An American Memsahib in India: The Letters and Diaries of Irene Mott Bose 1920-1951


Her Indian diary and letters vividly record her time among local villagers and the cultural complexities encountered. As the wife of an Indian High Court judge she observed the British, entertained viceroys and visited Gandhi. 20 illustrations

Patricia Owens (ed), 2006, 230pp
ISBN 0 907799 85 X



Irene Mott was the daughter of remarkable parents, and she went on to lead an equally remarkable life of her own . Her father John Mott was sequentially Chairman of the International Missionary Council, and General Secretary of the International Committee of the YMCA. He shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1946 for services to refugees and prisoners. Irene was born to a privileged family, educated for a year in Switzerland, and became a student at Columbia University where she qualified in psychology. She was awarded a travelling scholarship, and this brought her to the Far East, and India, in the 1920s . The first part of the book gives an engaging picture of Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, the Philippines, and Ceylon, when enough of the old customs remained to make each place distinct and individual, long before globalization arrived. But Irene was clearly destined for India, emotionally and intellectually. Asked by a wealthy Parsi mill manager to work for the local village women in Nagpur and Amraoti, she started a little school and did rudimentary health visiting. After training as a midwife in London, she returned to Nagpur and married an upper-class Anglo-Indian lawyer, Vivian Bose,  joining him in the joint family home. There are grim passages in this book where Irene describes frankly an outbreak of cholera in the village, but there were happier occasions too when this genuinely nice woman met and entertained the Viceroy, organized a ‘Children’s Mela’, feeding over a thousand children, and was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi. How she coped with food rationing and distribution to the villagers during the famine of 1943 is contrasted with quieter holiday times in Mussoorie and Kashmir. Certainly an atypical ‘memsahib’, this is an unusual story, told in her own words

Additional information

Weight390 g
Dimensions210 × 147 × 17 mm