Women's Work of the Methodist Missionary Society
Name of creator(s): Ladies' Committee for the Amelioration of the Condition of Women in Heathen Countries, Female Education, &c
Administrative/Biographical history: The union in 1932 of the Wesleyan Methodist Church, Primitive Methodist Church and United Methodist Church to form the Methodist Church of Great Britain brought together the women's work of all three former missionary societies. These comprised the Women's Department of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society, the Women's Missionary Federation of the Primitive Methodist Missionary Society and the United Methodist Women's Missionary Auxiliary, which were amalgamated to form a department of the Methodist Missionary Society (MMS) known as 'Women's Work of the MMS' (WW). The department acted under the direction of the General Committee of the MMS. A Women's Work Sectional Committee was also appointed, including nominated representatives from the District Women's Councils. This Committee was responsible for the selection and training of women missionaries, consideration and direction of policy, raising and administration of funds, and all correspondence with missionaries. The General Secretaries undertook supervision of work in the field and at home. The Women's Work Committee met monthly and made recommendations to the General Committee of the MMS. On a District level, there was a Women's Missionary Council for each District, which included members of the Circuit Women's Work Committee. Each District Council had an executive committee, and each nominated a representative to the Women's Work Committee at the London Headquarters. There were also committees associated with each local church.
The influence of women in the MMS was gradually extended to bring their role more closely into line with male counterparts. By 1970, officers of the Women's Work Department had joined the main committee of the MMS, and their work was amalgamated into the General Fund. Women's Work as a separate entity had ceased to exist, although the home support groups continued to provide backing for women missionaries.
The organised work of women in the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society (WMMS) began with the formation of the Ladies' Committee for the Amelioration of the Condition of Women in Heathen Countries, Female Education, &c, in December 1858, as an auxiliary to the main Society. The Ladies' Committee aimed at the systematic promotion of women's work on the mission field by securing the efficiency of Girls' Schools already established and increasing their number. Arrangements were made for the selection and preparation of women suitable for employment overseas, including teacher training at institutions such as the Normal College at Westminster. These women were to be assisted with funds raised through the Committee.
The Ladies' 'Committee' was managed independently of the WMMS. It selected its own agents, raised and administered its own funds, and had full responsibility for its organisation. The Committee worked alongside the WMMS, reporting resolutions of its meetings to the WMMS Executive Committee. In the field, ladies were placed under the direction of the District Synod and District and Circuit Chairman. The Foreign Secretary of the Ladies' Committee corresponded through these authorities, paid salaries and received reports.
In the early decades of its work, the Ladies' Committee focused on education. It provided grants and trained workers for Girls' Boarding Schools, Day Schools and industrial training institutions, and supported local Bible Women and Zenana workers. Orphanages were also established, largely in Southern India. The first missionary to be sent abroad by the Ladies' Committee was Susannah Gooding Beal, who was appointed as Headmistress of a Girls' School in Belize, British Honduras, in 1859. By 1868, there were ten agents in the field, in Bangalore, Honduras, South Africa, Canton and Italy. In 1874, the name was altered to the Ladies' Auxiliary for Female Education. From 1876-1912, Mrs Wiseman became Foreign Secretary, and under her guidance the Auxiliary developed and grew. In 1882, Local District Auxiliaries were formed in Bolton, Bristol, Leeds and Manchester, and the provinces took on increased responsibility for the collection of funds.
In the 1880s, the name was changed to the 'Ladies' Auxiliary of the WMMS', to reflect the expansion into medical work. The first medical agent of the Auxiliary was Agnes Palmer, who was posted to Madras in 1884. The first fully qualified medical practitioner sent out by the Auxiliary was Dr. Ethel Rowley, who was sent to Hankow, China, in 1895 (following her marriage, she was obliged to become an honorary worker). Work was undertaken in leper asylums, rescue-homes, and refuges for widows. In 1893 the name was again changed - to the 'Women's Auxiliary of the WMMS'.
Some of the female workers were drawn from the Wesley Deaconesses Order. The first of these ladies was sent out in 1904. By 1912 there were 94 English workers in the field, 12 others enlisted locally and 303 native Bible Women and Zenana workers in their employ. The Auxiliary supported a large number of schools and institutions, and their income had increased from less than £500 to more than £2,000 annually. In 1926 the Women's Auxiliary became a department of the WMMS. By 1928 their work included Districts in Italy, Spain, Ceylon, Burma, India, China, Africa, Bahamas and Jamaica.
The Girl's League was founded in 1908, under the umbrella of the Women's Work Department of the MMS. By 1928 the League had a membership of 8,700, with 450 branches in the British Isles.
Immediate source of acquisition: Deposited on permanent loan by the Methodist Missionary Society from 1978 onwards.
CONTENT AND STRUCTURE
Scope and content/abstract: Records, 1858-1955, of the Women's Work of the Methodist Missionary Society and (before 1932) the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society, including minutes, 1858-1939; reports and correspondence from the overseas missionary districts; financial records including ledgers, cash books, and summaries of expenditure and income, and overseas schedules.
System of arrangement: The papers of women's work under the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society and under the Methodist Missionary Society have been arranged as one continuous series. They have been arranged by type of record and by region (Europe, West Indies, West Africa, Rhodesia, Transvaal, Africa, India, Ceylon, Burma, China). Within this structure correspondence has been arranged by district and also divided between correspondence from missionaries and correspondence from the Chairman of the district.
ACCESS AND USE
Language: The material is mainly in English, with a representation of languages from the overseas districts.
Conditions governing access: Material is closed for 30 years. Otherwise unrestricted, but only to be viewed on microfiche where copies exist. Originals to be consulted only with written agreement from the Methodist Church.
Conditions governing reproduction: Copyright of Methodist archival material, including photographs, resides with the Copyright Trustees for Methodist Church Purposes. Contact Methodist Church House, 25 Marylebone Road, London NW11 5JR.
Finding aids: A published guide by Elizabeth Bennett, Methodist Missionary Society Archives on Microfiche, is available. An unpublished list for material 1945-1950 is available in the Special Collections Reading Room, SOAS Library. A detailed list is available for correspondence from Ghana, West Africa, 1928-1951.
Related material: The School of Oriental and African Studies holds the records of the (Wesleyan) Methodist Missionary Society/Methodist Church Overseas Division (Ref: MMS), the other sub-fonds comprising records of the Primitive Methodist Missionary Society (Ref: MMS/PMMS) and records of the United Methodist Missionary Society and its predecessors (Ref: MMS/UMMS). SOAS holds the Methodist Missionary Library, consisting of approximately 6,500 books and pamphlets. The Library includes Women's Work reports and the periodical Woman's Work (1919-1969).
Copies: Published on microfiche by IDC Publishers.
Archivist's note: Revised by Rachel Kemsley as part of the RSLP AIM25 project.
Date(s) of descriptions: 16 May 2000, revised May 2002