Mitchell, Isabel Deane (‘Ida’) (1879–1917), presbyterian missionary in China, was born in Belfast, fourth in a family of three daughters and two sons. Her father, the Rev. Deane Knox Mitchell (1840–1939) was minister of Crumlin Road presbyterian church (formerly a missionary congregation), from his ordination in 1868 to his retirement in 1919. Her mother (c.1847–1937) was born in Scotland and later came to Belfast, where her father was a ruling elder in Elmwood presbyterian church.
It seems that on the eve of her entry to university, after talking with Mrs Greig, wife of a missionary doctor in Manchuria, Isabel (also known as Ida) decided to study medicine with a view to becoming a missionary herself. She must also, however, have been influenced by her family: her brother David was a minister, and her sister Janie was to marry the Rev. J. McWhirter and accompany him to China in 1908, while another sister married a local minister in Ireland.
At the age of 18 Ida entered Queen Margaret's College, affiliated to the University of Glasgow, where she studied for a total of six years. Although she failed first-year chemistry at the first attempt, she soon made up for lost ground, finishing in overall first place in the same subject the following autumn; in all, she was awarded four medals and two prizes while at college.
In the summer of 1902 Ida was deeply shocked by the death of her much-loved younger brother, Russell, who drowned at the age of 18. Between 1903 and 1905, with the Russo–Japanese war limiting travel to the Far East, she worked as a house-surgeon in Chorlton-on-Medlock dispensary in Manchester.
In the autumn of 1905 she was eventually able to set sail for China to take up her position as missionary for the Women's Association of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, which had sent female missionaries to India since its formation in 1874, and to China from 1889. Ida reached the mission station in Fakumen in November 1905, where she immediately undertook language instruction. Her letters to her mother are full of colour and incident, and record highlights such as the opening of a new ladies' house at the mission station in 1907 and of a new women's hospital two years later. She wrote of her medical work (which included major operations) and, more frequently, of the spiritual work of the station, including a major revival in Manchuria during January 1908.
In October 1910 she returned to Ireland on what was to be a year's furlough, but illness delayed her return to China till 1912. She spent a year in Chinchow, Manchuria, engaged in what was considered less arduous work, before being considered well enough to take up once again her position in Fakumen. During the following years she continued her medical work, also engaging in training dispensary assistants, teaching in Sunday school and at a teachers' training class. On Friday 16 March 1917, after seeing her patients and conducting a class, she complained of feeling tired, and by the following morning had developed a throat problem. She was seen by both the local and then the missionary doctors, who diagnosed diphtheria. Although initially appearing to recover, she died quite peacefully and suddenly at 3.00 p.m. on Friday 23 March. A service on 26 March enabled all who knew her in Fakumen to pay tribute, before she was taken for burial to the Russian cemetery in Kurin, where her sister was a missionary wife.
Ida's experiences, including her many poetic writings, have been preserved by the publication of a selection of her writings to her mother, and these provide an important record of female foreign missionary work in the early twentieth century.