Interserve Archive

Scope and Content

Records of the predecessor bodies of Interserve, including the Zenana Bible and Medical Mission, 1852-1980, comprising minutes of the General Committee, 1859-1964; Board of Directors' meetings, Executive Council, AGMs, Extraordinary meetings, 1888-1924, 1957-1972; Field Executive minutes (later International Council), 1958-1980; Candidates' Committee, 1882-1930; Home Committee, 1916-1948; Literature Committee, 1917-1974; Finance Committee, 1880-1958; and other Committees and Sub-Committees; correspondence and administrative papers of the Society's Secretaries; missionaries' records, papers and correspondence; minutes and reports of national auxiliaries; financial records; legal records; publications including annual reports, periodicals, printed leaflets and small publications, books written by missionaries or about the Society; photographs of officers, missionaries and their work. The collection also includes copies of a few newsletters and reports of the Society for Promoting Female Education in China, India and the East, dated 1835-1838.

Administrative / Biographical History

Interserve has been through many name changes in its history. It was originally known as the Calcutta Normal School until 1864, then the Indian Female Normal School and Instruction Society unil 1880, then the Zenana Bible and Medical Mission until 1957, then the Bible and Medical Missionary Fellowship until 1987. The name was then changed to Interserve to reflect both its international nature and its emphasis on service.

The Calcutta Normal School was founded in 1852 by Lady Mary Jane Kinnaird in response to a request from Calcutta for Christian ladies to take education to the women in the zenanas (women's quarters of Moslem [Muslim] and Hindu homes). The need for medical care was very soon apparent, and nurses and women doctors were sent. Work began in South India, in Lower Bengal, Madras, the North West Provinces and the Punjab. Tensions crept in on account of the interdenominational character of the Society, and in 1880, Committee members, missionaries and subscribers broke away in a secession to form the Church of England Zenana Missionary Society (CEZMS). Work and related funds in South India, Lower Bengal and Madras were handed over to the CEZMS, and the Zenana Bible and Medical Mission (ZBMM) continued working in the North West Provinces and in the Punjab. Years of strong financial pressure followed, to the extent that in 1934 ZBMM sought to amalgamate with CEZMS, but the plan required a Bill in Parliament, and so collapsed.

Against this backdrop, important medical and educational work was being done. The Kinnaird School, Training Centre and Women's College were established in Lahore, Punjab, with the Women's College pioneering women's higher education. There was also the Queen Mary High School in Bombay and Kimmins High School in Panchgani. There were hospitals, such as the Kinnaird Memorial Hospital in Lucknow, the Canada Hospital (supported by the Canada auxiliary) in Nasik, the Duchess of Teck Hospital in Patna, and Victoria Hospital in Varanasi. Rosalie Harvey was doing extensive, vital work among children and orphans in Nasik (later transferred to Manmad), Annie Sharp pioneered work among blind children in Rajpur, and Mrs Pollen (Granny Pollen) was working in Bulandshahr district where a mass movement was under way. There were, of course, many other schools, hospitals and dispensaries, and village activities undertaken.

World War 2, independence for India, and the birth of Pakistan prompted far-reaching changes in outlook, in organisational structure, and in the opportunities for service. Reorganisation of structures sought to shake out colonial approaches and models, and went on to grant national auxiliaries autonomous status by upgrading them to national councils. Directors of these national councils comprised the new International Council. Policy-making and leadership were thus transferred from London to Asia in the 1960s. At the same time, the Bible and Medical Missionary Fellowship (BMMF) Trust divested itself of all its properties in India and Pakistan, some owned for over 100 years. Properties were freely given to competent Christian Trusts in India, some of which it established for that purpose.

Support in the US was strengthened in 1976 with the merger with the United Fellowship for Christian Service. This had been started as Women's Union Missionary Society by Mrs Sarah Doremus, of New York, at much the same time as ZBMM, and with identical goals. With the 1950s, political change and population moves opened up new vistas, allowing the work to spread to new countries in Asia, in Eastern Europe, in the Middle East and in North Africa. Collaboration now is such that in 1990, about 90% of Interserve's Mission Partners were working in programmes not run by Interserve.


John Charles Pollack, 'Shadows fall apart: the story of the Zenana Bible and Medical Mission' (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1958)

Katharine Makower, 'Widening horizons: the story of Interserve' (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1993)


The arrangement reflects the structure of the Society with its internationalisation in the mid-1960s. Records up to that time are arranged in two lists, the 'Home' File List and the 'Field' File List; records after that time are arranged in a single list, the 'International' File List. National auxiliaries in the Home File List thus become national councils in the International File List. However, records for the England & Wales national council continue in the Home File List, where they follow on naturally.

Access Information


Acquisition Information

The archives of the Interserve [Zenana Bible and Medical Mission] were deposited with the Special Collections Department at the School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS), London University, in October 2005.

Conditions Governing Use

Researchers should seek permission from Interserve for copyright clearance.


Records are being deposited in 10-year cycles up to 2025 (i.e. 2005, 2015, 2025). At that point, deposit will cease, and the Society will have deposited the first 150 years of general records, and the first 100 years of personnel records.

Related Material

The Centre for the Study of Christianity in the Non-Western World, Edinburgh, holds the archives of Interserve Scotland.

Records of Interserve Ireland are held at 14 Glencregagh Court, Belfast BT6 0PA.

The National Library of Scotland holds copies of the society's journal publications such as 'The Indian Female Evangelist'.

Records of the Church of England Zenana Missionary Society, 1872-1968, are held by the University of Birmingham Special Collections Department.

Corporate Names