A happy belated birthday remembrance to Eliza Broadus whose birthday was October 1, 1851. Yesterday (Oct. 1) I felt a nudge to spend time reading through a notebook of materials that we have in the office about Eliza. As I was reading last evening I realized that it was her birthday. I had already been thinking about her during the day after composing a resolution for consideration at the upcoming Kentucky Baptist Convention which will, if adopted, recognized the 125th birthday of WMU and the 100th anniversary of the Eliza Broadus Offering in 2013.
Daughter of Dr. John A. Broadus, professor and later president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Eliza became involved in the emerging Woman’s Missionary Societies in the late 1800’s. In 1878, she was named as a charter member of the Kentucky Central Committee, a committee requested to be started in every state by the Foreign Mission Board to encourage the development of more missionary groups. It was significant that the meeting which called upon the Central Committees from each state to send delegates to decide whether or not to organize Woman’s Missionary Union was held in Louisville in 1887. Although Eliza was not present at the 1888 meeting in Richmond, Virginia when the vote was taken to organize WMU, Eliza was elected as the vice-president from Kentucky, a position she held until 1920. At that time, WMU made her its only vice president emerita.
Eliza began to experience deafness as young adult. Her sister Ella B. Robertson, spoke of this in a WMU Training School Founders Day address in 1936, saying “It was fortunate for my sister that this movement to organize women’s missionary societies came when her deafness was increasing and making ordinary social life difficult for her. It aroused her interest, developed her powers, increased her friendships, with never a thought on her part of any of this. ‘Seeketh not her own’ applied to her in this new work as well as in her home life, and was the secret of her success. She had the information, intelligence and skill to be a leader, and all the Central Committee loved her.”
Janie Cree Bose Anderson (Mrs. James H.), who served as the corresponding secretary (now executive director) of Kentucky WMU from 1916-23, wrote a tribute to Eliza Broadus, who had been her friend and mentor. “Long will I remember our journeyings to S.B.C. meetings together. On the train, we spent the time going over the ‘plan of work’ for the year, to see if we could think of any good suggestion to make. She could always tell why this or that would not be wise. She had known it from its beginnings. What a privilege to be ears for her in the meetings of the Executive Committee, and what a charming roommate she always was – always ready on time, so considerate…. Then, as we moved about in the hotel and the Convention, the leaders and others from all over the South came to speak to her – counted it an honor to speak to her – and she saw to it that I, her W.M.U. daughter, should meet all of those good people.”
Mrs. Anderson also said of Eliza:
“In the years of association with Miss Broadus, I learned much of the early history of W.M.U. and Southern Baptists, and much of the history of our mission work at home and abroad, but I learned to hold in higher esteem the qualifications of mind and heart that were so predominant in Miss Broadus.
“She was so modest, though she surely must have known that she was adored, not only by Kentucky women, but by women all over the Southland. I was never quite able to tell her how much I loved her, for fear of embarrassing her.
“She was sincere. I cannot think of Miss Broadus in other way than that of being perfectly sincere and true.
“She was courageous. No matter how hard a thing was to do, if it was right, she did not fear to undertake it. If a word must be spoken in the interest of the cause, she feared not to speak it.
“She was spiritual. The sweetest times of our Central Committee meetings were always when she was conducting the devotional services. She would find a message from God’s Word to fit every need, and apply it to that need; and her prayers were, in reality, talking with God.”
Eliza Broadus died on October 7, 1931. She had gone from the home of her sister and brother-in-law, Dr. & Mrs. A.T. Robertson, near the Seminary grounds to mail a letter and was hit by a truck as she was retracing her steps across the street. Due to her profound deafness, she probably never heard the on-coming truck. Just a week before her death, the WMU Training School had given a gala luncheon in honor of her 80th birthday. After her death, tributes to her poured in and in the December, 1931, issue of Royal Service, Miss Kathleen Mallory, executive director of national WMU, wrote: “Few Southern Baptist women have equaled Miss Eliza S. Broadus in the service rendered ‘her own generation according to the will of God.’ Four-score years and one week were granted to her and she not only used them to help lovingly in the home, church, community, and state but for more than half of her life, she was a most efficient officer of Woman’s Missionary Union.”
In 1913 Eliza Broadus encouraged Kentucky WMU to began an annual state missions offering. In 1975, Kathryn Jasper Akridge led Kentucky WMU to name the offering in her honor starting in 1976. As we look forward to celebrating the 100th anniversary of the offering in 2013, we do well to remember this remarkable WMU leader and her influence in Kentucky and around the world. The dedication page of Dr. A.T. Robertson’s Harmony of the Gospels, says “To Eliza S. Broadus, Eldest daughter of John A. Broadus, An elect lady beloved in many lands.” Eliza Broadus was buried in Cave Hill Cemetery and this inscription is on her tombstone.
Though I only know Eliza Broadus through the writings of those who knew and loved her, I join Mrs. Anderson in saying “The memory of her will help me always to strive to live up to the high standard she set in personal life and public service.”