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Notting Hill and Ealing High School, 2 Cleveland Rd, Ealing, London W13 8AX
Bedford College, 11 Bedford Square, London WC1B 3RE, UK
University of Cambridge, 4 Mill Ln, Cambridge CB2 1RZ

Clara Ruth Rouse (September 17, 1872 - 1956) was a missionary, student evangelist, and ecumenical pioneer.

She served a committee member, secretary, and pioneer in her lengthy Student Christian Movement career. Because of her extensive ministries, Rouse said she had traveled to every continent and more than sixty nations.

Typical of many Student Christian Movement women leaders, though officially appointed to work with women, her ministry touched men also. Concerning this, former Student Christian Movement leader Annie Beatrice Glass Fraser observed, "Certain it is that men always regarded her as an equal, and that even in these early days when joint men's and women's work was somewhat new, 'quite as many young men were her disciples as young women.'"

Rouse was clearly the most powerful and respected woman leader inside and outside the Student Christian Movement. In her day, she was a well-known figure in global Christian circles. Princess Pauline Sulkowska of Hungary said, "She was Dr. Mott's 'man of invincible good-will' in female form." In 1957, Beatrice Glass Fraser gave a good overall description of Rouse's reputation and influence: "As a traveling secretary I think she was extremely valuable in Britain through her quiet massiveness, good looks, good clothes (as compared to women missionaries of those days), good introductions, good degree from Girton. Most heads of women's colleges then were definitely extremely afraid of religious enthusiasm and outwardly at any rate did not seem in any way to identify themselves with religion at all and they had at least to respect Ruth and listen to what she had to say."

Sadly, Rouse is not well known today. This point was highlighted by what Lord George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, said in 2003, "A great woman, too bad she is unknown today. We should have a day in the Anglican annual calendar just for her for her contributions." This single career woman was born into an upper-middle-class family in Clapham, in south London, England, the oldest of five children of George Woodford Rouse (1846-1906), a cotton broker, and Williamina Georgina MacDonald (1847-1937). Her father came from Plymouth Brethren roots with some Evangelical Anglican connections, and her mother was a Scottish Baptist. Testimonies to her comfortable upbringing can be seen in the servants that appear in census lists in the late nineteenth century and in Rouse's mother's will in 1937 that said her estate was worth £6,340, which would have been worth approximately £403,858 in 2016.

Rouse attended Notting Hill High School (1889), Bedford College, London (where she studied mathematics, physics, chemistry, English literature, and Latin from 1890 to 1891), and Girton College, Cambridge (Classical Tripos, Pt. 1, Cl. III, Div. 1, 1893). After Girton, Rouse spent one year studying Sanskrit at the British Museum.

Rouse attended Charles Spurgeon's Metropolitan Tabernacle as a child. She claimed that she became a Christian at a Children's Special Mission as a teen. This occurred in Bournemouth while on vacation with her family. The layman directing the mission asked her to teach a swimming class for the youngest children. Watching the activity on the beach, she had a spiritual awareness that conversion was something that God initiated and not something humans could do. After her conversion, Rouse was baptized in Spurgeon's church. At age twenty-two, she became a member of the Church of England, where she was a lifetime communicant until her death in 1956.

Rouse's missionary call came through several experiences and developed over time. In college, she witnessed her good friend Agnes de Selincourt commit her life to missionary work. She was touched by SVMFM founder Robert Wilder's mission to Cambridge University in 1891. She attended her first student conference at Keswick with 50 women and 143 men in 1894. At that meeting she met John R. Mott and Robert Speer. In 1896, Rouse attended the Student Volunteer Missionary Union (SVMU) Conference in Liverpool with over 700 other students. Through these things, according to Rowland, "She began to see missions not as slavery and denial, but as a joyous task a part of which was a ministry to students in an international setting. The missionary ideal, that dominated her life was an expanding ideal, and was now becoming a flying goal before her."

But in the end, Rouse recalled years later that the most important part was when she signed the Volunteer Pledge. In doing this, she committed herself to a worldwide missionary career. In an interview with her biographer, Rowland, she remembered that there was that "decisive, and unforgettable, moment when she was standing looking out of a window in her private domain at Girton and Paul's statement flashed through her mind: 'I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.'" For Rouse accepting and keeping this pledge was totally in God's hands. It was not left to her indecision. As a result, Rouse had absolute certainty about God's purpose for her life. She might have some indecisiveness in other areas, but not with her call.

The list of Rouse's Student Christian Movement activities was quite lengthy, but here are a few. Rouse's Student Christian Movement involvement began in college, where she helped start local associations. In 1895-1896, Rouse was editor of the Student Volunteer, which gave her a seat on the British executive. From 1896 to 1897, Rouse served as the traveling secretary for the British College Christian Union (BCCU) and the SVMU. From 1897 to 1899, she was traveling secretary for the American SVMFM and YWCA. In 1905, Rouse was appointed the WSCF's women's secretary. Between 1905 and 1924, she was a traveling secretary for the WSCF and secretary for its executive from 1921 to 1924. Also after World War I Rouse was the head of Emergency Student Relief, a WSCF-sponsored group. Because Mott had resigned from his position as WSCF general secretary in 1920, many have suggested that Rouse was his replacement for this four-year period.

Rouse also worked with organizations closely linked with the Student Christian Movement. She served the British YWCA as a canteen worker with the British Armies from 1916 to 1918. Rouse turned down an offer to be the World YWCA international student secretary. Instead, between 1938 and 1946, Rouse was president of the World YWCA after serving as a member of its executive since 1907. She attended the 1910 World Missionary Conference held at Edinburgh, and the First Assembly of the World Council of Churches in 1948.

Outside of Student Christian Movement circles, Rouse worked in several capacities. During 1900-1902, Rouse co-founded and co-led the Missionary Settlement for University Women in Bombay, India. For her efforts with the YWCA and YMCA in Le Havre, France, in World War I from 1916 to 1918, she received a British War Medal. From 1925 to 1939 she was the educational secretary of the Missionary Council of the Assembly of the Church of England.

After taking care of her sick and aging mother until her death in 1937, Rouse died in 1956 leaving an estate worth £3,600, which would have been worth £85,320 in 2016.

Rouse authored many articles and books, including Religious Experiences and Psychological Process (with Hugh Crichton Miller); Rebuilding Europe: The Student Chapter in Post-War Reconstruction; The Commonwealth of Man; The Federation in the World War 1914-1918; and The World's Student Christian Federation: A History of the First Thirty Years. She was the editor (along with Stephen Charles Neill) of A History of the Ecumenical Movement, 1517-1948.

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  1. Women Leaders in the Student Christian Movement: 1880-1920 Russell, Thomas A. Orbis Books, Oct 12, 2017