In the nineteenth century, Mary Lyon at Mount Holyoke College developed a progressive ideal of useful womanhood: serious, educated, devoted to service, skilled in domestic arts, and ready for leadership. Her disciple Fidelia Fiske took up the unlikely challenge of applying the Mount Holyoke approach to the education of young women and girls in a remote corner of northwestern Persia.
In 1906, Nan Graybill joins the Presbyterian Mission in Persia as principal of the Fiske Seminary for Girls near Urmia. It's her job to pursue the task of training her students in these feminine virtues, now modified and updated for the twentieth century. She considers herself a "modern missionary," aiming for social gospel objectives. But in 1914, the outbreak of war between Ottoman Turkey and Tsarist Russia threatens to trample the Urmia province into dust. The Syriac-speaking Christian community there--Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant--becomes one of the most tragic casualties of the Great War.
Nan Graybill and her Assyrian colleagues must lead the school community through this crisis with their own creativity, dedication, tenacity, competence, and courage. Together, they find new ways to endure and to prevail.