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Topping, Helen, (1889-1981.) | Southern Illinois University Special Collections Research Center

Name: Topping, Helen, (1889-1981.)

Historical Note:

Helen Topping was born April 12, 1889, in Rochester, New York, the daughter of two American missionaries, Genevieve and Henry Topping. In 1895 she was taken to Japan for six years, which began her interest in other cultures.  She attended the Francis W. Parker School in Chicago and began spreading Parker's theories of education.  In 1905 at a religious conference at Silver Bay, Wisconsin, she dedicated herself to missionary work.  She later obtained degrees in education from a Baptist school, Denison University, and later Columbia University.

In 1925 she found her mission when a Japanese evangelist, Toyohiko Kagawa called her to work for him as his English secretary and organizer in America.

Toyohiko Kagawa was born in 1888. By the time Helen Topping went to work for him he was already well-known for his work in founding churches, settlement houses, cooperatives, labor unions, schools, relief work after the earthquake of 1923, and for the publication of his highly successful first novel, Crossing the Death Line.

Topping joined Kagawa in Japan in 1927  when he was in the midst of a monumental crusade, the "Kingdom of God Movement," which aimed at converting a significant portion of Japanese to Christianity.

Topping's parents, officially retired, joined her in working for Kagawa and together they edited and distributed Kagawa's English-language magazine, "Friends of Jesus," and the Kagawa calendar.

In 1932 Topping lost her American funding, but she continued to function unofficially on Kagawa's behalf until nearly the beginning of World War II.  Following the war -which Topping spent in the U.S.- she resumed her efforts for him, but the indeterminate nature of her responsibilities and the lack of an assured income often proved unsettling. She also went to the Philippines to teach four times, always stressing the propagation of Kagawa's doctrine of cooperation and Parker's theories on education.

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