When Women Discovered the World
The Woman's Board of Missions
Women went overseas on American Board missions, from the very first days, as wives and assistants, but never as fully-appointed missionaries. When forty women organized the Woman's Board of Missions in Boston's Old South Church in January 1868, this was a bold new step. For the first time, single women would go out on their own, supported by donations from women's groups around the country.
Soon even conservative critics fell silent. Congregational women flocked to hear reports of faraway places, of schools and hospitals in exotic lands. Thousands of small donations began to add up to millions for the missionary cause.
On the field, female missionaries proved adept in recruiting native "Bible women" as teachers and evangelists. Though they shared the assumptions of their day, that only Christianity could truly uplift those held down by ignorance and superstition, they brought literacy and medical care to women, in the name of Christian sisterhood.
The Woman's Board was an indisputable success. Within fifty years of its founding, it employed 123 missionaries in ten different countries, and twenty-three branches composed of some 1700 local organizations – a total membership of over 35,000. In 1927, however, in an effort toward organizational streamlining, women's work was folded into the American Board.