An Intrepid Leader

Mar 4, 2015


Emma D. Cushman of Burlington, New York, worked as a nurse with the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions at the Talas Hospital in Turkey. When her term ended in 1907, Miss Cushman continued to work in hospitals throughout the country, including the city of Konia in central Turkey. In 1917, the Turkish government offered her safe passage from Konia to Constantinople, but she turned it down because they would not agree to protect Konia’s refugee population in her absence. She was particularly devoted to the young girls in her care. Gadarine Topjian Boudakian, one of Miss Cushman’s young charges, later referred to her as a guardian angel—praising her not only for her courage, but also for her ability to help the girls heal from psychological trauma.

Miss Cushman began working with Near East Relief in 1919, serving as director of relief activities at Konia, an area with which she was already familiar. She was later placed in charge of 1,000 children in the Boyadjikeuy and Yenikuey Orphanages in Constantinople. In July 1921, she sent a letter to the secretariat of the League of Nations explaining the difficulties of rescuing women and children, many of whom had sustained physical and psychological trauma after years of captivity in Turkish harems. In response, the League opened Neutral Houses for rescued women and children in Constantinople and Aleppo. After the Smyrna Disaster, Miss Cushman accompanied her young charges to Corinth, Greece, where she supervised the new Near East Relief orphanage in a converted army barracks.

In honor of her more than 30 years of service in the Near East, Emma D. Cushman received the Gold Cross of Jerusalem in April 1921 and was named a Knight of the French Legion of Honor in December 1921. She died in Cairo, Egypt, in 1931.

Special thanks to Sara Boudakian Cegelski, granddaughter of Gadarine Topjian Boudakian.


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