Date of Award

2011

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

History

Advisor

Richard Judd

Second Committee Member

Mazie Hough

Third Committee Member

Deborah Jenks

Abstract

Protestant American women felt compelled to help native women in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. They believed women in these parts of the world were downtrodden because they and their families were not Christians. Male missionaries were not able to interact with native women because of cultural taboos, and missionary wives did not have adequate time to work with native women. So American Protestant women formed women's boards of mission and hired single women to work as missionaries. The missionaries evangelized, educated, and doctored native women and girls. They also worked hard to maintain the interest of their supporters. Missionaries corresponded with supporters and gave lectures about their work when they were home on furlough. The women's mission movement captured the interest of American women and became the biggest women's movement in the nineteenth century. This study examines Maine Congregational women involved in the women's mission movement between 1873, when the Maine branch of the Woman's Board of Missions (WBM) was founded, and 1927, when the women's boards merged with the denominational general board, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM). In particular, it looks at the relationship between missionaries, native women, and supporters. It focuses on missionaries in China and Turkey, because that is where the majority of the female Congregational missionaries from Maine were sent. The thesis examines the records of the Western and Eastern Maine branches of the WBM. It utilizes articles from the women's missionary magazine, Life and Light for Woman, and the magazine, Congregationalism in Maine. It also utilizes missionary candidate testimonials submitted to the ABCFM, church records, and scholarly works. The women's mission movement increased the knowledge and skills of all the women involved in it. The movement increased women's consciousness of themselves as a gender, and while the movement was not feminist by modern standards, it was feminist in that it was a movement of women and its aim was to help women. It gave missionaries, supporters, and native women intimate connections with each other, and it was that bond that made the movement successful. The intimate connections were lost when the women's boards merged with the ABCFM, so supporters' interest waned and donations decreased. The merger was a failure because the ABCFM failed to realize that the women's boards were successful because they engaged supporters' hearts, as well as their minds.

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