Kentucky born Sarah Hosmon devoted nearly her entire adult life to missionary and medical work in Arabia. In 1909 Dr Hosmon arrived in Bahrain, and in 1913, under the auspices of the Dutch Reformed Church of America’s Arabian Mission, she opened a clinic for women and children in Muscat. For the next 28 years she treated, medicated and evangelized under often arduous conditions, unperturbed by having a wooden leg as the result of a childhood accident.
Sarah Longworth Hosmon (1883-1964) who graduated from the University of Illinois College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1909. Source of image: How superpower rivalry and fears of a pandemic brought the first doctor to the UAE in 1939 | The National (thenationalnews.com)
Dr Hosmon was accepted by the Independent Board of Presbyterian Foreign Missions in 1939, and by 1941 she had set up a clinic at the Omani seaport of Saham. The clinic was extremely isolated, with medical supplies often having to be dropped by air plane.
In January 1944 Hosmon approached the British authorities , who virtually controlled the region, for permission to set up a medical practice in Kalba, then an independent emirate on the Gulf of Oman coast.
Sarah Hosmon writing on 7 January 1944 from Kalba to Captain Patrick Tandy, Political Officer for the Trucial Coast, stating that she intended to accept the offer to set up a medical practice in Kalba and to move there after April, subject to Tandy’s permission: IOR/R/15/2/853, f 88r. 'File 36/1 (1 A/7) American Mission in Bahrain' [88r] (175/262) | Qatar Digital Library (qdl.qa)
The British inquired into Hosman’s credentials and received a glowing testimonial from Dr Paul Harrison of the American Mission Hospital, Bahrain.
Letter from Dr Paul W. Harrison (1883-1962) to Major Tom Hickenbotham, Political Agent in Bahrain, January 1944, describing Hosmon’s medical abilities, character, religious opinions and relationship with Arab rulers she had worked under. 'File 36/1 (1 A/7) American Mission in Bahrain' [90r] (179/262) | Qatar Digital Library (qdl.qa)
Following confirmation that the Regent of Kalba [Shaikh Khālid Bin Aḥmad al-Qāsimi] was happy for Hosmon to move her practice there, the British authorities decided they had no objection once the War had ended and if Hosmon guaranteed that her co-workers would ‘not become destitute and a charge upon the Government of India’s revenues’.
Letter from Major Tom Hickenbotham, Political Agent Bahrain, to Major Patrick Tandy, Political Officer, Trucial Coast, 26 March 1944. 'File 36/1 (1 A/7) American Mission in Bahrain' [96r] (191/262) | Qatar Digital Library (qdl.qa)
In fact Hosmon remained in Saham for another six years. The British authorities did not like the ‘nebulous’ nature of the Independent Board of Presbyterian Foreign Missions and were reluctant to have too many American missionaries in the Gulf, whose backgrounds they could not check and whose movements they could not control. Privately, they disliked Hosmon’s strong-headedness and considered she had used ‘underhand’ methods to obtain travel permits for herself and an American nurse.
Memorandum, dated 16 December 1945, by Geoffrey Prior, Political Resident in the Persian Gulf, setting forth British hostility towards Hosmon - 'File 6/1 Foreign Interests: American Mission at Muscat' [5r] (9/52) | Qatar Digital Library (qdl.qa)
British obstructionism was not the sole cause of delay. The terms offered by the ruling authorities in Kalba appear to have been unacceptable to Hosmon, and she wanted to be able to share freely the Gospel with her patients.
Intelligence Summary of the Political Agency in Bahrain, February 1945, indicating that the terms offered by the ruling authorities in Kalba may not have been acceptable to Hosmon - Ext 1488/44 'Dr Hosmon: American Medical Missionary' [5r] (9/28) | Qatar Digital Library (qdl.qa)
Hosmon finally made the move in 1951, by which time Kalba had been reincorporated as an enclave of the Sheikhdom of Sharjah. The clinic opened in 1952 and became known as the Dr Sarah Hosmon Hospital (closing in 1994). The hospital was the only one in Sharjah, primarily for women and children but later also expanded to men, and its services were in heavy demand and frequently over-stretched. Evangelism was an integral feature of treatment, with Bible readings for patients.
Map indicating the position of Kalba on the so-called Trucial Coast, 1935.
Journalist John Sack described an encounter with Hosmon in the late 1950s, perhaps revealing the physical toll her work had taken: ‘I was met by Dr Sarah L Hosmon, the director, a slight woman of seventy or eighty whose face is taut, severe, and American Gothic, and who, after inviting me in for tea in her living room, said that she’s been on the Arabian peninsula since 1911, in Sharja since 1952….’.
Hosmon worked tirelessly in Sharjah until a few years before her death in 1964, bringing medical relief, saving lives, and contributing to the introduction of new medicines and empirical techniques to Arabia. Towards the end, her time was spent advising nursing staff and midwives and preaching the Word of God to patients.
Content Specialist, Archivist
British Library / Qatar Foundation Partnership
Saving Sinners, even Moslems: the Arabian mission 1889-1973 and its intellectual roots by Jerzy Zdanowski (2018)
Global View of Christian Missions from Pentecost to the present by J Herbert Kane (1971)
The Sultanate of Oman: A Twentieth Century History by Miriam Joyce (1995)
The Arabian Peninsula by Richard H Sanger (1954)
One Way The Only Way, A Christian Library website, blogpost on Sarah Longworth Hosmon by Tyson Paul
‘Missionary-Statesmen of the Bible Presbyterian Church’ by Keith Coleman, Western Reformed Seminary Journal 11/1 (Feb 2004) 15-19
Report from PRACTICALLY NOWHERE by John Sack (1959)