A Hoosier in Ramallah

Annice Carter in the traditional Palestinian cross stitch “thobe.” Photos courtesy of the author.

Annice Carter’s Life in Service

Annice Carter is not a name that will appear in the usual annals of Quaker history and literature. If she is known at all, apart from her numerous relatives in Indiana, it is through her work in Quaker education in Palestine and Africa as a missionary for Five Years Meeting, later known as Friends United Meeting (FUM). She didn’t start any institutions or write any books, but she did leave behind hundreds of letters written from the “mission field” that reveal a woman far more complex than the idolized or demonized foreign Christian worker. Clearly a product of her times and of her Midwestern Quaker upbringing, she grew beyond it.

Annice was born on a farm outside Russiaville, Indiana, in 1902, and was a member of Russiaville Friends Church, a congregation founded the same year the last apologists for Conservative Quakerism were driven out of Western Yearly Meeting. Always a pastoral meeting, Russiaville Friends was deeply influenced by Wesleyan Holiness and revivalism. Her spiritual formation was a product of thoroughly biblical and evangelical worship, family devotions and hymn singing, and a public school whose teachers were mostly Quakers like herself.

Following graduation from Russiaville High School, she wanted to become a nurse, but her father forbade it. Annice studied home economics at a Seventh-day Adventist college and Ball State Teachers College. Then in 1929, she accepted a position teaching home economics at the Friends Girls School in Ramallah in British Mandate Palestine—the year of the 1929 Palestine Riots.

The combined staff of the Friends Girls School and Friends Boys School in Ramallah, late 1930s. Annice is second from the left in the second row up from the bottom.

What motivated her to serve with the Five Years Meeting Board on Missions? Was it the romanticized idea of missionary work? Was it a sense of adventure? Was it a desire to get 6,000 miles away from a domineering father and kinship circles? It’s a question for which her letters don’t reveal an answer.

Annice found the primitive conditions of life in Palestine (she rode a donkey to her off-campus appointments!) not dissimilar to life on an Indiana farm. What she heard of the violence of the Arab revolt against British immigration policies and of Zionist aspirations seemed far removed from the quiet life of the school and village.

Following a two-year appointment on the faculty of Pacific College in Newberg, Oregon (today’s George Fox University), Annice returned to Ramallah Girls School in 1935 and was there for a period spanning opposition to the government and into the outbreak of World War II. Once more, Ramallah felt little of the pressures of the revolt and the war, and her time was occupied with a heavy teaching load. Annice returned home in 1941 after learning of her father’s illness. 

She remained stateside following her father’s death two years later and felt duty-bound to stay with her mother until her mother’s death in 1955. During that time, Annice was active as an editor of the Friends Missionary Advocate, served on the executive committee of the United Society of Friends Women, and worked in her county’s welfare department.

After her mother died, Annice returned to Ramallah—now part of independent Jordan—as the principal of the Girls School, assuming the position just after the Israeli invasion of Egypt in the Suez Crisis, and during both the U.S. Marines’ landing in Lebanon and the Iraq Revolution. Again, she reported that things were quiet where she was.

In 1959, she went to Kenya to teach and do administrative work at the Friends Africa Mission in Kaimosi. At times teaching 35 hours weekly of courses as varied as biology, English, religion, and home economics, Annice helped in the office and led sewing groups for women in rural villages. As busy as she was, Annice was well aware of the growing cry for independence from British rule but felt Kenyans weren’t ready for independence. She was critical of American staff at the Mission in Kaimosi who arranged a visit with anti-colonial activist (and future president of an independent Kenya) Jomo Kenyatta in 1961 ahead of the national elections. 

Annice expressed that Kenyan students were not ready for integration with European students in their schools. Her belief was that they were too far behind educationally and admitted that some Quakers in the United States would not support the Friends Africa Mission so long as they didn’t integrate. At the same time, Annice worked hard to raise the funds for a student to attend Berea College in Kentucky and relished her time teaching rural Kenyan women the mysteries of sewing—including humorously describing instruction in the French seam and bra-making.

From childhood to retirement.

Back to Ramallah as principal from 1963 to 1966, Annice took on both administrative and teaching duties and tried to navigate the demands of a Jordanian government trying to address its Muslim population. Annice was back in Indiana in semi-retirement when the 1967 Six-Day War broke out. Ramallah was now controlled by Israeli military forces. With a challenging new situation at the Friends Schools and a new principal about to arrive, Friends United Meeting asked her to return for a few months to navigate between the Girls School and the new Israeli military occupation. From July through December, Annice did just that—along with teaching courses when teachers failed to return after the war or resigned during the semester. 

She also stood guard at the Girls School campus in an incident that has become the stuff of legend among those who knew her—and which is verified by her own correspondence.

One October night after Annice had gone to bed in her apartment at the Girls School, she heard the front gate open, and soon there were explosions and machine gun fire. Looking out the window, she saw two jeeps full of Israeli soldiers careening around the circular drive. Soon after, frightened girls and staff descended on her apartment and huddled in fear. 

Annice put on her bathrobe and went outside to close the gate. Livid at the intrusion, she called the closest military post and was told she should report to the military governor’s office immediately. Her response was, “Do you realize it is night—and there is shooting?!” She went back to bed.

Shortly after midnight, she heard the gate open again, and another jeep entered. The soldiers were shining their searchlights around and knocking on doors. Putting on her bathrobe again, she went outside to confront them and tell them that they were frightening the people at the school and that they should leave—and close the gate behind them. Which they did!

After handling other administrative matters such as multiple trips to the military governor’s office to get travel permits for a student to attend college in the United States and getting the new principal settled in her position, Annice returned to the States and her version of retirement. She co-led groups visiting Friends work abroad, continued her service to the United Society of Friends Women, and became the director of the Friends retirement community in Plainfield, Indiana, where she died in 1988.

Assessing her life and work presents the same puzzles that appear with many past Quaker leaders who have been placed on a pedestal but also displayed feet of clay at times. With Annice, we have her unvarnished letters home which reveal her thoughts and are often refreshingly honest about her own self-awareness.

Religiously, Annice was clearly imbued with the biblical Christianity of her upbringing. When a fellow missionary in Kenya expressed his opinion that they should avoid expressing themselves in “absolute truths,” Annice responded that the teachings of Jesus were absolute truth. Yet nowhere in her letters is there any indication of a desire to “save souls” or convert the non-Christian students of the schools in Palestine and Kenya to Christianity. A product of revivalism, she expressed a disdain for the emotionalism of the revivals being held in Kenya, even refusing to attend a Billy Graham crusade in Nairobi or the local revivals of students at the Friends Bible Institute. When new staff arrived at the Kaimosi Mission, she expressed concern that she had heard they were “anti-modern” in religion.

For Annice, the purpose of Friends education was to teach Christianity by example. Religion was not worn on the sleeve but displayed in the actions of daily life, and those actions were closely related to the holiness code with which she was raised: Sabbath-keeping, honesty, hard work, worship attendance, thrift, care for others, modesty, and abstemiousness. In one of her first letters to the Friends United Meeting central office in Indiana after returning to Ramallah in 1967, she reported that she had never been more disheartened about the Girls and Boys School than she was then. But it wasn’t for the very trying times under military occupation. One of the new teachers was wearing a mini-skirt; the principal of the Boys School was serving alcohol in his home; and staff were doing laundry on Sundays. 

Annice Carter in 1958 with Friends Girls School students on an outing to the Dead Sea.

Politically, Annice was aware of the circumstances around her, but her focus always remained on the well-being of the work Friends were doing. When she returned after Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, including Ramallah, she urged the school staff to cooperate with the “victors” rather than join in strikes and demonstrations against the occupation. 

Yet after she wrote her return address in the first letter in 1967 as “Ramallah, Israel,” all subsequent letters had “Ramallah, via Israel” (emphasis added). In a lengthy letter to friends, family, and the FUM central office, she laid out her understanding of the history of the twentieth-century events leading to the creation of the modern state of Israel, the Palestinian refugee crisis, and the Six-Day War: it was not sympathetic to Israel. When confronted back in the United States about her sympathy for the Palestinians and told that “God gave the land to the Jews,” Annice would inevitably respond, “It came with conditions that have not been met!”

Even after her many years of service in Palestine, she knew a minimal amount of Arabic and little about Islam. When Jordan insisted during her tenure as principal in the early 1960s that Muslim students be taught Islam at the school, she adamantly opposed it, even arguing against it with the ministry of education in the capital, Amman. She wrote back to the FUM office that the Friends schools should close rather than teach Islam.

When she returned in 1967, however, and found that Islam was being taught to the Muslim students, she dropped in on one of the classes and found that the student’s recitation of the Qur’an reminded her of the old Quaker “sing-song” in prayer and ministry she remembered from her grandparents’ generation.

Raised staunchly Republican (her brother Walter stated that one couldn’t be a good Quaker and a good Democrat at the same time) and adamantly opposed to debt, she worked many years for the county welfare office. With family who were very suspicious of the United Nations, she mourned Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold’s September 1961 death in a plane crash in Africa while she was in Kaimosi and worried about its impact on the UN. In retirement, she supported the building of a national Islamic center on the outskirts of Plainfield, Indiana, when many opposed it.

How do we understand the different Annices? Perhaps she states it best when she describes herself as “born decades too soon” and admits to being something of a prude. Yet she is well ahead of her upbringing in her more progressive understandings about “missionary” endeavors and encountering “the other”—even with her foibles.

Leaving home at a young age, perhaps to escape the restrictions and limitations of her family and background, she was inevitably exposed to a wider world culturally, religiously, politically, and personally. Her world had expanded far beyond the narrow confines of her farming and religious community, yet she could never fully escape its imprint. 

She developed a self-confidence that enabled her to stand up to soldiers, government officials, and the challenges of her work. In the Quaker world, she was not intimidated by the Friends she inevitably encountered while in her service. But she also developed a keen self-awareness and knew her limitations: of diplomacy, of “being up with the times,” and even of energy.

A product of her times who grew in meaningful ways beyond those times, she is both a cautionary tale and an inspiration. Being both, she is even more worthy of understanding.

Max L. Carter

Max L. Carter is retired from 45 years of teaching in Quaker education, most recently at Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C., where he is currently a member of New Garden Meeting. With two cousins, he is working on a biography of their great-aunt Annice Carter.

6 thoughts on “A Hoosier in Ramallah

  1. Thank you for this bio of your great-aunt, Annice Carter and her Life of Service. I enjoyed learning of her trials and tribulations working as a Quaker missionary. Somethings to think about.

  2. Thank you for this article about Annice Carter written by Max Carter.
    I knew Annice Carter in later years and tales about her. Now I am delighted to know her story. Annice was very pleasant, easy to love and I did love her.

    1. So wonderful to see your name and response, Phyllis! In one of Annice’s letters in retirement she mentioned how much she enjoyed attending one of Les’s presentations on IFCL at Carmel Friends! She was a fan. If you would like to say more about your acquaintance with Annice, we’d love to include it in a chapter in the biography of people’s reflections on their personal knowledge of her!

  3. Hello Max; I was able to join your visit to Ramallah in the early 2000’s. It’s an indelible memory and one which informs me of the absolute duty to support the school and Palestine. What fun it was to repaint the walls of the lower school. I was the paint mixer using every can of house paint Mohamed found to come up with somewhat matching colors. Meeting Joyce Aljouney and eating at her family’s restaurants was a treat. On the serious side, the Israelis began an attack as we left, once again pounding Gaza hospitals and schools. How many times since then has that atrocity happened? Because of our bus journeys I was able to understand how Jesus was able to walk from Galilee to the Jericho deserts and it changed my mind about who he could be. Perhaps this moment from our first hours driving up from Ben Gurien airport capsulizes how my understanding opened. A strong southern accented voice rang out as we looked to our right and saw rock formations dimly through white hot sun. “Is that the wilderness? I never expected it to look like that!” Yes. We’re still caught in that incomprehensible wilderness, trying to make our way out. Nancy Lloyd

  4. What a wonderful memory, Nancy! Thanks! Those direct experiences of the people and places in Palestine and Israel are so important — and often life-changing. So grateful that you were able to witness — and continue to witness!

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