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Women's Work

In 1858 Mary Batchelor (née Twiddy) urged the formation of a society to promote women's missionary work and this led to what was originally known as 'The Ladies' Committee for the Amelioration of the Condition of Women in Heathen Countries, Female Education etc.' (renamed in 1882 the 'Ladies' [or Women's] Auxiliary for Female Education'). Formed as an auxiliary movement within the WMMS, it undertook to train, equip and finance the sending of women missionaries overseas. This was a significant extension of the involvement of women from raising funds at home and accompanying and supporting their missionary husbands overseas. Beginning with educational work, in countries like India women missionaries developed 'zenana' work among Muslim women in their homes and the training of 'Bible women as a way of influencing families and societies. From 1874 to 1912 Mrs. Caroline Wiseman, as secretary of the Ladies' Auxiliary, greatly strengthened and extended its work. An annual report was published from 1881 and the 'Easter Offering' was established in 1883. From 1885 it had a part in the May Meetings of the WMMS and from the same period women medical missionaries began to be sent out. In 1927 the Ladies' Auxiliary at last was assimilated as the Women's Department of the Missionary Society.

In Ireland, local Methodist Women's Associations began in 1865 and a Ladies' Committee in support of overseas missions first met in 1884. A similar BC Women's Missionary League was formed in 1892, to be succeeded by the Ladies' Missionary Auxiliary in the UMFC in 1897. PM co-ordinated its work supporting women overseas in a Women's Missionary Federation, formed in 1909.

At Methodist Union in 1932 these organizations combined under the title 'Women's Work', as a full partner in the work of the MMS, but with its own headquarters administration and a connexional system of District, Circuit and local committees. Its work became fully amalgamated with the General Committee of the MCOD in 1970 and Women's Work itself joined with Women\'s Fellowship to form Women\'s Network in 1987.

A further transformation in the women’s movements of the Methodist Church in Britain took place on 1st July 2011, when Women’s Network and the British Unit of the World Federation of Methodist and Uniting Church Women (WFMUCW) joined together as part of Methodist Women in Britain (MWiB), a new movement aiming to develop the work of training pioneered by Women’s Fellowship, along with the World Church emphasis of Women’s Work, both of which had been continued through Women’s Network with its motto of 'encouraging, enabling and equipping' women. MWiB is committed to finding new ways to engage with women throughout British Methodism and ecumenical churches as well as linking them with women around the world. MWiB operates through a brand new website (www.mwib.org.uk), regular newsletters, regional, national and international conferences and training events. It is run by a small executive of volunteers and a larger Forum, on which each district is represented, along with other areas of women’s activity in the church. Creative spirituality along with a passion for social justice in a global context shape the activities and emphases of the movement.

Sources

  • Women's Work Annual Reports
  • John Kilner, Remarks on Christian Women's Work in Heathendom (1874)
  • William Arthur, Women's Work in India (1882)
  • G.G. Findlay and W.W. Holdsworth, The History of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society, vol. 4 pp.13-69
  • Anna Maria Hellier, Workers Together: the story of the Women's Auxiliary of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society (revised edn., [1931])
  • Pauline M. Webb, Women of our Company (1958)
  • Cyril Davey & Hugh Thomas, Together Travel On: A History of Women's Work (1984)
  • A History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, vol.4 (1988), pp.519-24
  • Christi-An C. Bennett, 'Women's Work: the role of women in Wesleyan Methodist overseas mission in the nineteenth century', in Methodist History, 32:4 (July 1994) pp.229-36
  • John Pritchard, Methodists and their Missionary Societies 1760-1900 (2013), pp.243-54; 1900-1996 (2014), pp.27-9 etc.

Entry written by: PMW
Category: Organisation

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