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Woman's Union Missionary Society Records

Identifier: CN 379

Brief Description

Correspondence, reports, personnel files, legal documents, financial files, scrapbooks, and almost 3,000 photographs that document the activity, personnel, and ministry of the organization founded in 1860 by Mrs. Thomas C. Doremus. THe mission was intended as a vehicle for sending single women as missionaries to women in closed societies (and therefore unreachable by male missionaries) in Asia, covering their medical and educational work among orphans and women in Burma, China, India, Pakistan, and Japan.


  • Created: 1860-1983

Conditions Governing Access

The contents of Boxes 29 and 30 have been microfilmed and researchers must use the microfilm instead of the fragile originals.

Conditions Governing Use

There are no restrictions on the use of the materials in this collection.

Organizational History

Nondenominational mission agency; founded in 1860 by Mrs. Sarah Platt Doremus as the Woman's Union Missionary Society of America for Heathen Lands as a vehicle for sending single women as missionaries to China, Burma, Japan, India and what was later Pakistan; they sponsored orphanages, schools and hospitals as well as evangelistic work among women and children; after 1972, known as the United Fellowship For Christian Service; dissolved in 1975 due to financial difficulties, and merged into Bible and Medical Missionary Fellowship.

Sarah Platt Doremus (Mrs. Thomas C. Doremus) founded the Woman's Union Missionary Society of America for Heathen Lands (commonly referred to as Woman's Union Missionary Society, WUMS) in November, 1860; the name was later changed to Woman's Union Missionary Society of America. She and the other women who began the organization were concerned for the spiritual welfare of women in Asia, who lived in societies in which women were so completely segregated from men that they were inaccessible to male missionaries. The existing mission agencies of the time would not send single women to the field, and they did not think it wise for missionary wives to attempt any other work than the already considerable tasks of caring for their husbands and children. WUMS was founded to provide a way for single women to be sent to Asia to address the physical, educational, and spiritual needs of the women there. They were the first American organization to send single women to the mission field. Mrs. Doremus acted as President of the Society until her death in 1877. Her daughter, Miss Sarah D. Doremus, was also active in the organization and served as Corresponding Secretary.

WUMS began publishing a periodical in 1861, Missionary Crumbs. With the July, 1864, issue, the name was changed to The Missionary Link. It served as a means of communication with members of the Society, as well as missionaries and the general public. Letters and reports from the missionaries formed the greater part of the text.

The headquarters for WUMS were in New York City until 1971, when it was relocated to Tenafly, New Jersey. In the early years of the organization, there were branches in several cities throughout the country, such as Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia. Branches were formed by groups of women in those and other cities, to lend prayer and financial support to WUMS. The Boston Branch counted itself as older than the national organization by a few months. There were also Pioneer Bands for children in several cities. The branches were major sources of funds and recruitment until WUMS began to rely more heavily on investment income from bequests.

In 1971, responding to changes in society both in Asia and in the United States, WUMS changed its policy of sending only single women missionaries, and decided to admit men and married couples for the first time. The name was also changed to United Fellowship for Christian Service (UFCS). The organization experienced financial difficulties, and in 1972 began consideration of a merger with another mission agency, eventually choosing to join with Bible and Medical Missionary Fellowship (BMMF). The merger was accomplished in 1974.

Burma: Miss Sarah Marston was the first missionary sent out under WUMS. Sponsored by the Boston Branch, she went to Toungoo, Burma, in 1862 and established a girls day school there. Deteriorating health forced her to leave in 1865. There were two other WUMS workers in Burma following Miss Marston, but the work there apparently had ceased by 1880.

India: Miss Harriette Brittan began WUMS work in India in 1863, starting a day school for girls in Calcutta, and later an orphanage and a high school. In 1868, a zenana ministry was begun in Allahabad, and Central Girls School was founded there. (A "zenana" was the name for the women's section in Indian homes, both Moslem and Hindu. WUMS missionaries and native Bible women would visit zenanas on a regular basis, reading Scripture to the women and children who lived there, and sometimes leading Bible studies.)

Two medical missionaries, Dr. Sara Seward and Dr. Mary Seelye, established a children's hospital in Calcutta in 1871. Work began in Kanpur in 1880 with day schools and more zenana work, and later a boarding school and an orphanage. Two hospitals were opened after the turn of the century, the Mary Ackerman Hoyt Memorial Hospital in Jhansi in 1900, and the Lily Lytle Broadwell Memorial Hospital in Fatehpur in 1905. A women's home was also established in Fatehpur, and the Ann Murray Dispensary began in Jahanabad in 1917. Following World War II, WUMS began work with Tibetan refugees in Rajpur, and in 1948 Kalvari Bible School was begun.

China: Work began in China in 1869 with the opening of a girl's boarding school in Peking. This school merged with the Bridgman Memorial School in Shanghai in 1880. Dr. Elizabeth Reifsnyder established the Margaret Williamson Hospital in Shanghai in 1891, which later sponsored the Women's Christian Medical College. The Misses Mary J. and Elizabeth Irvine began a Bible Training School in Shanghai also. Work continued in China until the Communist take-over following World War II, when all missionaries were evacuated.

Japan: Louise H. Pierson started the Doremus School in Yokohama, Japan in 1871 (which was renamed Kyoritsu High School during World War II), and Susan Pratt began a Bible Training School for older girls there in 1894. The work flourished, and although it had to be suspended during World War II, it was resumed immediately during the American occupation of Japan, and even expanded. In 1963, WUMS acquired Nozomi Christian School, an elementary and junior high school in Tsujido, and in 1964 WUMS added a student ministry at Takasaki University.

Pakistan and Nepal: WUMS acquired the 65-year-old Mahabbat Hospital in Multan, West Pakistan in 1956 and transferred some of their India workers up there. There was a nursing school connected with the hospital, and WUMS started a girls' school in Gujranwala. WUMS also became a cooperating member of the United Missions to Nepal in 1966.

WUMS had educational work in Turkey, Cyprus, and Greece in the 1860's and 1870's, but there is very little documentation of that work in the collection, although there is a bit more in the WUMS periodical, The Missionary Link.

For more historical information on the Woman's Union Missionary Society, see Box 45, Folders 5 and 6, which contain historical pamphlets and periodical articles about WUMS. Collection 44 includes a manuscript history of WUMS by Helen Jaderquist Tenney, No Higher Honor.


28.0 Linear Feet (50 document cases; Oversize material, Photographs)

Language of Materials


Arrangement and Description

The Correspondence Series (folders 1-1 to 3-11) contains the earliest records of the organization, and is particularly rich for the years before World War I. The early missionaries wrote individual reports of their activities back to both Mrs. and Miss Doremus. Some of the correspondence from India includes minutes of mission meetings (folders 2-1, 5), and the correspondence books for 1868 and 1869 also contain personnel files (folders 1-5, 6).

There are several gaps in the correspondence with nothing for the following periods: 1865-1867, 1870-1881, 1920-1944, or 1956-1967. Some of these gaps can be compensated for by the materials from the Field Files series. Folders 3-1 through 3-11 include letters written from the US, relating to receipts, deputation arrangements and "family letters" (regular form letters to missionaries) from WUMS's New York office. Folders 3-3 through 3-8 record the process WUMS began in an attempt to merge with another mission, the Bible and Medical Missionary Fellowship, now known as Interserve (with which it did eventually but much later merge). There is a survey of missionaries in folder 3-11 as to their preferences for merger.

The Field File Series (folder 4-1 to 11-11) was apparently established after the practice of keeping correspondence in letterbooks was discontinued, about the time of World War I; in that respect, it is a continuation of the correspondence series. The files are divided alphabetically by country, and by mission stations within each country. The series contains monthly reports and letters between the missionaries and WUMS headquarters in New York, discussing mission activity on the fields, commenting on the social, political, and religious situations in the various countries, and the missionaries' personal lives.

The correspondence to and from Burma in the 1860's (folders 1-2,3,4) documents the conflict between Miss Sarah Marston, the first WUMS missionary, and Mrs. Ellen B. Mason, a Baptist missionary working with the Karen tribe. Mrs. Mason had helped inspire the founding of WUMS, and was serving as Miss Marston's supervisor in Burma, to help get things started, but her theology and methodology were somewhat unorthodox. Mrs. Mason came to believe, as a result of seeing a vision in a carpet, that the Karen tribe was the lost tribe of Israel, and that the markings on the clothing they wore were Hebrew as God had originally intended it to be written. Therefore, the tribe did not have to be evangelized, since they already knew God; they only needed to be told that the language on their clothes was "God language." She also designed a flag for the tribe, and the other Baptist missionaries were afraid the British colonial government would interpret this as a move on their part to push for Burman independence. When confronted by Miss Marston and her colleagues, Mrs. Mason took offense at their efforts to change her mind, and began to tell the Burmese not to have anything to do with them. Miss Marston and the other missionaries had a difficult time communicating Mrs. Mason's behavior and beliefs to their respective home boards, who knew her as a strong Christian and an effective missionary. The communication was made even more difficult because Mrs. Mason had been writing to Mrs. Doremus and the WUMS Boston Branch about how Miss Marston was undermining her work. Eventually, there was a hearing to determine whether Mrs. Mason was acting to promote rebellion against the colonial government, and a legal document from the hearing is found in folder 33-3, in the Legal Files series. There is also information in the minutes of the Boston Branch in folder 28-7 about their decision to withdraw support from Miss Marston, because they believed what Mrs. Mason had been writing them. Some of the early correspondence from each field is reproduced, in whole or in part, in issues of Missionary Crumbs, which later became The Missionary Link. Issues of this periodical can be found in the Graham Center Library.

The China Field Files are found in folder 2-4 and folders 4-1 through 4-5. They are rich in personal details both in handwritten letters official mission documents, and give a picture of mission life in China, particularly for the years 1925 through 1951. The documents in folder 2-4 covering the period 1881-1919 deal with early mission personnel issues such as allowances, resignation for marriage, and money promised in a bequest from a Mrs. Adler and not paid. Also included is a letter from Sarah Doremus to Gertrude Kinnaird of the Zenana Bible and Medical Mission (later known as the Bible and Medical Missionary Fellowship, now known as Interserve), turning down ZBBM’s offer of coordination of work. There is also a discussion of problems arising from differing positions on the gift of tongues and healing.

Folder 4-1 on the Margaret Williamson Hospital in Shanghai contains institutional reports, pamphlets on the Bridgman Memorial School and correspondence in 1922 on the need for a medical school for women in China, followed by a report that it did in fact open. There is a twenty-fifth anniversary commemorative booklet for the Margaret Williamson Hospital containing a congratulatory letter from Madame Chiang Kai Shek in 1925 and a biography of Dr. Elizabeth Reifsnyder. Various reports in the file, both printed and handwritten, describe the effects of the Japanese bombardment of Shanghai. Unrelated to the hospital but interesting nonetheless is a constitution for the Shanghai Union Training School.

Folder 4-2 contains detailed descriptions of day-to-day life in China in a series of letters from Minnie Bergman. Folder 4-3 includes reports, some giving a description of Chinese workers and others from 1937 referring to the Japanese occupation. There are several drafts of the Bridgman School constitution with a small sketched map of the school. Also included is a 1929 discussion of the need for a board for the Bridgman School located in China rather than the U.S., and a complete list of WUMS missionaries who served the mission between 1891 and 1934. Among the papers in folder 4-4 is a report of a meeting of Christian leaders with Premier Chou En Lai in Peking in 1950, which marked the beginning of the Three Self Church following the Communist takeover of the country.

Folder 4-5 supplies information on the tumultuous years during World War II and afterward China’s civil war. Among the items is a detailed letter describing the fall of Shanghai to Japan, as well as a document which transferred the property known as the Matilda Douw Foundation from WUMS to the Shanghai Children’s Aid Society on December 9, 1941. The file gives many vivid accounts of the difficulties of life during the World War II and the civil war years that followed, including a description of the expulsion of missionaries in 1951 and the confusion surrounding the Communist takeover. There is an official document from the US State Department on August 8, 1949, to all mission boards, stating its China policy. Finally, there is also quite a bit of correspondence concerning a loan arrangement by which Louise Russell was seconded to the China Inland Mission from the WUMS.

The India Field Files are contained in folders 4-6 through 9-7. First are those that are general to the entire country (folders 4-6 through 5-4), including reports on mission annual conferences and field committees. There are also letters from the US office to the field. This section is of particular interest with respect to background on the proposed merger between WUMS and the Bible and Medical Missionary Fellowship (BMMF, now known as Interserve) in 1972. There are many references to Alan Norrish, General Secretary to BMMF, who was an advisor to WUMS on the field and instrumental in the merger. It also gives a picture of discussions of increasing nationalization of institutions in India after independence. WUMS was party to the beginnings of the Emmanuel Hospital Association of India (EHA) and this is discussed in many of the reports, particularly in folder 5-2.

Folder 4-7 contains a report from the Uttar Pradesh Christian Council Annual Meeting in 1927 with a strong statement on the need for a contextualized expression of the gospel message. Documents in folder 4-8 record a discussion of the problem of visas being granted to American missionaries by the government of India. (There is more material in folder 7-8 on this subject.) Folder 4-8 also has an "Integration Plan" from January 3, 1967, that clearly states what WUMS had accomplished in its missionary efforts, along with a plan for the future. The goals and objectives statement of the Lily Lytle Broadwell Hospital (1961) gives a picture of the priorities and goals of Indian mission hospitals in this era.

By 1969, WUMS was registered in India as well as in the USA. Folders 5-3 and 4 contain drafts of the constitution establishing the mission as a legal entity in Japan. These and accompanying documents generally give a picture of the changing relationship between the US office in New York and the India Field Committee and Managing Board.

From folder 5-5 to 9-7 the organization of files is by station within India (Allahabad, Calcutta, Fatehpur, Jahnsi, Kanpur). Almost all of the correspondence is from India to the US office. Some of the information is financial. Throughout the folders, statements of accounts lie beside personal letters, monthly reports, evangelistic reports, and annual reports. Monthly reports make up the majority of the files, but these are interspersed with bookkeeping, both personal and institutional, and other related reports of evangelistic work or institutional statistics. Taken together they present a quite full picture of institutional mission life. Some of the recorders are excellent writers and provide a thorough description, while others are very brief and consequently more cryptic. The reports include vignettes of lives of students, patients and their relatives, staff, accidents, epidemics, droughts, and floods. Somewhat unexpectedly, there is virtually no mention of World War II, India’s independence, or the war with Pakistan in 1965 and 1971. Difficulties with prices figure prominently, but other civil news is almost completely absent except for how an individual patient’s life might be affected. The crises mentioned are confined to those at the compound. Common themes are the training of nurses and midwives, illnesses of staff, the problems of epidemics of smallpox and cholera, and concern for patients. Hospital operations, scholarships, nursing examinations, domestic troubles, financial and weather struggles are intermingled with stories from the lives of students, patients and staff. The evangelistic reports give a good picture of the methods, structures, and statistics of these mission efforts, as well as description of both staff and converts. Another recurring theme here and throughout the collection is the struggle with lack of sufficient personnel and finances.

Papers documenting the Calcutta work are gathered in folder 5-11, including a description of the methodology used to evangelize: Indian men would come and ask the women missionaries to come and teach their wives as they were restricted to the zenana (women’s section of the household).

Folder 5-9 contains testimonies of students at the Central Primary School in Allahabad in 1967 as well as a floor plan of Kalvari Bible School.

The documents in folder 6-5 for the Broadwell Hospital in Fatehpur give a good picture of the mixture of evangelistic and medical work in a mission hospital. Folders 7-1 and 7-2 deal with the closure of Broadwell Hospital in 1969 and the changeover to a public health program in its place. The documents in folders 7-3 through 7-8 related to the Fatehpur Women’s home give a strong picture of women on the bottom of Indian society and the difficulties encountered in their rehabilitation, including the girls’ struggles with lying, stealing, adultery, and prostitution, as well as the inability to love the baby born to them. It is possible to follow the stories of many patients at the Women’s Home in Fatehpur from month to month through these monthly reports, with the missionary accounts providing a comprehensive picture comprised of the discouragements and the victories. Folder 7-4 includes documents which record the Home’s struggle to maintain its emphasis on the girls’ rehabilitation and the change to becoming a school for younger children.

Folder 8-1 contains a report on a meeting in June 1967 exploring the possibility of a merger between the WUMS hospital in Jhansi and the American Friends Mission (AFM) work at Chhatarpur. The situation illustrates the challenges which mission hospitals in North India faced during the mid-1960s and the documents detail the reasons to advocate such a merger. Further correspondence on the merger plan follows, although it is unlikely that the merger took place. Other correspondence in the file has to do with sale of property near Jhansi Hospital and the installation of a water pump and storage tank on the compound.

The work in Kanpur (formerly Cawnpore) centered on the Merriman School for Girls, a boarding school as well as home for orphans. The monthly reports in folders 9-4 to 9-7 give a colorful description of school life, including the responsibility of the staff assumed for making marriage arrangements for the orphans. Several Tibetan girls came to the school and in folder 9-6 there is correspondence with The Evangelical Alliance Mission (TEAM) about their Tibetan work. Folder 11-11 gives two reports from a holiday camp WUMS operated in Mussoorie, India, with Tibetans in 1964. There is also an undated sketch of the Kanpur Girls School in folder 9-6. There is no mention in the files as to how orphans or boarders came to the school.

The WUMS work in Japan is covered in the Japan Field Files in folders 9-8 through 11-4. The files suggest the structure of mission bureaucracy as decisions were made in the US. The correspondence, however, is both coming from the WUMS office and going to the field. The monthly reports by the missionaries are rich in details about daily life, students, and personal needs. Little is said, however, about civic or national issues in Japan. Rather the focus in the files is on work in the schools.

The pre-World War II Japan documents are limited to those in folder 9-8. There is very little mention of tensions building up to the war. WUMS work consisted of the Doremus School and the Bible Training School for Women Evangelists. Folder 9-8 includes a request from the Japanese government in September 1940 that one national church be formed in Japan and that churches and schools become financially independent from foreign sources.

There is no information on what happened to the mission’s work during World War II except for a letter from an American infantry captain, dated November 3, 1946, to the WUMS headquarters (folder 10-6). He was stationed in Yokohama and wrote on behalf of a Japanese Christian woman who had been connected to the school, giving news of what had happened to their work in Japan during the war.

Post-World War II correspondence records the rebuilding of the WUMS operation. Folder 10-1 has correspondence with other missions about collaboration, the structure of the Bible Training School, possible courses, and the Evangelical Mission Association of Japan. Folders 10-2 and 10 3 include insurance policies and deeds of trust. Marked "Please file with care" is a copy of the Articles of the Corporate Juridical Persons (Shadan Hojin) of the Women’s Union Missionary Society. There are also several versions of a letter to General Douglas MacArthur (another copy in folder 10-6) about the return of land for the Bible Training School, dated March 10, 1949.

Within the correspondence is that with the principal of the Kyoritsu High School (formerly Doremus School) about Bible teaching in the school in folder 10 4. Other correspondence in that folder deals with an addition to the wing of the Bible Training School in 1967. John Reid of TEAM gave a comprehensive report to WUMS on the state of schools in Japan in 1963, looking forward to the future (folder 10-8). The acquisition of Nozomi School in 1963 and subsequent difficulties are documented in folder 10-8. In 1983 the Koritsu Bible School, renamed the Tokyo Christian School, became part of the Tokyo Christian Institute, a group of Christian educational institutions in Japan. Documents in folder 10-5 deal with this consolidation in a long discussion over the statement of faith and the establishment of the Fund for Academic and Theological Education in Japan.

The Nepal Field Files are very limited, contained in a single file (folder 11-4). WUMS had two missionaries stationed at Amp Pipal Hospital from 1967-1969, and the reports describe that work.

The Pakistan Field Files are also limited (folders 11-5 through 11-10) and consist of a collection of reports: annual and monthly reports of the missionaries, and those describing hospital management, evangelistic work, literacy work, the nursing school, and ministry among orphans. There are also reports from other Christian ministries in Pakistan during the 1960s. WUMS acquired the Women’s Christian Hospital in Multan, Pakistan, in 1956 and the reports from there are rich in descriptions of hospital life, the mission community, the pressures of nursing exams, stories of converts, patients and staff, and difficulties in dealing with inadequate personnel. An evaluation of the hospital when the mission took over gives a good description of the physical plant and work (folder 11-6), and there is a blueprint of the hospital buildings in folder 10-7 as well as hospital organizational documents. A letter detailing customs procedures in Pakistan is found in both folders 11-7 and 11-8.

The Personnel Files Series (folders 12-1 to 21-8), together with the Correspondence series and the Field Files, document the work of the women physicians, nurses, and teachers who served with WUMS. The series begins with comprehensive lists of WUMS missionaries from 1860 to 1965 (that is, those who had retired by 1965), in folders 12-1, 2, and 3. These lists include information such as the date of appointment, the field to which the woman was sent, and how long she served.

The regular personnel files seem to have been established following World War I; before that time, the only records kept besides the listings and cor¬respondence were the signed contracts between the organization and each missionary. Those contracts are in the letterbooks in the Correspondence Series (folders 1-5, 6). The archivist created some personnel files for the earlier missionaries when material about them surfaced unattached to any other series.

The files include letters of application and recommendation to WUMS, applica¬tion forms, and correspondence from the field. In some cases, there are news¬paper clippings about the person, such as the clipping in folder 19-12, about Elizabeth Pollock's internment experience under the Japanese during World War II. These files often contain portrait photographs.

The Minutes and Annual Reports Series (folders 22-1 to 30-5) contains materials from the headquarters level (minutes of the board, finance and executive commit¬tees), as well as field meeting minutes, and some informa¬tion from the branches and pioneer bands in other cities in the United States. The researcher should note that minutes from fields were sometimes included in letters, especially in the early days; minuted may therefore appear in the cor¬respondence series for minutes, as well.

The Legal Files Series (folders 30-6 to 36-2) is divided into two major sections: general and foreign. The general section consists largely of the legal records of the bequests left to WUMS in wills, a sub¬series called the Estate Papers. The foreign section contains all documents regarding legal matters on the various fields, principally property trans¬actions and powers of attorney for mission business. The legal files for China include correspondence and documents (including photographs) regarding the loss of WUMS property during the Japanese occupation of China in World War II.

The Financial Files Series (folders 36-3 to 44-12) is also divided into general and foreign sections. The general section contains fi¬nancial records of the home office in New York (and later, New Jersey), such as tax records, general ledgers, account books, and salary and pension rec¬ords. The foreign section details some of the same transactions, but from the field end of the operation, and in many cases in more detail. The Legal and Financial series are very much interdependent upon one another, and should be consulted in tandem. There are also some financial reports in the Finance Committee Minutes (folders 26-4 through 8), and in the Field Files Series.

The Historical Files Series (folders 45-1 to 6, and Oversize) contains material whose original folders or envelopes were marked by the staff of WUMS as being of historical importance. These include a special anniversary issues of their periodical, The Missionary Link (originally titled, Missionary Crumbs), papers written about the history of WUMS or one of its fields of service, pamphlets about the work which sometimes included brief histories, prayer cal¬endars, and other significant materials.

The Building Projects Series (folders 45-7 to 9, and Oversize) consists of correspon¬dence, drawings, and blueprints for mission buildings in India, Japan, Pakistan and China. There are also some maps of mission compounds in India.

The Miscellaneous Series (folders 45-10 to 13) contains material that did not fit into any of the other series. Of particular note is folder 45-12, which includes letters from WUMS missionaries about the proposed merger with another mission agency in 1972. The missionaries gave their opinions about the merger and about several of the mission agencies WUMS was considering joining.

The final series, Scrapbooks (boxes 46 to 50), contain newspaper clippings, pamphlets, and pictures of different areas of WUMS' work, particularly for the period before World War I, although the pamphlets in Folders 47-1 and 49-2 appear to be a complete set for the years 1861-1969.


Records were created or gathered by the staff of the mission. With the mission's dissolution in 1975, its files and other assets were transferred to the Bible and Medical Missionary Fellowship (BMMF), which gave the files to the Archives.

Accessions: 83-132, 83-165

  • December 8, 1988
  • Lannae Graham
  • S. Feeck
  • T. Jodon
  • Janyce Nasgowitz

    October 14, 1997, Updated
  • Beth Tebbe
  • Paul Ericksen

    May 4, 2016, Updated
  • Bob Shuster
  • Title
    Collection 379 Records of the Woman's Union Missionary Society
    Description rules
    Describing Archives: A Content Standard
    Language of description
    Script of description
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    Repository Details

    Part of the Evangelism & Missions Archives Repository

    501 College Avenue
    Wheaton IL 60187 US