Women's Missionary Union
The Women’s Missionary Union (WMU) was formed in 1888 as an auxiliary of the Southern Baptist Convention for the purpose of religious evangelism. Part of a trend beginning in the early nineteenth century to establish women’s missionary societies within many Christian denominations, the WMU was typical of a general movement stimulated by the Second Great Awakening. Specifically, Charlotte “Lottie” Moon (1840-1912), a native of Virginia who served as a missionary in Tengchow, Shantung Province, from 1873 to 1912 and became the most famous female Southern Baptist missionary, grew frustrated with the Baptist Foreign Mission Board’s rule denying women the right to vote. Resigning her position on the Foreign Mission Board in protest, Moon led the successful effort to form the WMU. Within ten years, women in Tennessee and other states supported the creation of a group to improve the quality of life and raise funds for missionary purposes. Denied ordination as ministers, members of local WMUs felt much freer to express and practice their religious beliefs unencumbered by the presence of males, who traditionally prescribed a subordinate position for women within the Southern Baptist churches. Regular WMU Bible studies served as the primary point of instruction for many women who worked as Sunday School teachers for preschoolers to adults. WMU members also have contributed significantly to the Southern Baptist Convention’s mission budget. The annual pre-Christmas week of prayer and special offering for mission activities, begun in 1888, remains a signature of the WMU. Similar to other organizations formed and operated by conservative women, the WMU gave women a position of authority and influence within the male patriarchy. Today, there are 3,600 Southern Baptist missionaries in the U.S. and 3,750 in 108 foreign countries largely supported by the local WMUs like those in Tennessee.