• U.S.

Religion: Pious Females Merged

3 minute read

The 19th Century saw U. S. women emancipated in many fields—but not in religion. The first U. S. women’s missionary body, founded in 1819 after a Methodist divine exclaimed, “The help of the pious females must not be spurned,” was purely ancillary to a male board. When, in 1869, eight women formed the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society, an independent body, churchmen tried to persuade them to let it be administered by men, who knew about such things. But the women stuck to their purpose, which was “engaging and uniting the efforts of the women of the Church in sending out and supporting female missionaries, native Christian teachers and Bible women in foreign lands.”

The society sent to India one of the most famed missionaries of all time, Isabella Thoburn. For her it named Asia’s first college for women—in Lucknow, India. It dispatched to the East the first U. S. woman doctor, Clara Swain. Today the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society, spending some $1,500,000 a year on 5,500 missionaries, Bible women and other workers in 17 lands, is the largest U. S. organization of its kind. Last week, not without some pangs and misgivings, it faced the prospect of losing its identity—in the impending merger of the three main branches of U. S. Methodism.

The M. E. Church, the M. E. Church. South, and the Methodist Protestant Church, aggregating 8,000,000 members, are to be united next April by a conference in Kansas City. Among other things the conference will decide on how best to merge seven boards all doing related tasks.

Probably four boards will remain: Education, Home Missions, Foreign Missions, Christian Work for Women. The Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society will have to join with one of the last two. Last fortnight its president of the past 17 years, soft-spoken Mrs. Evelyn Riley Nicholson of Mount Vernon, Iowa, voiced a plea not only for the members of her society but for Methodist women in general : “We implore that you not relegate our activities to a subsidiary position to men’s work in such a way as to limit us.” While Methodist committees last week explored ways & means of settling this and other questions, 1,300 Methodists gathered in Nashville, Tenn. for the largest banquet the city had ever seen. It was the first time the three branches of Methodism had met officially since the Methodist Protestants split off in 1828 (over lay representation) and the Southern Methodists broke away in 1845 (over slavery). Two Negro Methodist bishops sat among the banquet guests of honor. No Southerner complained.

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