"An opportunity to aid in this good work": power and participation in the Ann Hasseltine Missionary Society: in the early years of the Judson Female Institute, "Candy Saturday" brought much delight to the students. (1) This Saturday occurred once a month and was the only time that the women were allowed to buy candy.
The nineteenth century marked the beginning of major American missionary enterprises as Christian groups throughout the nation joined forces in an effort to evangelize the world. Following the formation of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in 1810, voluntary missionary societies sprang up across the nation to promote the cause of missions. Most of these independent organizations were Protestant, but few were controlled by denominational hierarchies in the beginning. Their primary purposes were to educate their members and the greater public about missions and to raise funds to support missionaries. Before the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention (1845), the Woman's Missionary Union (1888), or the Baptist Student Union, these grassroots groups (largely comprised of women) constituted the primary form of missions activity among Baptists in America. As time marched swiftly on, however, denominations perceived worldwide evangelism as another means by which to compete with one another for power and prestige. Thus, each denomination instituted its own missions organizations, and what was primarily a female network was soon overwhelmed by male-oriented hierarchies.
The purpose of this paper is to explore the rise and fall of one school's independent missionary society: The Ann Hasseltine Missionary Society (AHMS) of Judson College in Marion, Alabama. A focus on the history of this society reveals that as evangelistic efforts were institutionalized Baptist women no longer exerted control over their finances nor did they participate in the decision-making process about the distribution of money they had raised for missions.
The AHMS was a student organization at Judson College. Established by members of Siloam Baptist Church in 1838, The Judson Female Institute, as it was first known, employed various means to achieve the goal of missions education. (3) Named in honor of Ann Hasseltine Judson, the first female Baptist missionary to Burma, the institute came into existence as a surge of belief in world missions continued to sweep the nation. A product of its time, Judson Female Institute was interested in the missions efforts. Religious instruction at the school took the form of mandatory church attendance and evening chapel services on weekdays. (4) While the mandates of the administration for encouraging religious growth and participation changed, student organizations persisted throughout Judson's history as a constant source of religious education and involvement in missions. The oldest of these student groups, the Ann Hasseltine Missionary Society, provides a microcosm of what took place as the missionary enterprise was institutionalized.
Preceding nationwide student missions movements such as the YMCA/YWCA and the Student Volunteer Movement, the AHMS was ahead of its time. As an independent organization, it fostered leadership and organizational skills that proved invaluable to its members as they sought careers as missionaries, teachers, and homemakers who supported missions. The denominational campus missions movements that followed, such as the Baptist Student Union, greatly limited the autonomous power of such societies, eventually supplanting the AHMS altogether. As the missionary enterprise became institutionalized, the autonomy of women was weakened, and they lost control of their financial support of missions.
Early History and Mission of the Ann Hasseltine Missionary Society
Founded circa 1840, the AHMS persisted at Judson in some form until the early 1920s. Formed to honor the school's namesake, the society sought to kindle the flames of missionary zeal by hosting missionary lectures, conducting reading circles, and raising financial support for Baptist missions efforts. (5) Year after year, it succeeded as students of "The Judson" gave freely of their time and money in order to learn about and support missions.
Because the minutes from the society's earliest years are lost, the first recorded history of the AHMS survives in the form of a letter from a faculty advisor of the society in its first years, Lucy E. Smith, to members of the society in the 1874-1875 academic year. According to Smith's account, the society began shortly after the school opened; it had already been in existence several years when she arrived at "The Judson" in 1846. (6) Thus, the AHMS began within a decade of the school's founding, demonstrating the extreme fervor for missions present among the school's earliest students and supporters. Her letter noted that "the objects of the Society were the same then as now ... the religious training of its members and to aid by its contributions in the glorious work of missions." (7) In addition to these two objectives, members of the society expressed a desire that the society mold and shape them into vessels worthy of fulfilling the call to missions. The society was therefore meant as a training ground for missionaries and not simply as a place to aid others in such work. One member wrote:
Here it is hoped that the young will not only be encouraged and aided in the performance of such works of love as they are now capable of doing, but that they will, by the exertions they here may put forth, be fitted for higher and nobler service in the Master's cause when they shall have reached the full estate of womanhood.... The Ann Hasseltine Society affords the pupils of the Institute an opportunity to aid in this good work. (8)
AHMS members sought direction through devotional exercises, reading of missions materials (e.g., Foreign Mission Journal, The Alabama Baptist, and letters from missionaries), and direct interaction with missionaries. In the early years, they held a public meeting once a month on the first Sunday afternoon. They also conducted private meetings restricted to members to discuss the disbursement of funds, plan public meetings, and perform further missions study. (9) Members paid dues of $1 per year, but many exceeded this amount as they willingly gave of their "candy money" to support missions. (10) The society disbursed the contributions they raised in a variety of ways, sending funds directly to missionaries (some were former members of the society), to specific causes, or to the Alabama Baptist Convention. (11) The convention, however, represented only one of the options to which the group sent their money.
In these early years, 1840 to 1880, members of the society made the decisions about the distribution of the money they collected, the missions projects they adopted, and the countries and missionaries they studied. Their independent missions society provided them power and they quickly learned to embrace it. During these years, the AHMS answered requests to help fund a chapel in Rome, Italy, missions to Native Americans in Alabama, and missions in China. (12) They helped raise money to place an iron railing around the grave of Ann Hasseltine Judson, and they corresponded with missionaries on the field. (13) Society members strived to share the most up-to-date information regarding missions work, often postponing their meetings (and later changing the date to the second Sunday) until the Foreign Mission Journal arrived. (14) AHMS members became known among missionaries, befriending them through letters and financial support. Society members also got to know missionaries through their visits to campus and in speeches given to the society. (15) Such relationships led missionaries to make requests of the society, both financial and material, and the society felt responsible to respond to these requests. Missionaries were not just invisible workers in foreign lands; they had names and faces that could not be ignored. Missions did not just involve sending money to a parent organization. It involved making clothes for those in need, providing education for children, and praying for those on the field. Even though the coming years of the society's history would be more uncertain, a commitment to service remained at the forefront of AHMS life.
Power and Participation in the AHMS
In 1882, a new type of rhetoric began to fill the pages of the AHMS minute book: rhetoric of concern. Members feared that meetings were no longer interesting enough to draw the large numbers they once did. On one occasion, the secretary recorded: "The interest in these meetings seems waning, we must not let this be. The society interest must be kept up at all hazards." (16) Similar statements appeared periodically in the minutes during the period between 1882 and 1900. Members of the society understood that they were losing momentum on campus and tried to maintain membership through a series of changes. At first, they decided to fine members who did not attend meetings. (17) This rule, however, did not help with recruitment. Then the members sought to make their meetings more appealing. At one time, simply reading about missions and hearing from missionaries connected students to the world of missions, but during this period students desired more. Why was interest "waning?" Records indicate that competition emerged on campus as other missions groups and clubs arrived. How could the AHMS keep up?
The AHMS members brainstormed about ways to make the meetings more interesting, and in so doing made decisions that led the organization to emulate other groups on campus. For example, they decided "that cards such as those used by the 'B. Y. P. U.' should also be used by the Ann Hasseltine." (18) The members hoped that such measures would ensure the continued success of the society. The next step involved making the meetings more "attractive," a move not entirely unrelated to modern efforts to make missions education more entertaining. The AHMS desired to bring the multimedia of the late nineteenth century to Judson; and thus, "the secretary was requested to order a map of China and literature relating to that country for the purpose of making our study of that land and nation more attractive." (19) The women of the society employed everything at their disposal in their attempts to keep it thriving, but they were fighting an uphill battle.
Between approximately 1880 and 1900, the AHMS still executed control. They continued to determine the subjects and means of their missions studies and also persisted in governing the destination of the funds they raised for missions. They maintained their support for independent missions ventures, including the building of churches in Alabama and Florida, the education of children in China, and the education of a Cuban gift at Judson. (20) A change regarding the disbursement of their money, however, took place during this period. Members increasingly sent their contributions directly to denominational entities and to specific missionary interests and missionaries. When they designated the funds through denominational organizations, they exercised some control over their finances, but it was a more limited control than they had experienced before. For example, they sent support through the Foreign Mission Board for former AHMS member Willie Kelley who served as a Southern Baptist missionary to China. (21) But they also lost some control over such designations. In both their support of independent missions ventures and their designation of funds through denominational entities, members desired the ability to determine where their money went and to know what missionary enterprises they were supporting.
What Happened to the AHMS?
At the turn of the twentieth century, reports of making AHMS meetings "as interesting as possible" continued as did the society's efforts to increase membership. Members suspended membership dues, while still encouraging members to give financially. (22) One of their most notable missions ventures during the final years of the society involved the adoption of a Chinese orphan, Jung Mai Ling. In 1899, because of a request from Willie Kelley, the missionary society committed to pay Jung Mai Ling's tuition and board. The society gave her the name Ann Hasseltine Judson and continued to pay her educational expenses until she graduated in 1909 and began her career as a kindergarten teacher. (23) Creative efforts in missions thus continued, but the original enthusiasm was rapidly declining.
A brief overview of Judson Female Institute's relationship to the Alabama Baptist Convention (ABC) proves helpful for determining the decreased interest in the AHMS. From the beginning, Judson claimed denominational affiliation with the Baptists. Five years after the school's founding, Judson finally became officially connected to the convention. At that time, individual owners of the Judson Female Institute handed over their shares to the ABC. (24) Members of Siloam Baptist Church had founded Judson College, so Alabama Baptists have been part of the institute since the beginning.
The school's relationship to the ABC took many forms during the years. Judson operated without financial support from the convention for its first fifty years. (25) As the convention began to support Judson financially, the school's denominational ties necessarily became stronger. Reviewing the evolution of financial disbursement by the AHMS clarifies this increasing denominational bond.
In the AHMS's early years, members sent contributions to support many missions ventures of their own choosing. They sent money to build churches, to aid in missions to Native Americans in Alabama, and to support international missionaries. They gave to both home and foreign missions, to people they knew and to people they did not. Members also took on many missions projects, such as selling pictures of Ann Hasseltine Judson's grave in order to raise money to put an iron rail around it. In later years, members continued in their commitment to women and missions. (26) After a successful partnership with Willie Kelley in China, the AHMS women decided to adopt another young girl to take the place of Jung Mai Ling, but the ABC asked them to send their money to the convention without any designations. (27) This request illustrates a significant change in the relationship of the convention, Judson, and the AHMS.
The AHMS complied with the denomination's petition, illustrating the convention's desire to exert more control over independent missions organizations and the society's willingness to relinquish it. That is not to say that the AHMS gave up control of their society's money flow without hesitation. They acknowledged that the convention did not always use the money they sent in the ways they deemed most worthy, which left society members in a difficult position at times. For example, the secretary noted in 1902, "As the Board used the twenty-five dollars sent by the A. H. Society for the support of Ann Hasseltine Judson, for other purposes year before last the Society adopted the plan of having a Handkerchief Bazar in the spring for the purpose of obtaining this money." (28) Thus, the convention's failure to use the funds sent for their designated purpose hindered commitments the society had made. The AHMS members recognized their financial dependence as an entity of the convention and subsequently their perceived responsibility to comply with its request.
When AHMS members lost control over the disbursement of their funds, they lost an important means of their agency in the missions movement. AHMS speakers at the turn of the century sought to reclaim this control by speaking of ways that women could contribute to missions. They emphasized the opportunities for service, including how women not able to go to the mission fields could contribute and how women could be involved in missions service both at and after Judson. They also offered more general discussions of "the privilege of Service," encouraging women to participate in the work of God's kingdom. (29)
These many pleas regarding the role of women in missions occurred during the last years of the AHMS's tenure but were relatively absent from early records. In the early years, members just did the work of missions. Why talk about what women could do unless a threat to their agency is present? Threats surfaced to make this encouragement a necessity. These threats took the form of nationwide missions organizations and denominational entities to which the AHMS relinquished its control over their financial support of missions. They supported a larger corporation, surrendering their status as autonomous bodies. Later students at Judson continued to enjoy the religious lecturers and preachers of the early days, but as statewide and nationwide denominational student religious groups became the norm, Judson adjusted accordingly and the AHMS disappeared, essentially being replaced by the Baptist Student Union, the YWCA, and other such organizations. (30)
Conclusion: The Loss of Independent Missions Societies
More recent events demonstrate the continuance of this trajectory toward less independent missionary societies and more denominational control of missions, a control that has had both benefits and disadvantages. Current organizations and missions programs at Judson exhibit a high degree of denominational loyalty, changing the names of their student missions organization when the convention advocated a change. Just as the AHMS became the Baptist Student Union, the Baptist Student Union became Baptist Campus Ministries and later simply Campus Ministries. At Judson, Campus Ministries continues to send its largest financial contribution to missions to the ABC, with the funds then going to the statewide Campus Ministry organization to support student summer missionaries. (31) Denominational structures have contributed greatly to the missionary enterprise, but the existence of such organizations came at a cost to independent missionary societies. To confine decisions about missions and missions support to national organizations undermines the autonomy of local church bodies and the independence of individual Christians.
In the past, Baptists have accomplished a great deal through their centralized efforts in evangelism, and they are still doing so today. What is not often recognized, however, is what was lost in this move to streamline missions efforts. Extended reflection on the history of the AHMS presents one picture of an inordinately powerful missionary society that eventually lost its control altogether. But what exactly, one might ask, was lost?
The disappearance of the AHMS ultimately resulted in a loss of power and control among its women members. Women once in control of where their "candy money" went now answered to a higher body that made such decisions. The relative decline of independent missionary societies also fostered a loss of creativity because fewer people were actively involved in selecting and implementing their own missions visions. Individuals lost their sense of connection, of true relationship with the missionaries and entities they supported, as small autonomous bodies became subsumed by larger hierarchical ones. Specifically, women lost their autonomy. When independent missionary societies declined, so did the control of women. With a resurgence of independent missionary societies, perhaps women could regain some of the control they lost. One hopes that Baptists have not lost the courage to form and support independent missionary societies. They offer unique perspectives from which to consider how those involved in modern Christian missions might spend their "candy money."
(1.) "An Opportunity to Aid in this Good Work" is a quote from the minutes of the Ann Hasseltine Missionary Society. See Minutes, Ann Hasseltine Missionary Society (AHMS), Marion, AL, 1874-75, Constitution, 6.
(2.) Ibid., 4.
(3.) Frances Dew Hamilton and Elizabeth Crabtree wells, Daughters of the Dream: Judson College 1838-1988 (Marion, AL: Judson College, 1989), 30, 50-52, 206-07. The three individuals generally credited with co-founding the college are: Milo Parker Jewett, Julia Tarrant Barton, and Edwin Davis King. Jewett served as the institution's first principal; King served as the first chairman of the board of trustees; and Barron paid the rent for over a year on the first Judson building. After serving as the principal of The Judson Female Institute for sixteen years, Jewett returned North where he became principal of Cottage Hill Seminary in New York. He later was instrumental in founding Vassar College, serving as the school's first president.
(4.) Ibid., 81.
(5.) Louise Manly, History of Judson College: 1838-1913 (Atlanta: Foote & Davies Company, 1913), 140-41.
(6.) Minutes, AHMS, 1874-1875, Constitution.
(7.) Ibid., 5.
(8.) Ibid., 6.
(9.) Ibid., Constitution, and Minutes, November 19, 1878, 6, 20.
(10.) Ibid., 4.
(11.) Manly, History of Judson College, 142-43.
(12.) Minutes, AHMS, March 27, 1879, and April 3, 1881, 26, 38.
(13.) Ibid., April 3, 1877, 11.
(14.) Ibid., March 21, 1885, 56.
(15.) Ibid., February 5, 1882, 43.
(16.) Ibid., December 5, 1882, 49.
(17.) Ibid., January 8, 1887, 67.
(18.) Ibid., November 1895, 109.
(19.) Ibid., February 7, 1897, 117.
(20.) Ibid., February 5, 1882; May 2, 1882; and February 7, 1892, 43, 45, 85.
(21.) Ibid., May 10, 1896, 112.
(22.) Ibid., October 21, 1900, and December 18, 1900, 145, 146.
(23.) Manly, History of Judson College, 143. At the time of Manly's history of the college, Jung Mai Ling, whom the women of the missionary society had affectionately, if patronizingly, named Ann Hasseltine Judson, was about to be married and the society had plans to send her a gift.
(24.) Hamilton and Wells, Daughters of the Dream, 38-39.
(25.) Ibid., 99-100.
(26.) Manly, History of Judson College, 142-43. Hamilton and Wells, 51, 181. The admittance of a Cuban student at the end of the nineteenth century is significant since the first African American students were not admitted until 1968. See Wayne Flynt, Alabama Baptists: Southern Baptists in the Heart o[ Dixie (Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 1998), xix. Among the missionaries in China that Judson women supported was Eliza Sexton Shuck, the first Alabama Baptist Foreign missionary.
(28.) Minutes, AHMS, January 12, 1902, 155.
(29.) Ibid., January 28, 1901; February 10, 1901; March 11, 1901; and October 13, 1901, 147, 148, 151, 152.
(30.) Minutes from 1903 onward were either not recorded or are lost. The existence of this society during these last years is derived from yearbooks and meeting programs.
(31.) "Campus Ministries," Judson College, http://www.judson.edu, accessed April 2004.
Mandy Ellene McMichael is a 2002 graduate of Judson College and a 2005 graduate of Duke Divinity School.
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|Author:||McMichael, Mandy Ellene|
|Publication:||Baptist History and Heritage|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2006|
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