Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society

Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society

The Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society (WFMS) was the earliest of several missionary societies that are now United Methodist Women.  Its origins lie in early missionary efforts of the Methodist Episcopal Church (MEC) in India.  As the men worked at establishing churches, “the wives, unnamed and unconsidered in the conference, sought to reach the women who fled from the [male] missionary.  [They] saw the way to the evangelization of India through her helpless, degraded, unhappy women.” The men likewise began to recognize that single women missionaries were needed to work with Indian women.”

Based on the experience in India, a handful of women came together in 1869 in Boston and formed the WFMS  “for the purpose of engaging and uniting the efforts of the women of the Church in sending out and supporting female missionaries…” Despite opposition from some in the MEC male hierarchy, within only eight months WFMS had recruited and sent out two women missionaries to India.

Following the death of her missionary husband, Helen Emily Springer (later wife of Bishop John M. Springer) returned to Africa in 1901 as the first WFMS missionary in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe).  Stationed at MEC’s Old Umtali Mission (Old Mutare), Helen founded a girls’ boarding school.  WFMS would later open and operate girls’ schools/hostels in Mutare and at Mutambara, Mrewa and Nyadiri Missions.

When MEC North united with MEC South and the Methodist Protestant Church in 1939 to form the Methodist Church, WFMS joined other women’s groups to become the Woman’s Society of Christian Service.  In 1968, the Methodist Church became the United Methodist Church. 1972 the Women’s organizations in The United Methodist Church merge to form one inclusive organization with the name, “United Methodist Women.”

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Contributors
  • Mark Loomis
  • James Gavin
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