Grundy County Historical Society hosts opening ceremony for Dora E. Schoonmaker exhibit

Part of the display on Dora E. Schoonmaker at the Grundy County Historical Museum.

The Grundy County Historical Society is hosting an opening ceremony and ribbon-cutting for its new Dora E. Schoonmaker exhibit in conjunction with the Aoyama Gakuin University Alumni Association at 10 a.m. Saturday, June 29 at 510 W. Illinois Ave. in Morris.

Schoonmaker was the first female Methodist missionary to go to Japan in the 1870s, where she opened the first girls’ school. That school has evolved over time to become the Aoyama Gakuin University, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary.

Schoonmaker was born in 1851 in Olive, Ulster County, New York. Her family moved to Wilmington Township, Illinois in 1856 to take advantage of land being sold along the Illinois & Michigan Canal. Dora and her family eventually moved to Channahon where she attended high school. Upon graduation from high school, she became a teacher, and later assistant principal at the Central School in Morris. Her goal in life was to be a missionary and she was able to obtain that goal from 1874-1879.

“Now, 150 years later Aoyama Gakuin has become a comprehensive educational institution with 23,000 students enrolled from kindergarten to graduate school,” said Yoshiharu Yamamoto, the President of Aoyama Gakuin University. “It ranks first in the rankings of universities most desired by high school students. The small light lit by Dora Schoonmaker has shone brightly as a great light. The exhibition of Dora’s achievements in the city where she grew up is a great joy and gratitude.”

Confirmed attendees include Dr. Elizabeth Eder of Johns Hopkins University and the Smithsonian Institute, the author of “Construction Opportunity: American Women Educators in Early Meiji, Japan,” Rev. Keiko Tanamura of Aoyama Gakuin University, author of “The Life of Dora E. Schoonmaker, the Person Who Pioneered the History of Aoyama Gakuin,” Dr. Makoto Kawami of Aoyama Gakuin University, the former president of its Women’s Junior College, Dr. Yasuhiko Ito, Chairperson of the Aoyama Gakuin Alumni Association Chicago Chapter, Morris Mayor Chris Brown, Channahon Village President Missey Moorman Schumacher, and the Grundy County Chamber of Commerce.

“We have enjoyed working on this exhibit and learning about Dora and her extraordinary life,” said Grundy County Historical Society Board President Kirk Houchin. “Grundy County is proud to have such a trailblazer in our history.”

For information, call the Grundy County Chamber of Commerce at 815-942-4880 or visit

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