Background: In addition to the ever-present amateur girl-sleuth,Girls’ Series Books of the early 20th century presented a surprisingly wide variety of vocations open to enterprising young women. In the days of The Perils of Pauline, girls seemed to be constantly flying around in aero-planes, motoring about in auto-mobiles or appearing in motion picture-plays.
By mid-century, most of these options had shrunk down to more traditional roles: Nurse (lots of Nurse Books), Flight Attendant or Teenage Fashion Model, plus one entry late in the cycle featuring a girl-secretary for an insurance company who aspired to become a girl-claims adjuster.
For more interesting career paths in the second part of the 20th century, we have to turn to the more specialized publishers. And by “specialized” I mean Chicago’s Moody Bible Institute.
The Plot: Bible College student Peggy Archer attends an evening assembly on the topic of foreign missionaries, and is moved by speaker Mr. Burroughs’ description of a land overseas with a need for missionaries: “where the church stands empty and impotent, because of its skeptical, Bible-doubting message, to be a vital force in the lives of a fearful, godless, hopeless people.”
Where is this modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah?
Yes! Wait… really, Holland?
The daughter of Dutch immigrants, Peggy is somewhat concerned about Mr. Burroughs’ characterization of her ancestral lands. She meets privately with Mr. Burroughs, and he explains about “the devastation war had brought to the Netherlands, the inroads Communism was making, the weakness of the church and spiritual apathy of the people.” After the meeting, Peggy, a girl with no definite plans for after graduation, wonders if she is being called to do missionary work in Holland. All signs seem to point to “yes”, as over the next few days, a suspiciously large number of newspaper headlines and casual conversations suddenly are all about the Dutch spiritual crisis.
We are next introduced to Peggy’s boyfriend, Evert Clayton, who despite having pretty much the nerdiest name ever, is described as “handsome, dreamed-about and pursued by half of the girls at school!” With graduation looming, Evert is eager to introduce Peggy to his parents.
We also meet Peggy’s roommate, the “plump, blonde” Ardis. Ardis provides a nice contrast to Peggy- while she is definitely a Nice Christian Girl, she remains unmoved by Mr. Burroughs’ speech. And I’m not saying Ardis is a gold digger…. but she’s more than a little impressed by Evert’s wealthy background: “A car like that! You could have the same thing, Peggy. Including the same sort of home and all that goes with it. I can tell you it wouldn’t take me long to make up my mind if I were in your place!” Oh, Ardis, you keep it real, girl.
Peggy and Evert visit his parents for Sunday dinner, and on the train Evert proposes, and Peggy accepts. Best of all, they are on the same page about becoming full-time missionaries in Holland, with Evert echoing Peggy’ s every sentiment about how God is clearly calling them there.
Evert’s parents are (of course!) lovely and charming people who are delighted to welcome Peggy into the family. At least they are until Peggy spills the beans about the whole Holland thing. Suddenly Evert’s mother takes to her bed with a headache, and Evert’s father privately tells Peggy about their other, dead, son, Russell: “He was a fine Christian boy. But Evert, I’m sorry to have to tell you, was living for Satan until Russell’s death in an automobile accident four years ago.” Peggy (and the reader) is confused about his parents’ concern that missionary work is going to lead Evert right back into Beelzebub’s clutches.
What follows is a pretty straightforward conflict between parents thinking they know what’s best, and their adult children’s desire to make their own way in life. Although in this case the conflict is all about niceness and charitable good works: Mr. Clayton comes to visit Peggy at college and takes her on a tour of his nearby non-specific factory (the book is maddeningly unspecific in the details) where he reveals that Evert has been brought up to take over the family business and is the only person that Mr. Clayton trusts with the day-to-day running of this specific non-specific factory. Also, the profits from said factory have been placed in a trust that will benefit a number of non-specific charities.
A number of compromises are proposed, until the Claytons eventually agree to buy Evert his own non-specific factory to run in Holland. Evert is enthused, as they will be associating with a much better class of people than if they were regular missionaries. But when Peggy learns that it takes, like, three years to start a factory (even a non-specific one), she has her doubts about going along with the plan. The urgency of the situation is compounded when they receive a letter from the missionary program that accepted them stating that the group’s leader has to leave the damp climate of Amsterdam, which has aggravated her asthma, and must move to Arizona immediately, leaving the Bible Club leaderless. After consulting with her parents, Peggy sadly breaks off her engagement and plans on heading off alone.
But! A few weeks later Peggy receives a call from Evert, and he tells her that he’s stood up to his parents and will be devoting his life to missionary work after all! They are even booked on the same flight, and they can be married at her grandparents’ quaint old church as soon as they arrive on Dutch shores.
But! There is another but! When Peggy arrives at the airport, Evert meets her without any luggage. His father has had a heart attack from the stress of his son wanting to live his own life. Evert has decided to stay in the states until he recovers and can convince him that missionary work is his true calling. He tries to convince Peggy to stay too, “just for a few more weeks”. With her flight being announced over the P.A. system, Peggy knows that Evert is never going to get away from his parents and tells him good-bye forever. She’s off to Amsterdam.
So, looking past all of the Bible College trappings, what we end up with is a fairly progressive story about a young woman who forgoes marriage to pursue a different path in life. And it isn’t even implied that she’s going to end up an old maid, either! As Peggy meets her Bible Club students at Schipoel Airport, Peggy thinks to herself that “Somewhere, at some time, perhaps another Christian young man would come along- one who would love God more than anything else in the world. And then…” [ellipses original. USE YOUR IMAGINATION!]
Also, while it’s clear that Peggy’s feeling that she’s called to missionary work is sincere, it is equally clear that Evert is faking it. Maybe he and Ardis will get together. It seems like she’d be into doing charitable good works that don’t require too much effort.
Sign It Was Written in 1961 Department: Peggy, Evert, and the other students have to get permission from the Dean every time they want to leave campus.
Awkward Declaration of Intentions Department: “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Europe as a mission field ever since we consecrated our lives the other night.”
Um, I Don’t Think That’s How It Works Department: “If they weren’t Christians we could ignore how they feel.”