Women's Work

Scope and Content

The collection comprises the papers of the Women's Work of the Methodist Missionary Society from 1932, but also the papers of Women's Work of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society prior to 1932. It includes minutes (1858-1939); reports (1923-1948) and correspondence (1906-1953) from the overseas missionary districts; and financial records (1898-1946) including minutes, ledgers, cash books and overseas schedules. There are also minutes for the Central Committee of the Girls' League from 1924 to 1948.

Administrative / Biographical History

The union in 1932 of the Wesleyan Methodist Church, Primitive Methodist Church and United Methodist Church to form the Methodist Church of Great Britain, brought together the women's work of all three former missionary societies. These comprised the Women's Department of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society, the Women's Missionary Federation of the Primitive Methodist Missionary Society and the United Methodist Women's Missionary Auxiliary, which were amalgamated to form a department of the Methodist Missionary Society (MMS) known as 'Women's Work of the MMS' (WW). The department acted under the direction of the General Committee of the MMS. A Women's Work Sectional Committee was also appointed, including nominated representatives from the District Women's Councils. This Committee was responsible for the selection and training of women missionaries, consideration and direction of policy, raising and administration of funds, and all correspondence with missionaries. The General Secretaries undertook supervision of work in the field and at home. The Women's Work Committee met monthly and made recommendations to the General Committee of the MMS. On a District level, there was a Women's Missionary Council for each District, which included members of the Circuit Women's Work Committee. Each District Council had an executive committee, and each nominated a representative to the Women's Work Committee at the London Headquarters. There were also committees associated with each local church.

The influence of women in the MMS was gradually extended to bring their role more closely into line with male counterparts. By 1970, officers of the Women's Work Department had joined the main committee of the MMS, and their work was amalgamated into the General Fund. Women's Work as a separate entity had ceased to exist, although the home support groups continued to provide backing for women missionaries.

The organised work of women in the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society (WMMS) began with the formation of the Ladies' Committee for the Amelioration of the Condition of Women in Heathen Countries, Female Education, & c. in December 1858, as an auxiliary to the main Society. The Ladies' Committee aimed at the systematic promotion of women's work on the mission field by securing the efficiency of Girls' Schools already established and increasing their number. Arrangements were made for the selection and preparation of women suitable for employment overseas, including teacher training at institutions such as the Normal College at Westminster. These women were to be assisted with funds raised through the Committee.

The Ladies' Committee was managed independently of the WMMS. It selected its own agents, raised and administered its own funds, and had full responsibility for its organisation. The Committee worked alongside the WMMS, reporting resolutions of its meetings to the WMMS Executive Committee. In the field, ladies were placed under the direction of the District Synod and District and Circuit Chairman. The Foreign Secretary of the Ladies' Committee corresponded through these authorities, paid salaries and received reports.

In the early decades of its work, the Ladies' Committee focused on education. It provided grants and trained workers for Girls' Boarding Schools, Day Schools and industrial training institutions, and supported local Bible Women and Zenana workers. Orphanages were also established, largely in Southern India. The first missionary to be sent abroad by the Ladies' Committee was Susannah Gooding Beal, who was appointed as Headmistress of a Girls' School in Belize, British Honduras, in 1859. By 1868, there were ten agents in the field, in Bangalore in India, Honduras [Belize], South Africa, Canton in China and Italy. In 1874, the name was altered to the Ladies' Auxiliary for Female Education. From 1876-1912, Mrs Wiseman became Foreign Secretary, and under her guidance the Auxiliary developed and grew. In 1882, Local District Auxiliaries were formed in Bolton, Bristol, Leeds and Manchester, and the provinces took on increased responsibility for the collection of funds.

In the 1880s, the name was changed to the 'Ladies' Auxiliary of the WMMS', to reflect the expansion into medical work. The first medical agent of the Auxiliary was Agnes Palmer, who was posted to Madras [Chennai] in 1884. The first fully qualified medical practitioner sent out by the Auxiliary was Dr. Ethel Rowley, who was sent to Hankow [Wuhan], China, in 1895 (following her marriage, she was obliged to become an honorary worker). Work was undertaken in leper asylums, rescue-homes, and refuges for widows. In 1893 the name was again changed - to the 'Women's Auxiliary of the WMMS'.

Some of the female workers were drawn from the Wesley Deaconesses Order. The first of these ladies was sent out in 1904. By 1912 there were 94 English workers in the field, 12 others enlisted locally and 303 native Bible Women and Zenana workers in their employ. The Auxiliary supported a large number of schools and institutions, and their income had increased from less than £500 to more than £2,000 annually. In 1926 the Women's Auxiliary became a department of the WMMS. By 1932 there were 215 missionaries working in Italy, Spain, Ceylon [Sri Lanka], Burma [Myanmar], India, China, Africa and Jamaica. At the formation of the Department of Women's Work of the MMS there were 240 female missionaries (who had formerly belonged to the women's departments of the PMMS, UMMS and WMMS). The vast majority of the missions (and missionaries) were Wesleyan but as a result of the union there were now more missions in China, Nigeria and Rhodesia as well as the addition of the 'new' (ex-UMMS) mission in Kenya.

The Girl's League was founded in 1908, under the umbrella of the Women's Work Department of the MMS. By 1928 the League had a membership of 8,700, with 450 branches in the British Isles.

Further reading:

'Handbook for Women's Work: Founded in 1858 Containing a Brief History of the Service Methodist Women have Offered to God in the Missionary Work of the Church' (MMS, c1958).

'The Story of the Women's Auxiliary 1858-1922' (Women's Auxiliary of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society, 1923).

Lena Tyack, 'Hands Across the Sea. The Work of the Women's Auxiliary of the Wesleyan Missionary Society from 1858 to 1908' (Wesleyan Mission House, 1908).

'From These Roots. A Brief Survey of the Origins of Women's Work of the Methodist Missionary Society'.

Anna M. Hellier, 'Workers Together. The Story of the Women's Auxiliary of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society' (The Cargate Press, 1931).

Anna M. Hellier, 'Just Nothing. Memories of Caroline M. Wiseman and her Work' (Women's Auxiliary of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society, 1925).


The papers of Women's Work under the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society, and the Methodist Missionary Society have been arranged as one continuous series. They have been arranged by type of record and by region. Within this structure correspondence has been arranged by district and also divided between correspondence from missionaries and correspondence from the Chairman of the district.

Access Information

The majority of the collection is only available for consultation on microfiche.

Restrictions Apply

Acquisition Information

Deposited on permanent loan by the Methodist Church of Great Britain from 1978 onwards.

Other Finding Aids

A guide, based in part on Elizabeth Bennett's 'Guide to the Archives of the Methodist Missionary Society', is available in the SCRR (see also 'Document' field above for just WW section).

Archivist's Note


Conditions Governing Use

Copyright held by Methodist Missionary SocietyApply to SOAS Archives & Special Collections in the first instance.

Related Material

The School of Oriental and African Studies holds the records of the (Wesleyan) Methodist Missionary Society, including papers of missionaries of the Women's Work Department - among them Catherine Jane Radcliffe, Gladys Stephenson and Alice Hawkins - in the biographical series. Surviving photographs of Women's Work missions are kept with - and not necessarily distinguished from - the (Wesleyan) Methodist Missionary Society photographs.

SOAS also holds the Methodist Missionary Society Library, consisting of approximately 7,500 books and pamphlets. The Library includes Ladies' Committee for Ameliorating the Condition of Women in Heathen Countries, Female Education, &c. occasional papers (1859-1899), Annual Reports (1881-1970), Woman's Work on the Mission Field (1899-1969), the Quarterly Letter (1922-1933) and the Monthly Letter (1933-1969). The Methodist Missionary Society Library is included in the on-line catalogue of SOAS Library (https://library.soas.ac.uk/); books within the the Methodist Missionary Society Library can be recognized by the prefix MMSL.