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Woman in Christian Society.

I. General.

A. The NT, in common with the OT, places woman on a high level and creates the basis for a noble concept of ethical equality with man. It does so by making woman equal to man as a shareholder in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, by removing sex as a factor in the reception and exercise of the life of God, and by presenting noble illustrations of Christian womanhood. This ideal is further implemented in the NT by the definition of woman's sphere of service as one unique to her and essential to the world. Paul emphasized the need of the Holy Spirit, both in man and in woman, and outlined the sphere of woman's service. Already in the apostolic age special spheres of labor in the ch. were devised for women without families. Under the influence of the ascetic ideal these spheres of service were broadened into the work of welfare, which is one of the most worthy aspects of RCm. Luther opposed the view, which had developed in the ch., that marriage* is an inferior state to celibacy.* He himself, the ex-monk, married an ex-nun as a symbol and testimony of this revolt. Thereby he sought not to afford himself or others a license for lust but to est. an object lesson in the concept of the Christian calling. This concept, basic to Luth. ethics, views man as living in the vocations of family, state, and occupation, and woman as likewise fulfilling her vocation as wife, mother, friend, and citizen; and the fulfilling of this vocation with the help and for the glory of God constitutes a lofty Christian service. See also Asceticism; Monasticism.

B. The NT ideal brought about vast changes in the attitude toward woman in the ancient world. Whereas woman had been regarded as a chattel or object of lust, she was enabled to assume the regard and worth due her in God's plan. Likewise the Prot. Reformation served to restore the family ideal, not only in its communions but also in RCm.

C. Women have been particularly active in the Luth. program of the Ch. and of welfare. The Deaconess (see Deaconesses) program originated in the attempt to utilize the NT method of providing definite areas of service for women not in families. Luth. women have found more and more opportunity for rendering service to objectives of the Ch. also when they were wives and mothers. Am. Luth. ch. life has imitated the custom of other chs. by organizing women of the parish in specific groupings (ladies' aid, women's guild, business-women's groups, young women's groups) and for specific services. The parish groups foster fellowship among the women of the ch., occupy themselves with study or mission enterprises, engage in fund-raising pursuits, and otherwise are at the disposal of specific parish programs. In more recent yrs. women's groups have organized on a nat. scale. RRC

II. Denominational Organizations.

A. General.

1. The OT and NT speak favorably of women in God's service, including Miriam (Ex 2:4–10), Esther, Naomi and Ruth, Anna (Lk 2:36–38), Mary Magdalene (Mt 28:1), Mary and Martha (Lk 10:38–42), Lois and Eunice (2 Ti 1:5), Priscilla (Acts 18:2, 18, 26), Lydia (Acts 16:4–15, 40). These and other Bible women exerted a great influence before and after women's organizations.

2. In the early centuries of Christianity wives and mothers helped to keep the faith alive through days of suffering, persecution, and martyrdom. Women like Monica,* mother of Augustine* of Hippo, with their prayers and training helped develop men who dedicated their lives to Christ.

3. Also in the post-Reformation era women made their influence felt in various ways. The Countess of Zinzendorf and Susanna Wesley (mother of John and Charles) are prominent names in the religious field of their day and active in the spiritual revolution in Eng.

4. In the 18th c. we find the name of Barbara Ruckle Heck,* “mother of Methodism in Am.” Hannah Marshman carried the Word to North India and in 1800 made an attempt at female educ. there.

5. In the middle of the 19th c. and later, women were a great force in the proclamation of the Gospel to women in India and in est. the first women's hospital there 1869. Dr. Clara N. Swain, a Meth. from Am., is credited as being the first woman medical missionary. Dr. Ida Scudder founded the medical center at Vellore, India. Stirring and hazardous efforts by consecrated women (e.g., Mary Slessor*) were likewise put forth in Africa.

6. These briefly related efforts can be multiplied many times over in various parts of the world as a testimony to other heroic women in missions. During these earlier centuries women served the ch. as individuals, each in her own way. They became stimuli for women to organize for missions.

7. After the Revolutionary War a number of groups banded together to raise money for miss. purposes at home and abroad. Some of the earliest groups were Quakers. “The Female Cent Soc.” of Bap. women was formed in Boston 1800. Organized miss. work of the Cong. women seems to have begun 1801, of the Presb. women 1803, of the Dutch Ref. 1851, of the Meth. 1819.

8. The significant thing is that in spite of the terrific handicap they faced, church women had the temerity to form societies in days when such a movement was not looked upon with favor by the brethren — not even by the male members of their own families, to say nothing of the pastors and elders.

9. These early women had no precedent to guide them. They developed their own idea and relied largely on prayer and the Holy Spirit to lead them. Their loyalty to Christ and missions, in prayer and Bible reading, is an example for Christian women also in this age.

10. Records of early organizations are scarce. They were known by such names as “Female Benevolent Soc.,” the “Pious Female Praying Soc.,” the “Female Mite Soc.” and the “Female Soc. for the Support of a Female School in India.”

B. Catholic.

1. For years, as in most chs., the women of the RC Ch. formed parochial or parish organizations concerned with assisting the priest in some phase of his mission in the parish. Also in the course of years various women rallied around specific causes within the ch. on the nat. scale.

2. Shortly after WW I steps were taken to provide a structure to affiliate every eligible Cath. organization of women within the diocesan and nat. councils so that each could work in harmony with the leadership of the ch..

3. In 1919, with approval of Pope Benedict XV, the bps. of the US met in Washington, DC, to launch the Nat. Cath. Welfare Conf., which is recognized as the official agency of the bps. of the US intended to promote Christian life and to further the mission of Christ and His church. As in any agency the NCWC includes a number of depts. and bureaus to achieve its purposes. One of these is called the “Dept. of Lay Organizations” and includes the Nat. Council of Cath. Men and the Nat. Council of Cath. Women, organized in 1920. The NCCW is not a new or separate organization but is designed to federate existing organizations of women — nat., state, diocesan, and local. It was called into existence to unite the Cath. women of the US in organized effort in all useful fields of educ., soc., religious, and economic work, for the betterment and happiness of the people. It further provides for channeling information from NCWC depts. to all affiliated organizations, for assisting them through publications, correspondence, institutes, and biennial nat. convs., and it provides a nat. and internat. voice for the Cath. women of the US

4. The NCCW includes ca. 30 affiliated organizations including Nat. Council of Cath. Nurses; Ladies Cath. Benevolent Association; Cath. War Veterans, Ladies Auxiliary; Cath. Daughters of Am.; organizations representing nationalities, alumnae, or college groups. The NCCW-affiliated organizations represent ca. 10 million women.

5. The NCCW makes no provision for individual membership. Rather, women belong to an organization. Organizations in turn affiliate with the federation, the NCCW.

6. The NCCW is affiliated with the internat. World Union of Cath. Women's Organizations, a worldwide fed. with mems. in 60 countries.

7. It is noted that a special service rendered by the Council of Men and Council of Women is to provide representation for the ch. at nat. and internat. meetings. Through their delegates the councils represent Cath. thinking and obtain information on developments in various fields that they relay to the bps. Important areas in which representatives recently participated are White House Conf. on Children and Youth, Nat. Conf. of Citizens for Decent Literature, Congressional Hearings on Indecent Literature, Special UN Briefings, Council of Nat. Organizations for Adult Educ., and many other meetings of nat. and internat. character.

C. Lutheran.

1. Luth. Ch. Women (LCW). Official auxiliary for women of the LCA. The LCW was initiated July/August 1962, following the June/July 1962 merging of 4 Luth. bodies: the ULC(A) (Ger. background); the Augustana Luth. Ch. (Swed. background); the Suomi Syn. (Fin. background); and the AELC (Dan. background).

2. In order to give a clear picture of the LCW it is necessary to refer not only to the women's organizations of the 4 merging church bodies, but also to the antecedents of the ULCA.

3. In 1837, before any general organization was formed, women attending a conf. of the Gen. Syn. of the Luth. Ch. in New York, with their husbands, gained the incentive to aid in educating missionaries, with the result that they formed the Female Association of Hartwick Syn. for the Educ. of Foreign Missionaries. Interest was extended beyond the Hartwick Syn. (New York) into other parts of the ch. In 1875 several pastors were moved to action, and the women in the Iowa Syn. organized and adopted a constitution. Almost simultaneously the movement spread to Ohio. After much promotional work the Gen. Syn., through a committee, called a meeting in Canton, Ohio, in June 1879 to organize a gen. women's group. The formal action read as follows: “Resolved, that we hail the organization of this General Women's Home and Foreign Mission Society of the General Synod as the dawning of a new era in the history of women's work in the Lutheran Church, and will not rest until there is an auxiliary society in every congregation connected with the General Synod.”

4. Several syn. societies in the United Syn. in the South formed the Women's Miss. Conf. 1906. Within the Gen. Council the women began organizing in 1885 but did not unite generally until September 1911 into the Women's Missionary Soc. of the Gen. Council.

5. These 3 tributaries, after a history of 40 years, merged in November 1918 immediately following the organization of the ULC(A) and became the Women's Missionary Soc. of the ULC(A). The purpose of the organization has always been “missionary.” The const., adopted 1919, states: “The objects of the Society shall be: to exert all possible effort, by the grace and power of God, to fulfill the great commission of our risen and triumphant Lord, set forth in Matthew 28:19–20, 'Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world'; to promote and stimulate the interest of the whole Church in the work of Missions; to disseminate missionary information, to promote missionary education, and financially to aid the missionary operations of the Church, through its regularly established boards; to co-ordinate and unite the work of synodical societies.” The work has been carried on largely through the mission bds. of the ch. Numerous institutions have been built and maintained. Among them are hospitals, soc. institutions, and miss. residences.

6. Women missionaries have been educ. and supported in their respective fields. In a given year the number ranges from 50 to 75. More than $25,000,000 has been contributed to the ch. by this women's organization since 1919. At the conv. in 1955 the name was changed to United Luth. Ch. Women. This was the largest group in the 1962 merger; membership in 1959 was reported to be 171,815.

7. The Augustana Luth. Ch. Women voted to organize June 6, 1882, in Lindsborg, Kansas, provided that the ch. in session at the same time would give its approval. In the afternoon of the same date a favorable resolution was passed by the ch. assembly. Their endeavor was “to awaken a greater interest for missions and a more general support of the same.” The objective remained basically the same, but the scope of the miss. activity broadened to include all services in the parish, the community, the nation, and the world. In 1959 the membership had reached 82,423.

8. Luth. Guild of Suomi Syn.. When the Suomi Syn. was organized 1890, it was an accepted fact among them that women had equal rights to speak and vote. This concept likely forestalled any formal women's organization for many years. On the local level, however, ladies' aids often preceded the forming of a cong. They brought not only monetary returns but had social and spiritual significance for the newly arrived imigrants. The Finnish language was generally used. In 1945 during the conv. of the synod women and interested pastors submitted a resolution advocating greater use of the Eng. language in all ch. activities and requesting that the women be permitted to organize. The requests were granted, and the Luth. Guild of Suomi Syn. was organized Hancock, Michigan, June 12, 1946. The const. provided for the promotion of Christian knowledge, the advancement of the syn. through the development of the women of the ch., and cooperation with the Synod, and promised “to labor in behalf of missions” and to “cultivate interest in Synod institutions and work.”

9. Women's Mission Society of the AELC. At the time of the annual syn. conv. in Chicago, Illinois, in summer 1908 a number of young matrons gathered during the noon hour to discuss their growing world—beyond family, ladies' aid, and local church. They were concerned about the needs of home missions and how to arouse all the women of the ch. to action. While no formal organization was effected, the women's aid agreed to form a “Dan. Women's Mission Fund” to aid young pastors and small congs. and to cultivate a love for missions. This loosely formed organization was under the leadership of Mrs. Karoline Kjolhede for 30 yrs. Meetings were conducted in the Dan. language. After Mrs. Kjolhede resigned 1937, the younger women, born in this country, undertook a firmer organization. The Eng. language was used, a const. drafted, and a new name applied, “Women's Mission Soc.

10. Am. Luth. Ch. Women (ALCW). Founded 1960 by women of The ALC. Its purposes include: “To serve as an auxiliary to the American Lutheran Church in the achievement of its objectives of making the Gospel of Jesus Christ known among all men.”

There were women's miss. groups in the 4 churches which 1960 organized The ALC. In the UELC it was called the Women's Missionary Society; in the ALC, ELC, and Luth. Free Ch., Women's Missionary Federation.

All confirmed women of The ALC are automatically considered members of the ALCW. The organization has no charter or membership lists. The ALC provides the operating funds. It has 2 depts.: educ. and stewardship. The educ. dept. fosters study of the Bible and of the nature and mission of the ch.. The stewardship dept. encourages support of syn. and projects within syn..

The core of the ALCW is Bible study in small groups called “circles.”

The const. gives the purpose of the organization as “to know and do the will of Jesus Christ by: inspiring in the individual member a deeper consecration to the Savior; developing stewardship of time, talents, and treasure; disseminating knowledge of the program of the church of Jesus Christ, particularly of The American Lutheran Church; spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world.” AN (10)

11. International Luth. Women's Missionary League (LWML). Women's soc. of the LCMS, organized Chicago, Illinois, July 7–8, 1942, as Luth. Women's Missionary League, as an expansion of women's groups that had been working successfully in various dists. of the Mo. Syn. In 1951 the use of the name “Internat. Luth. Women's Missionary League” for referring to the league at large was authorized. Name officially changed 1975 to International Luth. Women's Missionary League.

Before 1928 a few pastors conceived the plan to secure the united efforts of women in support of missions. An educ. program was introduced. The women saw the need for special miss. projects not provided for in the syn. budget.

During 1928–42 the directors of missions and pastors, watching the development and the achievements of organized women's groups, recognized the need for united effort throughout the syn.. At the 1938 syn. conv. in St. Louis 2 proposals regarding organized women's work were submitted. The syn. took the plans under advisement and appointed a com. to study the situation and prepare recommendations for the next conv.. In 1941 the syn. conv. approved the creation of a synodwide organization of women.

The pres. of syn. appointed a com. for a synod-wide women's organization. At the July 1942 meeting a const. was adopted and name chosen.

The organization meets in conv. biannually. During the biennium business is administered by the administrative com. and the ex. bd. The purpose of the organization is to promote miss. educ., miss. inspiration, and miss. service. Its freewill offerings support miss. projects for which no provision is made in dist. or syn. budgets. The “mite box” early became a noted collection device. The LWML has supported schools, sems., colls., hospitals, chapels, and other miss. projects around the world.

The major programs are directed toward Christian growth and miss. service.

The official pub. is the Luth. Woman's Quarterly. Headquarters: St. Louis, Missouri SFR

See also Laymen's Activity in the Lutheran Church.

III. United Work of Prot. Women.

A. Prot. women were early influenced by the ideal of the oneness of the ch. Since the beginning of the 19th c. women met in local organized groups for the purpose of studying and supporting missions. In addition to appeals for help from foreign missions, immigrant families and the moving frontier opened up needs for women's work.

B. The Union Missionary Society, an interdenom. female soc., was formed in New York 1861 for sending out female missionaries.

C. In the next 2 decades women's boards were organized in nearly every Prot. denom., including Women's Foreign Missionary Soc. of The Meth. Ch. 1869, Women's Foreign Missionary Soc. of the Presb. Ch. USA 1870; United Presb. Women 1870.

1. In 1890–91 an interdenom., committee of women was formed to help put on a program for the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. A “Day of Prayer” for home missions was est. 1887, and for foreign missions 1890; combined on first Friday in Lent 1919; became “World Day of Prayer for Missions” 1927. A Central Committee on the United Study of Foreign Missions was set up 1901. The Council of Women for Home Missions was organized 1908. In 1914 a Committee on Christian Literature for Women and Children was organized which produced magazines, leaflets, books, and illustrated material in various languages. Some local interdenom., groups were already organized in the late 19th and early 20th c., including The Woman's Missionary Union of Springfield, Missouri 1887, the Missionary Social Union of St. Louis 1898, the Missionary Federation of Kansas City 1909. The jubilee meetings arranged across the country 1911 contributed greatly to the formation of such groups and led to the founding of the Federation of Women's Boards of Foreign Mission. Membership in local groups was usually not linked with denom. representation. All ch. women were eligible.

2. Social reform and work early became a concern of women's organizations. Though the Social Gospel was successfully opposed by fundamentalists, women's organizations continued to work and pray for social betterment.

3. In May 1928 the Nat. Commission of Prot. Ch. Women was organized to plan for local interdenom. church women's groups, unify and enlarge their programs, advise new organizations, and cooperate with the Federal* Council of Churches. The Nat. Council of Federated Ch. Women (NCFCW) was formed 1929 for the purpose of “establishing a Christian social order in which all areas of life shall be brought into harmony with the teachings of Jesus Christ.” It published a News Bulletin 1934 and The Church Woman 1936.

4. The Nat. Council of Federated Ch. Women, the Council of Women for Home Missions, and the Women's Committee of the Foreign Missions Conf. merged into The United Council of Ch. Women (UCCW), December 11–13, 1941, with the purpose of uniting ch. women in their allegiance to their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, through a program looking to their integration in the total life and work of the ch. and to the building of “a world Christian community.” At the constituting conv. the United Council of Ch. Women became the Gen. Dept. of United Ch. Women of the National* Council of Churches but kept its own charter, December 1950. In 1965 it became one of five departments in the Division of Christian Unity of the NCC. It has continued to stress prayer, unity, missions, human and civil rights. EDH, EL, PGL

These Fifty Years: 1892–1942, ed. Mrs. P. Peterson (Chicago, 1942); Revised Interim Report of a Study on the Life and Work of Women in the Church (Geneva, 1948); I. M. Cavert, Women in American Church Life (New York, 1948); K. Bliss, The Service and Status of Women in the Churches (London, 1952); K. Lehmann, And the Women Also (Columbus, Ohio, 1952); Men and Women in Church and Society (Geneva, 1952); Women of the Church (Study Document of LWF, 1952); M. A. Wyker, Church Women in the Scheme of Things (St. Louis, 1953); C. P. Blackwood, How to Be an Effective Church Woman (Philadelphia, 1955); F. Zerbst, The Office of Woman in the Church, tr. A. Merkens (St. Louis, 1955); R. C. Prohl, Woman in the Church (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1957); M. Reishus, Hearts and Hands Uplifted (Minneapolis, 1958); R. J. Smith, Their Sound Goes Forth (Philadelphia, 1959); J. F. Danielou, The Ministry of Women in the Early Church (London, 1961); G. G. Calkins, Follow Those Women (New York, 1961); R. F. Meyer, Women on a Mission (St. Louis, 1967).


Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod


Original Editions ©Copyright 1954, 1975, 2000
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Content Reproduced with Permission

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