This article was written by Amy Swanson, Rare Books Catalog Librarian
Southern Baptist women played a significant role in the missionary movement of the latter half of the nineteenth century. The mission societies Baptist women created continue to thrive today, creating funding, education, and other opportunities for missionaries, and those who support them, at home and abroad.
Baptist women began organizing the first mission societies in Texas in the 1830s, though some of the work of these societies was already being done in more informal ways through groups such as female prayer societies (Hunt 4). By 1880, following a resolution by the national Southern Baptist Convention two years prior, women from various local mission societies, as well as from the Baptist State Convention organized the Texas Woman’s Missionary Union in 1880, despite some male opposition. This was followed by the formation of the national Woman’s Missionary Union in 1888. Both the Texas and the national unions were an auxiliary to the Southern Baptist Convention.
One of the goals of the Texas Woman’s Missionary Union (known as the Baptist Women Mission Workers (BWMW) by 1886) was to educate women and children on the importance of missionary and charitable work. In doing so, the organization hoped to increase the chances of women collecting and contributing money to the organization’s causes and their getting involved in missions themselves. Other goals were to provide information about ongoing missions, organize and connect mission societies, and aid in similar initiatives (Bullock).
A good way to promote these societies to Baptist women was with the distribution of publications. One such publication was the newspaper, Texas Baptist Worker. The monthly paper “published in the interest of woman’s work in Texas” (Texas Baptist Worker) was founded in 1889 by the first president of the BWMW, Fannie Breedlove Davis. Davis was also the editor of the paper.
The paper was published in San Antonio by the Women Mission Workers of Texas and had an almost entirely female staff. This is important to note as the Southern Baptist leadership structure at the time was male dominated. Publications such as Texas Baptist Worker gave women the opportunity to lead and have a voice.
In keeping with the goals of the BWMW, the Texas Baptist Worker helped gain support for and provide information about domestic and foreign missions, highlight opportunities for female missionaries, and solicit contributions for missions and other charitable causes.
The paper also featured a section titled “Children’s Corner,” with stories to teach children about Christian principles and the value of missions. The newspaper helped promote various events and meetings held by local societies and provided updates from mission societies around the state. Advertisements for and articles related to Baptist institutions or organizations were often included. The 1895 issue pictured above includes an article about the impressive education for women at Baylor College.
While certainly not the only means by which information was disseminated, publications such as Texas Baptist Worker played an essential role in helping to increase monetary contributions to missions in Texas. In the span of the fifteen years from 1880 to 1895, mission offerings went from $35 to $23,193 (DeLoach).
Early organizational literature such as this paper set a precedent for the caliber of publication expected from the BWMW in the years to follow. Today, the BWMW, now known as the Woman’s Missionary Union of Texas, has several publications: Bridge Magazine, as well as an active blog. The Woman’s Missionary Union of Texas has grown and expanded over the past 143 years, but the core values of the organization established by Fannie Breedlove Davis and her contemporaries remain today.
Bullock, Karen O’Dell. “Texas Woman’s Missionary Union.” Texas State Historical Association, December 1, 1995; updated May 26, 2017. https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/texas-womans-missionary-union. Accessed March 14, 2023.
DeLoach, Clyde M. “Davis, Fannie Breedlove (1833-1915).” Texas State Historical Association, December 1, 1994; updated August 31, 2016. https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/davis-fannie-breedlove. Accessed March 14, 2023.
Hunt, Alma. History of Woman’s Missionary Union. Convention Press, 1964.
WMU of Texas. WMU of Texas, 2023, https://www.wmutx.org/. Accessed March 10, 2023.
Texas Baptist Worker. San Antonio, Women Mission Workers of Texas, vol. 6, no. 5, March 1895.