Civil War experiences provided a preparation for women assuming an important role in missions history. Much of the credit for the missionary revival between 1880 and the 1920's, the golden age of missionary expansion in American Protestantism, is due to the women's foreign mission movement which began at this time.
In 1834, Rev. David Abeel, missionary to China from the Reformed Church in America, told of Chinese women who wanted "female men" to come and share their Christianity with them. Sarah Doremus, wife of a wealthy New York businessman, was especially moved by this plea and attempted to organize a female missionary society, but there was intense opposition to single women being missionaries, and Sarah had to let her dreams languish. But in 1861 Mrs. Doremus founded the Women's Union Missionary Society. After the Civil War opposition seemed less. For fifteen years the society operated out of the Doremus home. After twenty years the society supported over 100 missionaries at twelve stations.
The Women's Union Missionary Society was not affiliated with a particular denomination. However, shortly after its establishment, other mission societies were founded by women along denominational lines.
The belief underlying the organization of all the women's missionary societies was that women provided the cultural values of a society, and that if a heathen culture is to be changed, the women of that culture must be reached with the Gospel. Concern for their unevangelized sisters also motivated many of the women's organizations. They recognized that in societies such as India, where women were kept in isolation, only women missionaries would be able to break down the cultural barriers. As Sarah Doremus encouraged the Women's Union Missionary Society:
If we believe that it is Christianity alone which elevated woman from her former abject position...can we rest in the enjoyment of these benefits without a single desire to elevate our poor heathen sisters?
Forty years after Mrs. Doremus founded the first Women's Missionary Society in New York, there were 52 Women's Boards with yearly gifts amounting to over $2.5 million. Yet, after World War I, the women's societies began to decline. Many merged with their denominational missions agencies. With the changing roles of women in society, the increased business professionalism in missions, and the growing liberalism, many nominal Protestant women became indifferent to missions. Though women's societies declined in influence, they had been an important means of increasing general Christian interest in missions as well as expanding the opportunities for both single and married women on the mission field. Women continue today to have a major role in supporting and going as missionaries.
DISTANT DATELINE: Government Leaders Promote Missionary Conference
NEW YORK, APRIL 22, 1900 Carnegie Hall in New York City was filled to capacity yesterday with the opening sessions of the Ecumenical Missionary Conference. Four-hundred missionary boards and societies from around the world are represented at the eleven-day event which seeks to unite the thought of Christendom on world missions.
Benjamin Harrison, former US President, gave the opening speech. He called missions "the most influential and enduring work that is being done in this day of great enterprises." All of man's advances in science cannot compare with the important advance of Christian missions. Man cannot produce peace and unity - "Christ in the heart and His gospel of love and ministry in all the activities of life are the only cure." President McKinley gave the address at the evening session followed by Governor Theodore Roosevelt of New York, who spoke of his personal experience with Indian missions out west. In acknowledging these addresses by these two great civic leaders, Chairman Harrison noted that though both McKinley and Roosevelt were personally sympathetic to missions, even if they were not, their patriotism would qualify them to come and speak to a Christian assembly and encourage the spread of Christianity throughout the world, for our nation's peace and security depend on the Christian principles found in the Word of God.
The Missionary Conference will continue daily through May 1. Daily stereopticon lectures will also be given there.What Two of Your Letters Said (Editor's Notebook)
Glimpses is used in thousands of churches in dozens of denominations in over 20 countries. Our days are brightened by the stream of fascinating letters from you, our readers. Recent mail included these words from Samuel A. Mateer, Director of a Presbyterian mission in Chile. He wrote, "I am in the ministry now due to church history. While studying at seminary years ago, it came to me that all the heresies that we know today occurred within the first 300 years of the church's life, and that if God were not in it, the church as a human institution would have been dead in the first 100 years of its life."
Joyce Hollingshead from Michigan prompts us to ponder how much we owe to the prayers of those who went before us. "A while back I asked God how I had gotten, spiritually, where I am. . . I stand in awe that he has chosen me for such a time as this. Why me -- a white grandmother from the suburbs of Detroit, directed back to Detroit and starting a day care center there. His answer to me was to delve into my ancestry because there were those before me whose prayers I have the great privilege to be fulfilling.
"As I traced back my ancestry into my Scottish background, I found an outstanding woman. Her name is Margaret, wife of Malcolm III, King of Scotland. In 1069 they were married. She became sainted after her death because of her devotion to seek God in His pureness. She was an instrument of cleansing the church in Scotland of Celtic beliefs that had invaded it. She brought the church's attention to the basics and abhorred the riches of the leaders. I believe Scotland is what it is today, at least in part, because of her insights and determination.
". . .The century in which she lived was certainly one of great spiritual awakening. I am in the process of writing a novel about her. God keeps turning me to His statement that He will bless, to a thousand generations, those who love Him and follow His commandments. Your input has helped spur me on." -- Ken Curtis