The close of the nineteenth century marks the most wonderful development of missionary enterprise in the history of civilization, and may be truly called missionary century.

The achievements of women are nowhere more marked or the results more apparent than in missionary work both at home and abroad, especially during the last third of the closing century. During the earlier portion of the century she was finding her place and adjusting herself to the conditions. Once her position and power were found she immediately began to occupy her place and exercise her power in the mission field. For years she had been knocking at the door of opportunity for admission to the realm of practical cooperation in helping lift up the fallen and save the lost. Step by step she forged her way to public recognition of her ability and fitness for a large place in the great work of philanthropy, benevolence, and missionary operations.

The Almighty often causes the wrath of man to praise His name, and it was that terrible carnage of the civil war that woman so magnanimously came to the rescue in philanthropic missionary work in camp, hospital, and in the field of battle.

Early in the same decade the first woman’s missionary society was organized to send the Gospel to heathen lands. In the next few years much local individual work was accomplished by women whose hearts were stirred with the sincere desire to minister unto those less fortunate in life than themselves.

The plan of organized effort became a burning question, and in 1868 the women of the Congregational churches of Boston organized a missionary society and before the end of the year the women of Chicago organized the third society for missionary work.

The women of the Methodist church were the next to organize, and in 1869, and the following year the Presbyterian women fell into line with three societies. In 1971, the Baptist women followed, with the Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Congregational sisters, organizing five societies. Thus the women’s missionary societies multiplied until in 1889 there were thirty-three great denominational missionary societies organized by women.

History's Women: Misc. Articles: Woman in Worldwide Missions in the 19th Century - Woman's Christian Temperance Union

Woman’s Christian Temperance Union

As the missionary and philanthropic spirit began to deepen and widen into practical operations, these large-hearted and self-sacrificing women came to see that missionary work at home also demanded a portion of their time and energies. Promptly following this conviction they began to agitate, plan, and carry into operation, city missionary work by women for women. The establishment of rescue missions, homes for fallen women, day nurseries, evening schools, and boarding homes, with their marvelous results, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, the Young Woman’s Christian Association, and the King’s Daughters with their manifold and diversified operations, all sprang into being exercised a widespread influence for good. All of these organizations were engaged in some important form of philanthropical [sic] and missionary work, carrying relief to the poor, rescuing the unfortunate, preventing crime, and educating for a higher plane of living.

Woman has been prominent in all lines of general missionary work for many years, but it was not until recent times that our educational conditions made the work of the medical missionary possible for woman. Glory be to the brave women who did not become disheartened, but persisted in the face of opposition, misrepresentation, and even insult, until at last they compelled the doors of our medical colleges to swing open to their admission. Then to stem the tide of popular prejudice and win for themselves a position as skilled practitioners was no easy task; they have succeeded and their success contributes to the service and benefit of the wide world far beyond anything of which they had dreamed.

These were the pioneers who made it possible for women to become medical missionaries. They sought and secured the recognition of woman’s rights and welfare at home, and thus became benefactors to their sisters in heathen lands. Even after demonstrating her fitness and skill as a physician at home, it required time for people to realize the possibilities of her service abroad.

The credit of being the pioneer advocate of woman for medical missionary work on mission fields is attributed to Sarah J. Hale of Philadelphia. It was she who urged upon individuals and churches the great need and opportunity of medical work by women in mission fields abroad. The people in our churches were interviewed, conferences were held, articles were published, and finally two young women volunteered to prepare for the work. The sentiment of the times was far behind the advanced ideas of Mrs. Hale, and it was twenty years before her plan materialized.

History's Women: Misc. Articles: Woman in Worldwide Missions in the 19th Century - Dr. Clara Swain, American Missionary

Dr. Clara Swain

Of the two young women referred to, Miss Swain, a graduate from the Woman’s Medical College of Philadelphia in 1869, soon sailed from New York for India to become the first medical missionary sent from a Christian land to a heathen people. The first work of Dr. Swain was to establish a dispensary and form a medical class, which consisted of fourteen girls. Almost from the very start she found herself fully occupied. All classes of women sought her loving service and hundreds were treated.

Soon a hospital seemed a necessity and a native Mohammedan prince became so interested in the work that he called upon Miss Swain and offered to donate a property valued at $15,000 for a hospital. His generous offer was gladly accepted and the first woman’s hospital was opened. Women of all classes and several religions came. With every prescription card bearing a verse of Scripture was given the sufferers became acquainted with the Great Physician of souls as well.

The sensitive natures of the American people would be shocked could they witness some of the sights in heathen lands. The degradation and immorality of these people cause one to shudder. One of the chiefest of these, the inhumanity of child marriages in India, has been brought to light by medical missionaries. The government in India was petitioned to raise the marriageable age of girls to fourteen. It was raised to twelve, which is a gain in behalf of humanity.

In Persia during an epidemic of cholera Dr. Mary Bradford, a missionary, stood firmly by the people when all of the Europeans fled the city. The telegraph offices were closed, as well as the banks and hotels. Prior to this act of heroism the native archbishop had been a bitter enemy of all missionary operations. He became so violently ill with the dreaded disease and sent for Dr. Bradford. She responded without hesitation and through her ministrations he recovered.

The gross ignorance and superstition of these poor people is beyond comprehension, but with all their physical woes they are even more to be pitied for their moral and spiritual condition. Certainly the medical missionary is needed among those benighted people. In bringing relief to the body the way is prepared for reaching the soul with the Gospel, and immediately a new life is begun. The moral life is toned up, superstition is dispelled, and the individual becomes encouraged to live a higher and better life. This life touches other lives, imparts a desire for better living, and changes the moral complexion and standard of life of whole communities.

Scores of women are now on the foreign field serving as medical missionaries, and the results of their ministrations are beyond the power of pen to describe.

Many more women are now preparing for service in the foreign field and have consecrated their lives to the work. Will they be sent? The time was when the Christian Church was praying for open doors into heathen lands. Then they prayed for servants to go. Both prayers have been answered. The ponderous doors of these millions which have heretofore been locked against the Gospel have swung wide open and the voice of the people is loud in its call for help.

The results of the Christian religion among these benighted people have been so wonderful, that the chains of error which have bound them for centuries are beginning to break. The light which the Gospel brings has shone in upon those lives of ignorance, superstition, and darkness, transforming them into new people. The contrast between the life that was and the life that now is, becomes as a lamp set in a room of darkness.

These millions of people who do not know anything about the true God and have never heard the message of love, are beginning to see and feel the effects of the transformation resulting from the work of the missionary. They are eager for the Gospel and their pitiful cry comes from every country, calling upon the Christian people to send them more teachers.

The Christian men and women of the Church have done nobly in the past, and it is believed that, as the new century opens, they will respond as never before in meeting this, the grandest opportunity of all previous centuries for Christianizing the nations of the world. While the call from the foreign field has been responded to so grandly by our sisters, they have not overlooked the imperative need of mission work nearer home.

In the South among the colored people, out upon the western borders among the Indians, and among the foreign population, she is doing noble service. Women of education and refinement have gone from homes of comfort and even luxury in the North, to the sunny South, that they not work solely for immediate results, but have sought to reach the future wives and mothers of the race and to teach the present mothers the elements of housekeeping and home making. The influence of the inner home life of these people has a tremendous bearing upon their after life. Thus these good women have stuck straight at the very heart of the problem of the elevation of race.

History's Women: Misc. Articles: Woman in Worldwide Missions in the 19th Century - Negro Settlement

Negro Settlement

In a certain section a Christian woman visited a negro settlement locally known as “Sodom.” Ignorance, poverty, and depravity were in evidence on every hand. She made the acquaintance of the mothers, and succeeded in winning their confidence. The children were playing about in the streets in filth and rags, there being no public schools, and they were “too poor to pay for teaching.” Finally this tactful woman drew out from them that they were spending enough money for snuff and tobacco, which they all used, to support a school for their children. These mothers were induced to try the experiment. An old empty cabin was cleaned out, a colored teacher was secured from a Christian boarding school, and the work began. In less than twelve months the men became so interested that they secured lumber and erected a larger and more suitable building, which served for both a schoolhouse and church. A transformation took place in the homes. The evidences of it were visible for miles about. The former “Sodom” became know far and near as “Pleasant Grove.”

Many parts of the South have not yet recovered from the effects of the war and money for public schools is not equal to the needs, but local schools, boarding schools, academies, industrial schools, and some higher institutions of learning have sprung up, many of which are either in part or wholly the efforts of women. The work so far as it has been developed is succeeding beyond expectation and hundreds of colored girls are being trained for nurses, teachers, and leaders among their own race.

In our western states among the Indians a noble work is being conducted by the women. In Alaska, Mexico, Cuba, Porto Rico, our women are seeking, in His name, to bring sunshine, hope, and happiness into the lives of their dark-faced sisters.

In closing of this glorious and best of all centuries finds the philanthropic and missionary activity of woman one of her crowning achievements.


Reference: Woman: Her Position, Influence and Achievement Throughout the Civilized World. Designed and Arranged by William C. King. Published in 1900 by The King-Richardson Co. Copyright 1903 The King-Richardson Co.