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United Presbyterian Church of North America, Pt 1: Women


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Introduction: United Presbyterian Church of North America: WomensMissionary Magazine and Missionary Horizons

Introduction: United Presbyterian Church of North America:Womens Missionary Magazine and Missionary Horizons

 

The Womens Missionary Magazine of the UnitedPresbyterian Church of North America (1887-1953) and its successor periodical, MissionaryHorizons (1953-1958), provide researchers with a treasure trove ofinformation about the work of the women of this church in missionary fieldsboth at home and throughout the world. A mainstream Protestant church, theUnited Presbyterian Church of North America was located primarily in westernPennsylvania and Ohio, and eventually became part of the Presbyterian Church inthe U.S.

 

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, before manycompanies became global and sent their employees to live in various countries,missionaries were the only foreigners who lived for long periods in countriesother than their own. Indeed, some missionaries spent their entire adult livesabroad, save for furloughs in the United States. Because missionaries weresupported by folks in the churches at home, they were expected to write lettersand articles for church periodicals, which would keep those supporters informedabout the work in which they were engaged. Although missionaries experiencedthe cultures of the countries where they resided only as outsiders, and mostunderstood little about the inner workings of those societies, they were, inmany instances, the only voices describing those cultures to people at home.Certainly the level of understanding depended on how long the missionary hadbeen in the field, the individuals open-mindedness and receptiveness to theculture, and the skill the person had with the local language. Then, too, therewas always the dichotomy between painting a bleak picture of the lives of thenative peoples in the desire to gain more contributions and painting a rosypicture to illustrate the successes the missionaries were enjoying.

 

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries,American woman had few outlets for their intellectual and creative energies,but the churches were one very respectable place where women could takeleadership roles, particularly in the missionary societies. After malemissionaries, usually in the company of their wives, went to foreign lands,they soon discovered they had little access to the local women. Because wiveswere busy with their households and children, many missionary societies beganrecruiting single women who could serve as teachers in the schools themissionaries founded for girls, and as nurses and doctors who could treatindigenous women without violating local mores concerning interaction betweengenders. In many cases, the women who headed the missionary societies, both atmission headquarters and in the local churches, were married women, often withchildren, who had no personal opportunity to serve in the mission field, butwho could make their contributions to the larger mission effort through thiswork. Generally speaking, these were middle-class women, often with at least ahigh school education, but some must certainly have been college graduates, aswere many of their sisters who served in the mission fields.

 

Womens Missionary Magazine contained articles aboutthe United Presbyterian Church of North Americas missions in Africa, India,China, Latin America, and the Middle East. It also contained articles about thechurchs missions to various groups in the United States, primarily inAppalachia, among African Americans, and among Native Americans. Most of thearticles were short and emphasized social and cultural issues among the peoplesthe missionaries were serving, as well as the progress the missionaries weremaking with their schools and hospitals or clinics. Many of the early issuesfeature biographies of women who were missionaries or were in training to takeup that work. These biographies indicate what was typical of most mainstreamProtestant single women missionaries; namely, they were most likely collegegraduates, which put them in a tiny minority of American women of their day. Althoughit has been stated many times that missionaries generally were from smallMidwestern towns, this can only be partly substantiated, as many were fromfamilies who had recently immigrated to America and others belonged to familiesthat, like the rest of the country, were gradually moving westward. However,since the United Presbyterian Church of North America was a denomination with alimited geographic distribution in Ohio and western Pennsylvania, most of itsmissionary recruits did come from that area.

 

Included in most issues of Womens Missionary Magazinewere articles on projects for children to interest them in supporting missions.Many of these articles were focused on acquainting children in Sunday schoolsand Bible schools with mission work, particularly as it related to children infar-off lands. Some of the articles described games that were popular among thechildren in the countries where the missionaries worked. Always, young readerswere encouraged to collect their pennies to donate to missionary causes to helpneedy children.

 

Many issues also contained suggestions for fundraisingactivities to be used by the churches to support the missions. These includedrummage sales, bake sales, teas, and garden parties, as well as Christmasbazaars, thus providing a picture of the social life of the churches duringthis period. Also included in the magazine were periodic financial reports andminutes of meetings of the mission boards. The details of how women conductedthe work of their missions at a time when many thought a womans place was inthe home are revealing. It was within the context of church missions that thesewomen joined with others of their wider church body in their efforts to gatherthe resources to support their missions. This was a socially acceptable way forwomen to express themselves and at the same time have direct contact with theirsisters who had ventured to more remote parts of the United States or toforeign countries to pursue careers as missionaries. Few Protestant churchesordained women, except in limited roles as deacons, in the years that themissionary movement was at its height, but as leaders in the womens missionarymovement, ambitious individuals could achieve leadership positions and have atremendous impact on the work.

 

Because missionaries were among the first Americans wholived abroad among peoples with cultures different from their own, they did nothave the advantage of anthropological studies to inform them of the situationsthey would encounter. Indeed, many open-minded and highly observantmissionaries actually became pioneers in the field of anthropology as theysought to explain the cultures and religions they encountered to readers athome. Life on the mission field was not easy. First, missionaries had to learnthe local language in both written and spoken form, acquaint themselves withlocal customs, and try to integrate into the existing indigenous communities aswell as the local mission community. Many missionaries were unable to adapt tolife in foreign climes, many saw their health break down, and many had toreturn home even before their first regular furlough, usually after seven toten years in the field. The cultural isolation of the mission compound, whereone was daily forced into work and social life with people who shared onesreligious affiliation but sometimes little else, was extremely difficult andcaused many to suffer mental breakdowns and be sent home.

 

When women missionaries wrote about their work for churchperiodicals, among the many topics they addressed were the difficulties thatlocal women faced. These included child betrothals and marriage, bride prices,bodily mutilation such as foot binding in China, child and spousal abuse,dangerous childbirth practices, concubinage, lack of education and medicalcare, and forced suicide at the death of ones husband. It was to remedy suchconditions that the women missionaries devoted themselves, believing that toserve the local women was the most effective way of introducing them to Christianity.Indeed, many believed that converting a woman meant converting a family,although this certainly did not apply in many patriarchal societies. In themission schools and hospitals, students and patients were told Bible storieswhile being educated and cured, and many who first heard of Christianity inthis way later converted to the foreigners religion.

 

Mission schools often attracted the very poor, particularlyif they offered free tuition, food, or clothing. Generally, missionaries didnot like to offer free services, and mission boards expected the schools to beself-supporting, with only the missionaries salaries being paid by the homeboard. Yet, in most cases, schools had to offer some financial incentives whenthey were first opened to entice students to attend. As mission schools becameestablished, they generally sought to attract girls from the middle or upperclasses who could afford to pay their own costs, but most offered scholarshipsto talented poor girls and to girls from Christian families. In many countries,non-Christian families permitted their daughters to attend mission-run boardingschools in part because their policies aimed at protecting the girls virtuewere so strict. Many mission girls schools refused to permit men on the schoolgrounds, making exceptions only for mission employees and relatives of theschoolgirls who were required to accompany the girls home whenever there was avacation. Indeed, some studies indicate that in many cases girls sent tomission schools were those holding awkward places in extended, blended, orbroken families - such as a teenage girl suddenly orphaned and sent to livewith relatives whose only children were teenage boys. It was in the missionschools that these young women were first introduced to Western ideas ofscience, physical education, home economics, social work, and so forth, as wellas the possibilities of careers for themselves.

 

Hospitals, too, were seen as a good setting to preach theGospel, particularly to inpatients. Like mission schools, mission hospitalswere expected to be self-supporting, with mission boards providing onlystart-up funds for buildings and major pieces of equipment and paying thesalaries of foreign employees.

 

Christian missions in many countries often became havens forabused or displaced women who came to the attention of the missionaries, whooffered them employment out of compassion. Although denounced as riceChristians by some who saw these women, and sometimes men, as opportunists,they were in fact often simply seeking to improve their lives, and in somecases to save them. The discarded or abused woman who sought employment as,say, a cook or housekeeper for missionaries could be assured of a safe place tolive, usually with a room of her own, regular duties, a not overly longworkday, and a regularly paid salary that she could keep instead of beingrequired to hand it over to a husband or mother-in-law or senior wife. Shecould even look forward to a day each week when only minimal work was required.If the missionaries also wanted the women they employed to attend churchservices, how many jobs could one find where one was required to sit quietlyfor several hours a week? Who was to say what was in the individuals mindduring those times, but sitting was certainly not hard labor. If some of thesewomen converted, it was perhaps because they saw how their lives had improvedin the employ of the foreign missionaries.

 

The readers of Womens Missionary Magazine willbenefit from many articles on such topics. Some of the issues, such as thosedealing with relations between Christians and Muslims, are amazinglycontemporary, even though they were written a century ago. Those who havestudied mission history in archives and periodicals know that such materialscontain much information that does not specifically relate to what most peoplethink of as religious or church work. Indeed, Womens Missionary Magazinereveals much to interest scholars in many fields. An intriguing aspect of thisperiodical is how one can trace the changing attitudes of white Americanstoward African Americans, although those who wrote the articles likely did nothave this topic in mind. Beginning during Reconstruction, the magazine includedarticles about colleges and various programs for African Americans, but it wasnot until about the 1940s that pictures of black faculty members at the collegeappeared. At the same time, photographs of black women who were on variouschurch committees also were published, sometimes on the same page as picturesof white women. As the years passed, African American and white women began toappear in the same pictures, not just in parallel ones.

 

Additionally, researchers could use Womens MissionaryMagazine to trace womens fashions over the decades; the women picturedwere certainly members of the middle class and presumably wore clothesappropriate for their social set, not the high fashions found in periodicalsfocusing specifically on fashion. The floor-length, long-sleeved dresses andbustles and huge flowered hats one sees in the early issues change intoless-full skirts and then shorter and shorter ones. Clothes become morecomfortable and hats become smaller, until the hats are dispensed withaltogether. One can even follow how nurses uniforms changed over the decadessimply by studying the photographs presented in the magazines. Likewise, theclothing of women in other countries and among American minority groups is alsodocumented. Other topics include how women raised and controlled vast sums ofmoney, and what kinds of disputes the women had with the male hierarchy of the church over theirwork, and how they resolved them.

 

Yet another example of the breadth of the periodical isrevealed in articles that pertain to Native Americans. Because the PresbyterianChurch was very active in establishing schools and churches for NativeAmericans, these records would be invaluable for scholars interested in, say,the Navajo or the Apache. The pictures alone would make this collection a mustfor any scholarly library with an interest in Native Americans. During themission heyday, home missions were generally considered the less-desirableplace to serve, with exotic foreign countries attracting the best and brightestof the missionary recruits. But for those who could not qualify for foreignmissions either for health reasons or because they could not move so far awayfrom loved ones, the home missions were an acceptable alternative to foreignmissions and were certainly much safer places to live.

 

Much has been written about the cultural imperialismpracticed by Christian missionaries in previous centuries, but one mustremember that in the context of the time and cultures in which theAnglo-American missionaries lived, they truly believed they were doing Godswork when they decided to introduce their religion, educational ideas,philosophies, and medical practices to other people abroad or to minoritygroups at home. It is impossible to determine how many people served asProtestant missionaries to foreign lands, not to mention those who served thehome missions, but I have estimated that at least 50,000 individuals served inChina alone during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which wouldcertainly put the worldwide number somewhere near 100,000 over a period of twocenturies.

 

Womens Missionary Magazine is unique because,although most mainline churches had womens periodicals, each had its own fieldof interest; its periodicals reflected those areas, and the materials andpictures they contain cannot be found anywhere else. Womens MissionaryMagazine offers a view of those societies as experienced by missionariesduring the heyday of the Protestant missionary movement in the late nineteenthand early twentieth centuries.

 

Kathleen L. Lodwick
Professor of History
Pennsylvania State University/Lehigh Valley

 

EDITORIAL NOTE

 

Organization and Format

 

This collection contains two parts:

 

Part 1: Womens Missionary Magazine (Volumes1-66, August 1887-August 1953)

 

The Womens Missionary Magazine began publication inAugust 1887 under the auspices of the Womens General Missionary Society of theUnited Presbyterian Church of North America. In September 1953, the magazinechanged the name to Missionary Horizons.

 

Part 2: Missionary Horizons (Volumes 67-71,September 1953-December 1958)

 

Previously called Womens Missionary Magazine.Retained the volume numbering sequence after the title change from volume 67through 71. In 1958, the United Presbyterian Church of North America mergedwith the Presbyterian Church in the USA to form the United Presbyterian Churchin the USA. Missionary Horizons merged with the PCUSA periodical, Outreach,to form Concern, first published in January 1959.