Carmichael, Amy Beatrice (Wilson)
b Millisle, Co Down 1867, d Dohnavur, India 1951. The eldest and possibly most adventurous of 7 children, she was descended on her father’s side from the Scots Covenanters and on her mother’s from their Royalist persecutors. Presbyterian-raised and home-educated until the age of 12, she then went to Marlborough House boarding school in Yorkshire, which she hated but where at 15 she was converted. A CSSM event at Harrogate lit the spark that was to burn for the rest of her life. She rejoined her family, now in Belfast for family financial reasons, and began a mission among factory girls (‘shawlies’). At 18, while visiting some Scottish friends, she experienced a spiritual renewal through a ‘Keswick’ event in Glasgow. Her girls’ work continued to grow, needing a new hall by 1889 and initiating her lifelong policy of obtaining funds through prayer alone. But later that year she moved with her now widowed mother to begin similar work in Manchester. It was there that she stayed with Robert Wilson, to take the place of a daughter who had died while he in effect took the place of her late father. She used his surname as an added Christian name for herself, but at the time he found it hard to accept the missionary call to China heard by Amy after little more than 2 years.
She sailed in March 1893, in the event spending a year in village mission work in Japan before illness brought her home. This was followed by a visit to Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) during which she was advised to try the healthier air of Bangalore, India, which she reached in 1895. The Walker family of Tinnevelly helped her with the Tamil language and remained closely supportive friends. Employed under Anglican CMS auspices with support from the Keswick network, she continued with village work and children’s evangelism until a crucial encounter with Pearl, a young girl escaping from Hindu temple prostitution. From then her work was devoted to rescuing and nurturing such children, initially in a small home set up in 1901, the base for what became the Dohnavur Fellowship. Now independent of CMS, the work grew, vulnerable or abused boys were included, and in time children stayed on as adult workers. Murray Webb- Peploe began a medical branch and a hospital was eventually opened. In 1931 her spine was permanently damaged by a fall which increasingly confined her to bed. This if anything increased her insight and influence, and it was as an invalid that she completed more than fifty years in India. ‘Amma’, as she was known, wrote some 35 books including her own and others’ stories, devotional verse and prose; prayer, sacrifice and surrender are frequent themes but shafts of wit, humour and wide spiritual reading from various traditions are also evident. Gold Cord (1932) described the founding of the Fellowship, Windows (1937) told how its financial needs had been providentially met, while other books aimed to encourage ‘ordinary’ Christians including sufferers like herself who had not found physical healing. Her 50 Dohnavur Songs were published in Madras in 1920. Some colleagues found her tough leadership and high spiritual demands hard to accept and left; others valued her extraordinary gifts and Gospel zeal. By the time of Amy’s death the community of her ‘family’ numbered some 900. The first and classic biography is Frank Houghton’s (qv) Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur: The Story of a Lover and her Beloved (1953), while a shorter but important recent study is included in Genius, Grief and Grace by Gaius Davies, 2001. Her verse was collected in 1999 as Mountain Breezes. The American former missionary Elisabeth Elliott (b 1926), herself the author of 28 books, possesses 40 written by Amy Carmichael, ‘the one whose writings have most profoundly influenced my life’—EE. Her fellow-author Cynthia Heald has written in similar terms (2003) about the ‘insightful and concise sentences [which]…continue to challenge and humble me’. No.938.