1816  — 1852

Mary Isabella Morison Legge

Missionary educator in China.

Mary Morison’s father, John Morison, was a Congregational theologian and a director of the London Missionary Society (LMS). In 1839 she married James Legge and they immediately departed for Malacca, which was a major station for those going to the China mission prior to the opening of the treaty ports. In Malacca Mary Legge pioneered in education for Chinese girls while her husband taught and preached at the Anglo-Chinese College.

In 1843 the mission moved to Hong Kong, and the LMS resolved to convert the college into a theological school with a preparatory school attached. The latter began in 1844 and in 1846, when it became coeducational, Legge had six Chinese girls enrolled. It reached its zenith in 1851 with sixty boys and thirteen girls. Early in 1850 the LMS had planned to rent a house to found a boarding school in Hong Kong for forty girls under Legge’s supervision. This proposal was unrealized, however, because she died in childbirth in 1852, and no other woman missionary in Hong Kong was deemed qualified to carry out the project.

Legge worked closely with her husband, raising her children, handling family affairs such as their children’s education, and dealing with other Westerners, mostly missionaries, who stayed in or passed through Hong Kong.


This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright (c) 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of The Gale Group; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.


  • John Morison, “Sketches of the Life Labours of the Late Mrs. Mary Isabella Legge, of Hong Kong,” Evangelical Magazine, and Missionary Chronicle 31 (December 1853): 697-707; Supplement to the Evangelical Magazine, for the year 1853, pp. 757-764. See also Helen Edith Legge, James Legge: Missionary and Scholar (1905); James Legge, “Note on My Life” (1897), typescript at the Bodleian Library; Oxford, and in the LMS archives at the School of Oriental and African Studies, Univ. of London.

About the Author

Timothy Mankong Wong

Doctoral Candidate, Department of History, Chinese University of Hong Kong