Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Equal privilege of service: Women, missions, and suffrage in America, 1870–1934
by Bennett, Laura Marie, Ph.D., Princeton University, 2009, 287; 3364529
Abstract (Summary)

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, men and women struggled to determine what roles women ought to play in the church. The most controversial and persistent of these debates concerned women's roles in missionary work. Women in almost every American Protestant denomination banded together during this period to form regional or national groups to raise money to support missions. These organizations were the first denominational organizations run by and for women. There was no precedent for how such a group was to relate to the rest of the denomination—which in almost every case was run entirely by men. In many denominations, women had never spoken before their highest governing bodies. Would they now be able to represent these organizations there? How much autonomy would women be granted in spending the money they had raised? To what extent could the denomination's Board of Missions dictate their actions? Debates such as these occurred in almost every Protestant denomination, and they dramatically changed the roles that laywomen played in the church.

These discussions about women in the church affected and were affected by the simultaneous national controversies over woman suffrage. Contemporaries did not fail to see the similarities between women voting in both church and state. The political fate of women in both church and state were—and are—intimately interconnected. Understanding the dynamics of this interrelation will help us to better grasp the cultural import of the women's missionary movement. Participation in missionary societies encouraged women to move beyond the familiar and conventional patterns of their lives to serve the pressing needs of others. They argued that they needed to be able to speak before the councils of the church to present the needs of their missionary work, to ensure that the perishing millions of heathen women worldwide would be able to hear the message of the Gospel. They entered into civic life in order to advance legislation that would improve living conditions for American women and children, and move American society closer to the millennial Kingdom of God. Missionary societies played an important role not only in encouraging women to work for new rights, but also to claim and use the new rights they had been given, including suffrage.

I illustrate these events by examining the women's missionary organizations in four denominations: the Northern Presbyterians (later the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America); the Methodist Episcopal Church, South; the Disciples of Christ; and the Southern Baptist Convention. They represent a variety of theological positions, geographic locations, organizational styles, and denominational polities, and illuminate a variety of points along the spectrum of women's missionary activities.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Griffith, R. Marie
School: Princeton University
School Location: United States -- New Jersey
Source: DAI-A 70/07, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Religious history, American history, Womens studies
Keywords: Equal privilege, Missionaries, Missions, Woman suffrage, Women in churches
Publication Number: 3364529
ISBN: 978-1-109-25528-7
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