Thrust early into the toils and hardships of life, David Alexander Day found his life, love, and calling as a missionary in Liberia. Born out of wedlock in Dillsburg, Pa., Day suffered a childhood of unrelenting poverty and hardship, and in his premature rush to adult responsibilities, he had few opportunities for formal education. The harsh realities of life led him into the labor market at age 12, when he hired on as a chore boy in the government stables at Harrisburg, and two years later, though still only 14, he enlisted as a private in Co. D, 78th Pennsylvania Infantry.
As if to exemplify the optimism that marked his missionary zeal, Day's prospects brightened steadily after his discharge from the military. Returning home, he experienced conversion at a revival meeting in 1867, and thereafter devoted himself to the improvement of his education and moral being. After teaching for a winter in a rural school, his natural aptitude for learning earned him admission to Susquehanna University during the fall of 1869, where he studied in both the classical and theological departments. A favorite with his fellow students and teachers, Day graduated in May, 1874, and shortly after his ordination in the Lutheran ministry, was sent to the Muhlenburg mission in Monrovia, Liberia. During the last 23 years of his brief life, Day seldom left the mission. Muhlenburg was operated as an "industrial" mission, teaching farming, carpentry, and blacksmithing along with the teachings of Christianity, and the profits it generated from the production of coffee, palm oil, ivory, and other natural products were turned back into expanding its missionary activity. By most assessments, Muhlenburg was among the most highly successful of all West African missions at winning converts.
Unlike his missionary life, Day's personal life was punctuated by frequent tragedies. Before his departure for Africa for the first time, he married Emily V. Winegarden of Selinsgrove, a match of similar souls, but ill-starred, nevertheless. Each of the couple's three children was born in Africa, and each died there at an early age: two as infants, and the third at age nine. Yet neither these tragedies, nor offers of ministerial and governmental positions at home dissuaded the Days from their mission, nor did Emily's death in 1895 dissuade David. In the following year, he remarried to the Canadian-born missionary, Anna E. Whitfield, but this marriage held true to the pattern of his first, with a small twist. Having contracted a virulent fever, Day agreed to return home to recuperate. One day before landing in New York, on December 17, 1897, he died.