Happy birthday, WMU! On May 14, 1888, the Executive Committee of Woman’s Mission Societies, Auxiliary to the Southern Baptist Convention, was formed in Richmond, Virginia. Renamed Woman’s Missionary Union in 1890, WMU has a distinguished history and bright future as succeeding generations identify with the purpose and passion of WMU leaders and members across the years. In my Happy 125th Birthday blog, I recounted some history about our founding. The following takes a look at WMU history from a Kentucky perspective and was first shared in the Western Recorder and at the national WMU meeting which met in Louisville in 2009.
Early Kentucky WMU History
Kentucky Woman’s Missionary Union traces its beginnings back to 1878 when the Foreign Mission Board called for the formation of state Central Committees to give guidance to the emerging missionary societies being formed in many churches. Before a national organization of missionary societies was even a dream, six women from Louisville were asked to form the Kentucky Central Committee in 1878.
Those six women made their first report in 1880. In just two years they had secured the name of every Baptist church and its pastor in the state of Kentucky, as well as the names of Baptist women. They wrote letters and enlisted others across the state to help in organizing more missionary societies.
In 1882, the Kentucky Central Committee started a publication called the Heathen Helper which helped to shape the future of WMU. Even though published in Louisville, the paper’s influence was felt throughout the Southern Baptist Convention. Agnes Osborne, Corresponding Secretary of the Kentucky Central Committee, served as editor. She wrote to each of the other 13 Central Committees and invited them to send items for publication. The eight pages of the monthly paper were filled with reports, news, editorials, and life sketches from other lands. Fannie E.S. Heck said that it had become “the voice of the scattered [missionary] societies.”
In 1885 a second publication, The Baptist Basket, was also started in Louisville. This publication was published monthly to encourage giving. An excerpt from the April 1893 issue describes WMU work, including the giving of ten cents monthly by the members for missions. This description concludes: “Southern Baptist women, thus at work, would give one million dollars for missions annually.” No one would have ever dreamed of the millions that would one day be given for missions because of the influence of these missions publications.
Another significant connection to Kentucky that many do not know is the importance of a meeting held in Louisville one year before the founding of national WMU. In 1887 when the meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention was held at Broadway Baptist Church, the women met at the Broadway Methodist Church. Presiding over the meeting was Mrs. Sallie Rochester Ford, a Kentucky native who was convinced that Southern Baptist women had a right to organize and that, if united, could raise more money for the struggling mission boards.
Many women came to the meeting in Louisville hoping that some sort of southwide organization would be formed. At this historic gathering the women decided that it would be best to wait a year, believing that for the organization to receive the sanction of the SBC and be in good standing among the women, it ought to be voted upon by delegates from each state. So, though Richmond always gets the credit, the real decision to organize national WMU was made in Louisville in May 1887 and carried out the next year.
The work of WMU in Kentucky was led by the Central Committee until 1903 when Kentucky WMU as we know it today was organized at the First Baptist Church of Winchester. At that time, Eliza Broadus recommended that a separate president of Kentucky WMU be elected. Mrs. B.F. Proctor of Bowling Green was elected as the first state president. A Constitution and By-laws were adopted the following year.
Influence of Kentucky WMU
Since that time, Kentucky WMU has played a vital role in the development of WMU work as well as SBC cooperative giving. When the 75 Million Campaign, predecessor of the Cooperative Program, was proposed, national WMU accepted $15 million as its part of the goal. Kentucky WMU “loaned” our Executive Director, Mrs. Janie Cree Bose, to WMU, SBC for four months to help with the field work. Though the effort fell short of its goal, both Kentucky WMU and national WMU exceeded their commitments to the campaign.
Kentucky WMU led the effort to establish a Religious Training School for young women after opening a home in 1904 for young women attending seminary. After much debate, WMU, SBC agreed to take on the school and opened it as the WMU Training School in October 1907. The vision was “of a fully equipped school for young women, equal to the best and under the control and direction of the Baptist women of the south.” A new building, known affectionately as “House Beautiful,” was erected in 1917 and still stands today as the home of Metro United Way. WMUTS later moved to a site next to Southern Seminary and eventually became the Carver School of Missions and Social Work.
The most familiar name in Kentucky WMU history is Eliza Broadus. A contemporary of Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong, Miss Broadus served Kentucky Baptists and Kentucky WMU with distinction for 50 years. Daughter of Dr. John A. Broadus, president of Southern Seminary, she was a member of the missionary society of Walnut Street Baptist Church and was a charter member of the Kentucky Central Committee in 1878. In 1888, when national WMU was formed, Eliza was elected as Vice-President from Kentucky and served in this role until 1920 when the state WMU president was assigned this responsibility. Miss Broadus led Kentucky WMU to establish an annual offering for state missions in 1913 and Kentucky WMU named the offering in her honor in 1975. We are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Eliza Broadus Offering this year!
Kentucky WMU Today
Kentucky WMU is strong partner of the Kentucky Baptist Convention and is perceived as vital to any state missions endeavor. Kentucky WMU has elected officers and an Executive Board which give oversight to our work. The Eliza Broadus Offering continues to provide significant funding for Kentucky mission with offering allocations being set by the Kentucky WMU Executive Board in a cooperative spirit with the KBC. There has been great rejoicing across Kentucky as the offering has grown and new ministries funded.
The work of the state office, housed in the Kentucky Baptist Convention building in Louisville, is carried out by a staff of nine. Kentucky WMU helps churches and associations to reach Kentucky and the world for Christ by providing missions education resources, events, consultation, ministry opportunities and other services.
Join us in celebrating 125 years of WMU! And remember – it’s never too late to start WMU. WMU will strengthen the entire church, increase giving, raise the level of missions involvement, and provide prayer support for the church and missions around the world. Join us – 125 years strong and still going!