EDUCATIONAL FOUNDATION STONES - DR. H. A. DE FOREST
DR. H. A. DE FOREST
The family boarding-school for girls in the home of Dr. and Mr. H. A. De Forest began in 1847 and continued until Dr. De Forest returned to America in 1854. He and Mrs. De Forest had proved the capacity of Syrian girls to pursue a liberal course of education. Their cultivated graduates became wives and mothers, whose homes were distinguished in Syria for piety and high culture. Dr. De Forest insisted on teaching the English language to the young women, in order to open up to them the rich treasures of English literature. For years one could pick out the girls taught by Dr. and Mrs. De Forest, and some of them became eminent as teachers.
In 1854 Dr. De Forest was obliged by failing health to relinquish his work, and return to the United States. A nobler man never lived. Tall of stature, courteous and genial, with a voice of great depth and sweetness, a natural orator and a skillful physician, he was universally beloved and admired. During my first interview with him, in 1854, he gave me wholesome advice with regard to caring for health. He said, "Beware of exposure to the Syrian sun. It Is your enemy. Protect your head and the back of your neck. I went to Syria with an iron constitution. I was wont to walk long distances at home without fear of sun or storm. I thought I could do it in Syria. As a foreign doctor I was in great demand, and walked through the narrow lanes in the suburbs of Beirut, in the deep sand and under a blazing sun with a small black hat and no umbrella. One day after a long, hot walk, I felt a strange sensation in the back of my head, and soon found I had a sunstroke. From that dreadful stroke I never recovered. For twelve years I have studied and taught and preached and practiced medicine, and never a week, without that agonizing pain in my head. Even now I cannot converse or read long without a return of the agony. I warn you never to trust the Syrian sun." I have now for fifty-three years acted on that advice, and have always carried an umbrella, and in summer worn also a pith helmet hat. I have tried to pass on Dr. De Forest's advice to successive generations of young men who have come to Syria from America and Europe. In three cases the advice was indignantly rejected. "I am not afraid of the sun. I have always been accustomed to walk in sun and rain with only a small cap on my bead," etc. These three men all died in a very short time of sunstroke and brain fever. (These were volunteer English missionaries. One died at Bagdad, and two in the Lebanon.) The direct rays of the Syrian sun on the back of the head of a European seem to act like the X-rays or radium.
Dr. De Forest and his accomplished wife were admirably fitted to train young women in piety, intellectual knowledge and a beautiful domestic life. The lovely Christian families in Syria, whose mothers were trained by them will be, their monuments for generations to come. In 1850, a report of Beirut station said, "Unhappily, only one of our native brethren is blessed with a pious wife." At the present time there are nearly 1,300 women who are church-members in the bounds of the Syria Mission, and the girls of all sects are being taught in all the cities and many of the villages of Syria. All honour to the men and women who gave the first impulse to female education in Syria. Their labours have aided as much if not more than any others in the elevation and enlightenment of Syrian society. Dr. De Forest died in the United States in November, 1858, greatly beloved and regretted.
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