positive Narrative of the New Turkey

By Carolyn Goffman
Submitted to Session P4951 (Missionary Renegades: Resisting the Metanarrative in the Ottoman Empire and Turkey, 2017 Annual Meeting
Ottoman Empire;
19th-21st Centuries;
Mary Mills Patrick, president of the American College for Girls in Istanbul from 1889 to 1924, weathered extraordinary political change and stubbornly resisted all threats to her school, including missionary detractors who deplored her “non-sectarian” education; the Sultan’s spies who reported on Muslim students; German, Ottoman, and British troops who sought to occupy college grounds during and after the First World War; and, finally, the new nation whose rallying cry of “Turkey for the Turks” would leave little room for a multi-ethnic American woman’s college. Patrick was well aware of missionary reports of Armenian massacres and deportations before and during the war, but she was most concerned about the danger of losing the College.

This paper argues that Patrick’s deep dedication to the college prompted her to create a strategic description of the new Turkey that elided the Armenian massacres and deportations, and skimmed over the Greek-Turkish population exchanges. By 1924, Patrick had assumed a firmly pro-Turkey stance and created a historical narrative that blamed the Germans for wartime atrocities and barely acknowledged the information from American witnesses of massacres in Anatolia.

Two unpublished manuscripts, “Transformations” and “Constantinople College During the War” (at the Hoover Institution Archives at Stanford), demonstrate Patrick’s personal conflict between supporting the Armenians and defending the Turks. Her conclusion that “the igniting spark that touched off the ever smoldering race hatred was unquestionably furnished by the Germans” (“Transformations,” 7) allowed her to credit Muslims for maintaining centuries of religious tolerance in the Ottoman Empire. Such arguments would appease Turkish critics and thus allow for the continued existence of the American College, which still included many Christian students.

Patrick’s efforts to preserve good relations with Turkey were successful; her attempts to sway American public opinion in favor of Muslims less so. Her decision to promote the college rather than defend the Armenian cause was a fraught one. In writing against the grain of America opinion, Patrick deliberately suppressed her own views on Armenian and other minority groups in the dying Ottoman state. Patrick wrote passionately about Ottoman “race hatred,” but chose not to publish this manuscript, preferring instead to promote an optimistic image of the modern, civilized Turk.