Juvenile Instructor » From the Archives: Mission Presidents Talk about Sister Missionaries, 1904
 


From the Archives: Mission Presidents Talk about Sister Missionaries, 1904

By: Edje Jeter - April 22, 2013

In my last few posts I have looked at discourse around early female Mormon missionaries. Below is the text of “Lady Missionaries,” published in The Young Woman’s Journal in 1904, six-and-a-half years after the first Sister Missionary was set apart. The author is Joseph W McMurrin, one of the Seven Presidents of the Seventy, and thus one of the chief administrators in the Church’s missionary program. Note, however, that only about a third of the  1,500+ words come from McMurrin; the balance are from mission presidents. Since the article quotes four of the six US mission presidents, I think the article gives a reliable snap-shot of the leadership view at the time. 

Quick Summary: Sister missionaries reach people men can’t and counteract perceptions of Mormon degradation, but they can also do great damage. Go on a mission, sister.

Money Quotes:

McMurrin: “In England the lady missionary is not made conspicuous because of her work, as all the churches have women engaged in a similar way.”

I have wondered why the first non-married sisters went overseas. It seems to me more reasonable to start somewhere close and relatively safe, like Colorado. This is the only explanation I have encountered of the choice to start in England (other than the fact that the European Mission had asked for sisters already and Sisters Knight and Brimhall were going there anyway).

Duffin: “It is the policy to give the members of the Church in the missions as much experience as possible in church work, before they gather to a stake of Zion. To assist in this work Relief Societies, Improvement Associations and Sunday Schools are organized. In these organizations the lady missionary has rendered invaluable assistance.”

I think the formation of auxiliary organizations—mostly staffed by women—outside the Mormon Culture Region might turn out to be the most important development in the US church in the first half of the 20th century.

McRae: “A good woman can accomplish much in the furtherance of the truth but one who is inclined to act in an unbecoming manner can tear down more than a dozen Elders can build up. … I feel that though there are difficulties to be met and many little unpleasantries come up at times in the matter of controlling our young women missionaries, that the good that they will do will overshadow all these and cause us to say ‘God bless our young lady missionaries.’”

The irony of “controlling” the women who were supposed to showcase the non-”slavery” of Mormon women was probably lost on President McRae. That said, I don’t think church leaders (all male) were crazy to be concerned about the public-relations risks of transitioning to a mixed-gender missionary force.

Full Text: Joseph W McMurrin, “Lady Missionaries” The Young Woman’s Journal 15 (no 12, 1904 Dec):539-41.

In the year 1897 the Presidency of the European Mission made application to the Presiding Authorities of the Church for lady missionaries. From that time until the present a small number of sisters have been engaged in some parts of the world in missionary work. Believing the young women who read the Journal are greatly interested in this department of the mission work of the Church, I offer a few thoughts upon the topic.

It is not my intention to take up space in presenting an extensive article in favor of this branch of missionary labor but to allow those who are actively engaged in preaching the Gospel, and are having experience with lady missionaries, to say whether they are producing satisfactory results or not.

Quite a number of our young sisters have filled missions in Great Britain. It was my privilege to meet and labor with some of them in that land. Their work was in every way satisfactory, and their labors were highly appreciated. Whenever I had the pleasure of listening to one of them bear testimony of the truth of the Gospel, and [540] talk of their Utah sisters, and defend the women of Mormondom, I felt their words were far more convincing than anything that could be said by the men. The lady missionaries I met were well educated, modest, refined, and womanly. Their appearance before English audiences, who had heard all manner of evil stories about the women of the Church, as well as our holy religion, was a revelation to the misinformed concerning the women of the Latter-day Saints. I was always impressed with the feeling that those who heard them could never afterwards be made to believe the terrible stories that are so freely circulated in some places to the injury of the Lord’s people. In England the lady missionary is not made conspicuous because of her work, as all the churches have women engaged in a similar way. I believe there is room for a good many sisters to do effective missionary service.

The Presidents of Missions in the United States were invited to express themselves on this topic. They have responded as follows:

Prest. James G. Duffin, of the Central States Mission writes:

The first lady missionary to labor under our presidency came into the mission during June, 1901. Since that date we have had eight others, all intelligent faithful young women, devoted to the service of the Lord. For some time before we made a request for this class of missionaries, it had appeared to us a field was open to them that was closed to the elders, and that by the selection of intelligent, discreet young women many souls could be reached with the gospel truths whose hearts had been closed by prejudice. Not only this but the false impressions that have gone out into the world concerning the Mormon women could be corrected by those of their own sex. Now after several years’ experience, we can testify to the good results following the missionary work of our sisters.

The question is often asked: ‘Do the lady missionaries work in the same way as do the elders?’ We can only speak for the Central States mission. We answer ‘Yes’ and ‘No.’ In the districts to which they are assigned the elders visit every reputable house, converse with the people upon the principles of the gospel, sing and pray with them, hold meetings, distribute tracts and dispose of books. All of this the lady missionary does, but she does not travel without ‘purse or scrip,’ nor does she travel in the country districts. Her work is principally confined to the cities.

It is the policy to give the members of the Church in the missions as much experience as possible in church work, before they gather to a stake of Zion. To assist in this work Relief Societies, Improvement Associations and Sunday Schools are organized. In these organizations the lady missionary has rendered invaluable assistance.

In conclusion I would offer just one more thought. In the selection of lady missionaries much discretion should be exercised. They will probably never be sent out in considerable numbers. The few who do go out into the world, will be to the world an index of the character of our mothers, our wives and our daughters. Let the reflection be that of the noblest womanhood on earth.

Prest. James A. McRae, of the Colorado Mission says:

I consider women missionaries a valuable aid in the work of spreading truth. They seem to get access to homes that cannot be opened by the Elders. They seem to change many of the prevailing opinions regarding the slavery of women in Utah. They answer the question that is often asked of us, ‘What do the women of Utah say about the system of religion, and are they as contented as you say they are?’

Young ladies should qualify themselves to represent the faith of their fathers and mothers and should feel it an honor to be sent as messengers of the religion to those who are in darkness. A good woman can accomplish much in the furtherance of the truth but one who is inclined to act in an unbecoming manner can tear down more than a dozen Elders can build up. She can either elevate and strengthen the Elder or she can make his life miserable and destroy his usefulness. She can exert a refining influence over him if she is so inclined.

I feel that though there are difficulties to be met and many little unpleasantries come up at times in the matter of controlling our young women missionaries, that the good that they will do will overshadow all these and cause us to say ‘God bless our young lady missionaries.’ [541]

Prest. Nephi Pratt, of the Northwestern States Mission, after expressing himself similarly to Brother Duffin, adds:

Sister missionaries can go into the families of those women, who have unfortunately, married men outside of the church, without either arousing the suspicion of the scandal-monger, or the jealousy of the non-Mormon husband, and in these families do a vast amount of good, where the elders could rarely visit at all.

Our sister missionary can do a vast amount more good sometimes than an Elder can, in removing erroneous notions.

Sometimes there are circumstances where it would not be wise to have lady missionaries in certain fields.

No young lady should be sent, who will give way to levity of conduct. In private and public, she must be sober, modest and discreet. She must neither woo nor permit herself to be wooed, by either the Elders or anybody else. She must put far from her every particle of coquetry. She must not indulge in joking nor funmaking. She must not spend her evenings with the Elders, with a view to sociability, or to go out to theatres or other entertainments, with either them or any other male escort. She is there, with the eyes of the world upon her, and must be willing to smother all her nature’s most earnest desires, and live with one thought, and one alone uppermost, that of fulfilling her mission with honor, and never bringing reproach upon the work of the Lord.

Women ought to live in a home of either our Mormon people, or of very warm personal friends. If there is no mission or conference house at headquarters, where a family of Saints reside, our sisters would be left without a proper home, and to such a field they ought not be sent.

I conclusion I only need to add, that where the circumstances are favorable, I think lady missionaries of the right kind, would do many times more good than is generally supposed; where they are not, our sisters never ought to be sent.

Prest. John G. McQuarrie, of the Eastern States Mission, says:

I have had only one lady missionary during my presidency, and she did some good; my experience with lady missionaries has been quite limited.

It is my opinion that two girls in each of the cities that we are working, could be used to good advantage, providing care be used in their selection.

They should be free from every other responsibility, and have no other interest to consider outside the missionary work. If we undertook to school our girls as we do our boys, in the mission field, I think it would result in injury to the cause. But a few who had already been trained in the work at home and are noted for their ability, discretion, faith and energy, would be a great help to us.

The other Presidents expressed themselves verbally in a similar manner.

Young ladies who read the above opinions from experienced mission presidents should be anxious to qualify themselves for this important work. Many of the girls may not be privileged to go abroad. All, however, will have opportunity for missionary work at home; and at home the best qualified will find abundant room for work. The weak as well as the strong, can if they will, render valuable assistance in uplifting the cause to which all owe so much. Through good works, greater faith can be acquired, by which, with the help of God, those qualifications will be developed necessary to the preaching of the Gospel, and discharging the increased responsibilities that will come to the young people of Zion, as the wonderful work of the Lord unfolds.

 


Disclaimer: the above is a first-draft transcript. I have not done a word-by-word check with the original.

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7 Comments

  1. Fantastic source material Edje. Thanks. I can’t help but think I probably laughed way too much on my mission for the likes of President Pratt–good thing he wasn’t my MP.

    Comment by jjohnson — April 22, 2013 @ 8:14 am

  2. “Women ought to live in a home of either our Mormon people, or of very warm personal friends”

    “Very warm personal friends” describes my first mission landlords to a “T.” I can’t imagine they’re still alive, so blessings on their memory. And I’m still in contact with a landlady who was a member of the Church, so those can be important relationships.

    James Macrae’s note reminds me that there were rarely days when we weren’t let in at least one door while tracting (Western Germany), a fact which tended to astound the elders.

    Comment by Amy T — April 22, 2013 @ 4:21 pm

  3. Thanks, JJohnson and Amy T.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — April 22, 2013 @ 4:28 pm

  4. Edje,

    Thanks for posting this. Given that both of my grandmothers served missions (in the late 1920s), but neither grandfather did, I found this post very interesting. Judging by the contents of her mission journal, my paternal grandmother and her companions fraternized with the elders more than Nephi Pratt would have been comfortable with.

    Dale

    Comment by Dale Topham — April 22, 2013 @ 6:26 pm

  5. Great stuff, as always, Edje.

    Comment by Ben P — April 22, 2013 @ 7:58 pm

  6. This is great.

    Comment by Saskia — April 23, 2013 @ 7:31 am

  7. Thanks, Dale, Ben, and Saskia.

    I might have to go look into President Pratt; I wonder how he came across in practice.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — April 23, 2013 @ 6:56 pm