The Consul at Nairobi (Smith) to the Secretary of State

No. 81

Sir: I have the honor to refer to this office’s despatch No. 31 of February 4, 1938 entitled “American Missionaries in Ethiopia” and to the confidential informal comments of the Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs dated April 2, 19389 on this report.

One Yervant S. Saatjian, an Armenian, who states that he worked as a clerk in the American Legation at Addis Ababa for three years and left Ethiopia at the end of March, 1938, has just arrived in Nairobi, and I took the occasion to secure the latest data from him regarding the status of American missions in Ethiopia. Mr. Saatjian confirms the allegation of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs that Seventh Day Adventists were not detained by the Italian authorities, and adds that the statement on the first page of my despatch No. 31 to the effect that the Italian Government had taken over all the buildings except the leper building from the Sudan Interior Mission is not true.

The following statement by Mr. Saatjian covers the situation up to the end of March, 1938, and should be considered as complementary to and correcting my previous report:

There exist at the present four missionary groups in Ethiopia. Their principal activities are carried on in Addis Ababa. These are:—

The United Presbyterian Mission (American Mission Hospital).
Sudan Interior Mission.
Seventh Day Adventists Mission.
An independent mission.

United Presbyterian Mission.

This mission was established about 15 years ago and maintains a hospital in Addis Ababa and a station in Sayo (Wollaga [Walega] Province). The Addis Ababa hospital, which is the main activity of the mission at present, treats principally natives and a number of foreigners (Armenians, Greeks, Arabs and Indians). Very few Italian civilians frequent it. The chief doctor is Dr. Kramer (?), and the general manager is a certain Mr. Henry, both Americans. As far as is known, the Italian Government has not interfered in any manner with the activities of this hospital. Mr. Henry, however, was beaten up near the center of the town on the day of the attempt on the life of Marshal Grazziani, February 19, 1937. This incident, it is believed, [Page 716]is known to Washington.10 Since then nothing of importance has happened in regard to the hospital and this institution has carried on its hospital activities very regularly. No military body, military official, or any civil employee is engaged at or lives on the hospital grounds.

The annexed elementary school no longer exists because the Italian Government has taken over all native education to itself.

All Italian military patients are treated in the government military hospital and the civilians in general are treated in the modern Italian hospital. The few Italians who frequent the mission hospitals for treatment are generally those who have contracted some venereal disease, and avoid the Italian hospital to conceal their condition. The work of the hospital in general is prosperous and it is believed fully self-supporting.

This mission also maintains its station in Sayo.

Sudan Interior Mission.

As is probably known to the Department, this missionary organization was established a few years ago by Dr. Lambie and was the largest missionary organization in Ethiopia. The mission has a large leprosy section on the outskirts of Addis Ababa on one side of the principal Italian aerodrome and residences are on the other side of the aerodrome. They had a good many stations in the south and south-east sections of Ethiopia. The mission is composed of Americans, English, Australians, Canadians and New Zealanders.

During the Italian Ethiopian war and at the end of the war, almost all of the missionaries in the interior of the country had to evacuate under difficult conditions and a small number of them were killed by Ethiopian bandits. Most of them gathered in Addis Ababa, while one passed direct into Kenya Colony (Smith?).

The missionaries in the interior lost all their personal effects. The Government did not show any particular inclination to encourage their work or to indemnify their losses. The buildings or premises in the interior were occupied by the Italian army or Italian civilians, as these posts were gradually conquered. The attitude of the Italian Government from the beginning has been unsympathetic and suspicious, particularly towards this mission. Reasons for this attitude must exist and some of them probably are:

Dr. Lambie gave help in many ways to the Ethiopian Government during the war.
The existence of too many Britishers and other nationals in the mission, and the Italian-British tension during the past few years.
Some of the members of the mission have taken an active part in political questions. There have even been journalists among them.
The organization was too great and too close to the Ethiopians and the institution seemed too antagonistic, imparting to the natives religious or other principles not in harmony with the ideas of the dictatorial regime. Their teachings, in other words, made it more difficult to enforce the repressive measures of the Fascist regime.
The leprosy buildings and the residences are too near to the aerodrome, the only one in Addis Ababa, and activities could not be carried on with the privacy the Italians desired.

The clause concerning British subjects and missionaries in Ethiopia in the new Italo-British agreement11 affects principally the members of this mission.

On several occasions before the beginning of 1938, government officials formally, and sometimes informally, have shown interest about the details of the mission, about renting or occupying the premises, about themselves managing the leprosery, et cetera. They have, in other words, shown continuously that the mission was not wanted. Dr. Lambie had to leave the country soon after the Italian occupation, while many of the other members gradually departed leaving in Addis Ababa a handful of the staff. The management is now in the hands of a Mr. Duff (British).

At about the beginning of 1938 the Government made known its intention of taking over the buildings and grounds. Estimates were made and after long consideration, the Italian Government agreed to pay about £14,000 for all buildings and rights in Addis Ababa and in the interior. The Government tried by every means to pay this sum in Italian lira, but Mr. Duff firmly refused to accept such payment and refused to sign any contract presented to him before receiving the whole sum in pound sterling check. The question was referred to Rome by a special messenger and just about the end of March Mr. Duff was informed that authorization had been received to pay in pounds sterling.

As the premises will be evacuated, few missionaries will continue to stay in Addis Ababa where lodging is very difficult to procure and living conditions are poor.

Seventh Day Adventists.

The head of this mission has been for a long time a Mr. Sorenson, an American citizen of Swedish origin. This mission maintains a large hospital in Addis Ababa and in general it has more capable physicians than the American Mission Hospital (United Presbyterian Mission). The name of the hospital is Filowa Hospital. It has an excellent reputation among the foreign populace of Addis Ababa and [Page 718]many Greeks, Armenians, Arabs and Indians patronize it. As far as could be observed from conversations with Mr. Sorenson, the hospital is not interfered with at all by the Government. The staff is made up entirely of Americans and Swedes. There are generally one or two doctors, one lady doctor, and about three nurses, most of whom are now Americans of Swedish origin. The hospital is doing well and most certainly is making a surplus over expenses.

The school of this mission has not been so fortunate, as there has been some friction with local authorities. On several occasions servants and some of the pupils have been arrested. There have been too many calls and inquiries about the operation of this school, and occasional complaints by the Government.

This mission had valuable grounds and premises in Eritrea, Dessie and in some other parts of northern Ethiopia. The property in Eritrea was confiscated at the beginning of the Italian-Ethiopian conflict, and immediately after the war, the properties in Dessie and in other parts were confiscated, leaving to the mission only the Addis Ababa establishment. The director, Mr. Sorenson, has been in controversy with the Government about these properties and has on several occasions demanded rent and their return. No solution had yet been arrived at when Mr. Saatjian left Ethiopia at the end of March. Mr. Sorenson is not in sympathy with the present regime, and this doubtless is militating against a settlement.

Few Italians frequent the hospital of this mission, but they form a larger number than those who go for treatment to the American Mission Hospital. Difficulty with the Government regarding this hospital is not contemplated in the near future.

There are only about four Americans still connected with this mission. Actually they do not have any posts outside Addis Ababa.

Independent and Free Mission of Miss Dammermugh, Miss Shippey and Miss French—All Americans.

These ladies do not belong to any sect or organization, but work independently, receiving their income from private sources in the United States. They say they hardly cover expenses. They carry on educational work and Bible teaching to native Ethiopians as well as to Armenians. They have adopted one or two native babies, but are prohibited from taking them abroad. As the Department probably knows, these ladies were accused of being British spies early in 1936 in a broadcast on the Rome radio, but no particular order or instruction has been issued against them in Addis Ababa. They have been very unfortunate as to their housing and lodging, and during the past four years have been obliged to change their premises five times, each move being at a distant quarter from the other. They occupied the premises of the Swedish mission, the members [Page 719]of which were all deported, but recently an Italian Protestant Bishop (a military official) claimed these premises and the three ladies were obliged to satisfy themselves with one or two rooms only and probably they will be chased away again. They do not, as yet, pretend to be discouraged and do not intend to leave the country.


It is believed that of the formerly existing fifteen missions in the interior only one or two are left, all others being abandoned. The medical and all other supplies for the missionaries are provided generally from the local market of Addis Ababa and imported from Italy. Occasionally, by special authorization procured from the Government, some instruments or equipment or parts thereof are brought from the United States or England on the basis of a bona fide declaration that no foreign exchange will be required for the cost or for the transport charges. In other words, capital must be coming from without, nothing being taken from within, but such imports from England or America amount to an insignificant quantity. Personal effects or clothing come in occasionally by parcel post from the United States or England to various members of the missionary organizations and are delivered after special authorization by the Government. Usually there is a delay of about a month for such permits, but rarely are they refused.

Mr. Saatjian impresses me as a thoroughly reliable young man, and it is believed that he has taken every care to make his statement as correct as possible. But, as in my previous report, the Department will realize that this is hearsay, and that I have no means here of confirming Mr. Saatjian’s statements.

Respectfully yours,

E. Talbot Smith
  1. Not found in Department files.
  2. See telegram No. 48, February 20, 1937, 2 p.m., from the Minister Resident in Ethiopia, Foreign Relations, 1937, vol. ii, p. 680.
  3. Anglo-Italian agreement signed at Rome, April 16, 1938; for text, see League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. cxcv, p. 77.