Scope and Contents
The collection contains the correspondence of Robert Bryan Michener and Edith Riner Michener while serving as Quaker missionaries in Kenya, East Africa, in the 1930s. Working under the auspices of the American Friends African Mission, a program of the Five Years Meeting, R. Bryan Michener served as a physician at the hospital in Kaimosi and then principal of the Boys’ School. Edith Michener first taught English at the Boys’ School and then organized the Girls’ Boarding School. Their correspondence is largely addressed to family members in Kansas and American Friends Board of Missions. It provides insight into their professional and personal lives in East Africa as well as the tensions within the mission system and colonial Africa of the period.
Limitations on Accessing the Collection
Copyright has not been assigned to Friends Historical Library. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted to the Curator. Permission for publication is given on behalf of Friends Historical Library as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by reader.
Biographical / Historical
Quakers began their mission work in East Africa in 1902 with the establishment of the Friends Africa Industrial Mission led by Arthur Chilson, Willis Hotchkiss, and Edgar Hole, Quakers representing the programmed Five Years Meeting (now Friends United Meeting). Its purpose was evangelism, using industrial training as a means to introduce Christianity. In the 1920s, the work was expanded to founding schools, with boys and girls boarding schools established at Kaimosi Station which also hosted a mission doctor. Chilson was a staunch revivalist, convinced of the imminent Second Coming, and the missions were Bible-based evangelical and pentacostal. By the 1930s, African Christians were actively establishing their own Holy Spirit movement, with many former members separating from the Friends Church. Friends Africa Mission was also adversely affected by financial pressures due to the Depression in the United States and differing theological views of the strict fundamentalists and Quakers with a more “modern” approach that placed less emphasis on evangelizing.
The Micheners were among this later generation of Quaker missionaries. Margaret Parker, a nurse, arrived with the Micheners. The 1930s were a time of tension within the staff of American Friends African Mission, both theological and personal, and the missionaries also encountered growing opposition to colonial rule. The Micheners endorsed better relations and respect for the Africans and their right to be responsible for their own churches and government. They resigned their positions in 1938, partly for financial responsibilites for their growing family and also because of the internal staff tensions. A former British colony, Kenya gained independence in 1963. The Micheners returned to work in the schools and hospital in Kaimosi in 1967-1969.
Robert Bryan Michener (known as Bryan) was born July 14, 1898, in Wichita, Kansas, the son of Dr. Homer and Susanna May Michener. He attended Earlham College in 1918, volunteered for reconstruction work in France at the end of WWI, and graduated from Friends University in 1922. He earned his medical degree from McGill University in 1928 and married Edith Fannie Riner in 1927. She was born in 1901, the daughter of Henry and Fannie Riner. She also was graduate of Friends University, Class of 1924, and earned an A.M. from Kansas University. From 1930 to 1938, the Micheners served with American Friends Board of Missions in Kaimosi, Kenya Colony, British East Africa. Bryan Michener was a medical missionary at the hospital and subsequently head of the Boys’ Normal School. Edith first taught English at the Boys’ School and then organized the Girls’ Boarding School. The Micheners had five children, three who were born in Kenya: Robert Benjamin (1931); Alice Kasande (1934); and Bryan Paul (1937). Twin daughters Margaret Joan and Dorothy Jean were born in 1939, The family returned to Kansas in August 1938, and Dr. Michener worked in public and student health. The Micheners were active Friends and helped with the placement of Japanese-American students in the 1940s. They were asked to return to Kenya in 1967-1969. In their retirement they settled in Boulder, Colorado. Edith Michener died January 1, 1984, in Boulder, and Robert Bryan Michener died Sept. 18, 1992, in Newton, Massachusetts.