Cover image for American women in mission : a social history of their thought and practice
American women in mission : a social history of their thought and practice
Robert, Dana Lee.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Macon, Ga. : Mercer University Press, [1997]

Physical Description:
xxii, 458 pages ; 23 cm.
Format :


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BV2610 .R63 1997 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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The stereotype of the woman missionary has ranged from that of the longsuffering wife, characterized by the epitaph Died, given over to hospitality, to that of the spinster in her unstylish dress and wire-rimmed glasses, alone somewhere for thirty years teaching heathen children. Like all caricatures, those of the exhausted wife and frustrated old maid carry some truth: the underlying message of the sterotypes is that missionary women were perceived as marginal to the central tasks of mission. Rather than being remembered for preaching the gospel, the quintessential male task, missionary women were noted for meeting human needs and helping others, sacrificing themselves without plan or reason, all for the sake of bringing the world to Jesus Christ.Historical evidence, however, gives lie to the truism that women missionaries were and are doers but not thinkers, reactive secondary figures rather than proactive primary ones. The first American women to serve as foreign missionaries in 1812 were among the best-educated women of their time. Although barred from obtaining the college education or ministerial credentials of their husbands, the early missionary wives had read their Jonathan Edwards and Samuel Hopkins. Not only did they go abroad with particular theologies to share, but their identities as women caused them to develop gender-based mission theories. Early nineteenth-century women seldom wrote theologies of mission, but they wrote letters and kept journals that reveal a thought world and set of assumptions about women's roles in the missionary task. The activities of missionary wives were not random: they were part of a mission strategy that gave women a particular role inthe advancement of the reign of God.By moving from mission field to mission field in chronological order of missionary presence, Robert charts missiological developments as they took place in dialogue with the urgent context of the day. Each case study marks the beginning of the mission theory. Baptist women in Burma, for example, are only considered in their first decades there and are not traced into the present. Robert believes that at this early stage of research into women's mission theory, integrity and analysis lies more in a succession of contextualized case studies than in gross generalizations.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Robert says that "without consideration of women's missiological contribution in the history of American missions, the historical record has been distorted and partial." Here, Robert corrects the record with a chronological account of women's various missionary works, emphasizing denominational Protestant, ecumenical, and Roman Catholic foreign mission from 1812 to the present. Distinctive patterns of mission theory emerged from women's mission work. Because they worked with women and children in the home, 19th-century women's missions were culturally imperialistic, focusing on manners and morals. Because of their work as teachers, they emphasized education for women. Because church leadership was reserved for men, the women accentuated holiness rather than ecclesiology. Although theologians and ministerial students may value this work for its study of missiological theory, the general reader will probably be more interested in the scores of brief biographies of missionary women. The book is encyclopedic in its coverage, and provides extensive and detailed chapter and section headings. Upper-division undergraduates and above. S. S. Arpad; California State University, Fresno