Louise Best: Missionary in Brazil

One of the South Carolina Conference’s many contributions to the Methodist Church’s mission work was Miss Louise Best, who served for some 37 years as an educator in Brazil.

The daughter of Rev. Albert H. Best and Lillie Andrews Best, Louise Best grew up in a Methodist parsonage.  She was born while her father was serving at Mars Bluff, and grew up in Clyde, Gourdine, Sumter, Greer, Campobello, Newberry, and McCormick, among other places.  She attended Lander College (it was a Methodist college in those days) and Scarritt Bible and Training College in Kansas City.  Scarritt was known for its work in training women for the mission field.

Louise Best went to Brazil in the early 1920s, where she was sent, along with Miss Eunice Andrews, to help found a school in the city of Santa Maria, in the southernmost Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul.  That part of Brazil was fairly remote, and was influenced by the Gaucho culture of Argentina.

The school, Colegio Centenario, opened with 7 students in March 1922.  They chose that name, which in English would be Centenary College, because 1922 was the centennial of Brazilian independence.  The school was largely supported by the Women’s Society of Christian Service.  It was originally a school for girls, and it started in a cottage.  Over the next thirty years, it grew to include four large buildings, and encompassed a primary school, a high school, and junior college classes as well.  For much of her time in Brazil, Louise Best was the principal of Colegio Centenario.

Except for her first six months spent near Rio, Louise Best spent the entirety of her 37 years in the mission field in Santa Maria, Brazil.  Some of her letters appeared on the Woman’s Society of Christian Service pages in The Advocate.  Some of her letters speak of the vastness of Brazil’s countryside – it took 4 days by train to get to conferences in Rio.  Other letters speak of construction projects – building the primary school, her hopes for a chapel – and of the support the mission had received from home.  In later years, she wrote of the work that the college’s alumnae had undertaken to raise needed funds.  As she neared retirement, the city of Santa Maria made her an honorary citizen, which was noted as a nice honor considering how the locals were a little suspicious of this Methodist mission in its early days.  By the time she retired and returned to South Carolina, Miss Best noted, the school had as many Catholic as Protestant students.

Following her retirement in 1958, she settled in Spartanburg, where one of her younger brothers lived.  She spoke regularly in churches around the conference about her life and mission work.  Part of her reason for speaking was no doubt to encourage others to enter the field, for as she told a reporter, “The need for missionaries far exceeds the number making applications and this is tragic.”  She was attending a reunion of a handful of missionaries at the home of a minister in North Carolina when she died in July 1966.

By Phillip Stone

I've been the archivist of Wofford College and the South Carolina United Methodist since 1999. I'll be sharing college, Methodist, and local history, documents, photographs, and other interesting stories on this blog, which I've been keeping since December 2007.