Born in Dundee, Scotland on June 3, 1867, had long expressed a strong desire to be a missionary in Africa. She joined Rev. Thomas Watson at the Church Missionary Society (CSM) station at Freretown near Mombasa where they married. They then travelled to Kikuyu by train.
Minnie accompanied medical supplies and food relief that was needed due to a great famine that killed the Kikuyu people in large numbers since 1897. There was a smallpox epidemic and many cows died of Rinderpest. The Watsons began a relief camp at Thogoto on January 8, 1900. Whereas the Kikuyu people had the culture of leaving the dead in a distant structure to be eaten by hyenas, the Watsons initiated burying of the remains which continues to date. By May, 1900, the worst of the smallpox epidemic was over and the drought finally broke. The Watsons continued to care for the sick and those weakened by hunger until the emergency came to a close.
Minnie Watson was loved by the kikuyu people and became affectionately known as the Lady of the Camps. She established a day school for children from the camps and an evening school for young men who worked at the mission. These became the first schools to be established for the Kikuyu people.
In a turn of events, Mr. Thomas Watson who had been weakened by recent illnesses and fatigue contracted pneumonia and died on December 4, 1900, just two weeks before their first wedding anniversary. Minnie remained the only missionary and she continued to carry on the evangelism and teaching programs that she and Thomas had began and worked under extreme hardship conditions. Minnie's other accomplishments included the following;
She collaborated with Dr. John Arthur and Arthur Ruffell Barlow to devise a system of tuition-free boarding schools in April 1907.The education principals brought by Minnie Watson guided education in Kenya long after her retirement.
She frequently took a small tent camp to villages, where she went from house to house teaching young mothers sewing, knitting and other domestic skills. She tried to convince parents to send their children to the mission schools.
Mrs. Watson was the first director of the church choir and headed one of the evangelism teams that led meetings in twenty-four nearby villages. Evening meetings were better attended and a regular routine for spreading the Gospel was developed. People became more open to Christianity and to the influence of the mission.
The number of pupils had risen to almost 3000 by 1920.As headmistress of the mission schools, Minnie Watson taught the most promising students to be teachers in the morning, worked with the teacher trainees to teach the day and boarding school students in the afternoons and the mission workers at night. She directed the school expansion and supervised the native teachers. These teachers were also evangelists and this enabled rapid growth in church membership in the 1920s.
The late Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of Kenya, began his education at the Kikuyu Mission in one of Minnie Watson's classes.
Minnie Watson insisted that girls be included in the boy's boarding school as day students. There was fierce opposition to educating Kikuyu girls because parents believed in creating wealth through the bride price. Despite the opposition, the number of girls in schools gradually increased.
Mrs. Watson also taught against female circumcision or female genital mutilation (FGM), with the support of Dr. Arthur and other hospital staff who objected the practice. To the Kikuyu, however, female circumcision was an essential part of their culture. Due to Minnie's teaching, it became more difficult to recruit female students.
(It is important to note here that there was an uprising in the Kikuyu community resulting in massive defection from the church and schools in 1929 after the CSM made a public declaration that they fully supported church laws against female circumcision. By the end of 1929, many schools had been closed and they had lost over 85% of their students!)
By mid 1930, some of the church leaders and teachers who had left the Church of Scotland had founded new independent churches and schools, some of which were still spreading the Good News that had been planted by the CSM missionaries. People slowly started returning to CSM as well and by 1935, the controversy had subsided and church membership resumed its rapid growth.
Despite the controversy, the work of the CSM missionaries against female circumcision was not in vain. A survey conducted in 1972 at 365 schools in the Kikuyu territory revealed that only 7% of the Presbyterian (successor to CSM) girls were circumcised, the lowest percentage of any other religious group.
Minnie was chosen to lay the cornerstone of the Church of Torch at Kikuyu in early 1929.Reaching retirement in 1931, she returned to Dundee, Scotland where she died on February 13, 1949. Her ashes were returned to Kikuyu and she reunited with her husband. Their headstone reads, "Aria marehire utheri wa Ngai Kikuyu" (They who brought the light of God to the Kikuyu people)