Women's Missionary Association

Scope and Content

Papers of the Presbyterian Church of England Women's Missionary Association, 1879-1961, comprising Home committee minutes and correspondence, 1907-1972; overseas correspondence and minutes, 1903-1958; and annual reports, 1937-1961. There are minutes of local missionary councils, both of the Women's Missionary Association and the Joint Councils; correspondence from missionaries in the field; papers of schools, hospitals and churches run by the missionaries and later taken over by local people. There are also journals and papers of individual Women's Missionary Association members such as Catherine Ricketts; Girls Auxiliary material; periodicals, publications and leaflets. There is a small amount of photographic material; and some papers relating to the internment of individual missionaries by the Japanese. There is also a series of material relating to the mission buildings, including plans. The papers should not be seen as referring just to the Women's Missionary Association as files include correspondence from male missionaries to the Foreign Missions Committee and the Women's Missionary Association, and many activities were carried out jointly.

Administrative / Biographical History

Whereas the Presbyterian Church of England Foreign Missions Committee was established in 1843, and was sending missionaries and their wives out to China from 1847, it was not until 1878 that the first single woman missionary was appointed to the mission field.

Although the wives of missionaries had played a vital role in education and mission work amongst women and girls, the recognition that full-time women missionaries were required to dedicate themselves to educational work, supervising schools and training teachers, led to the establishment of the Women's Missionary Association (WMA). A Synod resolution of 1877 stated 'They are glad that the efforts are being made on behalf of the females of the East, and would welcome the formation of special Associations on the part of the ladies of the Church for the encouragement of this work'.

Miss Catherine Maria Ricketts, a financially independent young woman, was appointed as the first single woman missionary, to Swatow, China. Her appointment in 1878 led to the Women's Missionary Association of the Presbyterian Church of England taking shape, and it was formally founded in December of the same year. Miss Ricketts was quickly followed by the first WMA missionary, Miss E Murray, who was appointed to Formosa in 1880.

The first President of the WMA was Mrs Hugh Matheson, the wife of the Convenor of the Foreign Missions Committee. Branches were quickly formed in many of the London Presbyterian Churches, and in May 1879, the first issue of the WMA periodical Our sisters in other lands: a record of mission work among women was published. Forty two branches of the Women's Missionary Association had been established by 1880. The WMA functioned as an independent unit within the overall framework of the Presbyterian Church of England but there was some criticism about the duplication of mission agencies and rival calls for funding. The 1910 Synod of the Church called for "harmonious and fruitful co-operation both at home and abroad and the Foreign Missions Committee urged "unification of the missionary work of the Church." The proposed unification caused "deep-seated uneasiness in the ranks of the WMA." The outbreak of the First World War brought delay to unifying plans. A number of joint conferences took place and in 1923 negotiations about unity were resumed. A unification scheme was accepted in 1924 and ratified in 1925. There was to be equal represenation of men and women on the Foreign Missions Committee. The WMA was to continue to exist, but as a sub-committee, with responsibility for women's work fundraising and for the selection and training of women candidates. By 1932 a Joint Advisory Committee had been set up by the FMC to deal with matters relating to the mission field.

In terms of the mission field, the women who worked for the WMA concentrated on evangelical work and teaching, primarily if not exclusively among women and girls. Many schools were set up by WMA missionaries, and both nurses and female doctors were also sent out to work in local clinics and hospitals. Staff also undertook the training and supervision of local teachers and worked closely with local people.

The Women's Missionary Association was based in the same areas as the Presbyterian Church of England Foreign Missions Committee. They worked in Swatow (Lingtung) in Southern China, with stations at Wukingfu and Hakka; in Amoy (South Fukien) at Amoy, Chuanchow, Po-sun, and Yungchun; and in Formosa (Taiwan). They also worked in Singapore and Malaysia, and Rajshahi in East Bengal, India (later Bangladesh), with branch stations at Naogaon.


Women's Missionary Association papers are arranged as a separate series of material in the Presbyterian Church of England Foreign Missions Committee papers. There is some additional WMA material in the FMC series 1 additional deposit. The structure of the collection is somewhat muddled, as it has been left in the order in which it was initially catalogued. However, the material can be divided into some distinct classes such as WMA committee minutes; building plans; internal organisations; Girls' Auxiliary to the WMA; relations with the Foreign Missions Council; jubilee celebrations; plays and sketch scripts; periodicals and printed materials; annual reports.

Access Information

Material less than 30 years old is unavailable for consultation.


Acquisition Information

Deposited on permanent loan by the United Reformed Church in 1982. Additional materials (Addenda, Boxes 19-23) came with a second deposit of PCE materials.

Alternative Form Available

Published on microfiche by IDC Publishers.

Conditions Governing Use

For permission to publish, please contact Archives & Special Collections, SOAS Library in the first instance

Copyright held by United Reformed Church.

Related Material

SOAS Library also holds records of the Council for World Mission (Ref: CWM), of which the Presbyterian Church of England Foreign Missions Committee became part.