Melinda Rankin, Presbyterian missionary and teacher, was born on March 21, 1811, in Littleton, New Hampshire. In 1840 she moved to Kentucky, where she established schools and taught for two years before moving on to Mississippi to continue in educational work. In 1847 she came to Texas as a missionary to Mexicans. She taught at the Huntsville Male and Female Academy and wrote for religious publications. She is believed to have opened a school with Rev. W. Adair at Cincinnati, Texas, in 1848. While there she wrote the introduction to her first book, Texas in 1850 (1850), a description of the state and an appeal to religious workers to come to Texas.
In 1852 she went to Brownsville, where she opened a school for Mexican girls. Seeking financial aid to compete with a newly opened Catholic convent there, she visited several southern and northern cities. Contributions from the Presbyterian Board of Education at Philadelphia and other donors totaled $2,500; this sum enabled Rankin to open Rio Grande Female Institute at Brownsville in 1854. Her sister, supported by the American and Foreign Christian Union, joined her as an instructor there in 1855 but died of yellow fever in 1858. Melinda Rankin herself became ill with the disease in 1859 but was nursed back to health by a student's grandmother. With the increase of religious freedom in Mexico, she began distributing Spanish language Bibles and other religious materials, supplied by the American Bible Society, across the border.
After the outbreak of the Civil War, Rankin's Union sympathies conflicted with local Confederate loyalty, and in 1862 the president of the institute's board of directors insisted that she leave the school. She taught for a time in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, and then taught freed Blacks in New Orleans, where she was also a nurse in federal hospitals. After the recapture of Brownsville by Union troops, she returned to the institute early in 1864, but was forced to leave again when Confederate forces returned. She lived in New Orleans until 1865, when she went to Monterrey to open a school. Opposition from local Catholic clergy forced her to move repeatedly, however, and Rankin again sought money to establish a permanent school. After another fund-raising trip to the United States in 1866, during which she raised $14,000, she returned to Monterrey, purchased a building, and opened the first Protestant mission in Mexico. In 1872 poor health forced Rankin to give up mission work. Her second book, Twenty Years Among the Mexicans, A Narrative of Missionary Labor, was published in 1875. Melinda Rankin died at her home in Bloomington, Illinois, on December 6, 1888, and was buried in Bloomington Cemetery.