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      Annie Armstrong was the Corresponding Secretary of the Woman's Missionary Union (WMU) from its establishment in 1888 until 1906. Her letters to Sunday School Board Corresponding Secretaries J.M. Frost and T.P. Bell reveal close cooperation between the Sunday School Board and the WMU as well as close personal relationships between the correspondents. At a time when many Southern Baptists opposed the existence of the Sunday School Board, Armstrong's keen sense of both public relations and business matters proved valuable in the campaign to establish legitimacy and support for the new Board. Despite the fact that female leaders of the WMU were not paid for their work during this period, it is clear that Armstong's leadership position was a full-time career in which she exercised significant influence over male leaders of the various Boards of the Convention. The official status of the WMU was as an auxiliary to the Foreign Mission, Home Mission, and Sunday School Boards, but the significant fundraising conducted by Southern Baptist women, along with the bureaucratic talents of Annie Armstrong, gave the WMU a level of power in the Convention that went beyond its status as an officially subordinate auxiliary. Interestingly, Armstrong alternately accepted and challenged the limited social roles of Victorian womanhood. She was willing to remain behind the scenes in the workings of the Convention, as exemplified by requests in her letters that the author of her tactical suggestions remain anonymous. On the other hand, Armstrong was willing to challenge the bounds of the "woman's sphere" not for the sake of social equality but for greater efficacy in the mission work that was her passion.


Armstrong to Frost, January 22, 1892
Armstrong voices opposition to the American Baptist Publication Society (ABPS) and offers assistance to the Sunday School Board on behalf of the Women's Missionary Union (WMU).

Armstrong to Frost, August 1, 1892
Armstrong asks the Sunday School Board to donate free Sunday School literature to a recently founded African-American church in Baltimore.

Armstrong to T. P. Bell, December 13, 1893
On page 2 of this letter, Armstrong shares her feelings about the "woman's sphere." "[S]ome things . . . have occurred to me . . . I would like to speak of, but before doing so, I want to be certain of two things, first that you will not consider it presumptuous in my discussing the 'policy' of the S.S. Board, and second, that should I make any suggestion that strikes you favorably, you would not mention to anyone who was the author of the suggestion. I have heard so much about 'woman's sphere' and her going beyond proper bounds, that I think I am beginning to feel on this point as the children do when they are told 'children should be seen and not heard.' So I do not want to provoke any additional remarks of that kind."

T. P. Bell to Armstrong, June 20, 1893
Bell strongly encourages the Women's Missionary Union (WMU) not to cooperate with the American Baptist Publication Society (ABPS), which is "doing all it can to break down [the SBC's Sunday School Board]."

Armstrong to Frost, June 23, 1893
This multi-part letter indicates the high level of involvement between the WMU and the Sunday School Board and is characteristic of Armstrong's letters to Southern Baptist male leaders. Armstrong defines the relationship of the WMU to the three [male-led] boards of the Southern Baptist Convention: Foreign Missions, Home Missions, Sunday Schools. She assures Frost that she will resign as secretary of the WMU before she "deviate[s] one particle" from her position on this subject.

Armstrong to T. P. Bell, July 8, 1893
Armstrong proposes to Bell a detailed plan for publicizing the annual "Missionary Day" in the local churches of the South. This letter reveals Armstrong's keen sense of how the Boards of the SBC should maneuver in order to win local churches' support. Armstrong recognizes that the WMU, due to its unpopularity in some regions, should not publicly support Missionary Day. At the same time, she tells Bell that the Sunday School Board should not expect any further opposition from Foreign Mission Board President Harris ("a Publication Society Man") now that Armstrong has informed Harris of her strong support for the Sunday School Board. With the Foreign Mission Board dependent on the WMU's fundraising efforts, Harris cannot afford to alienate Annie Armstrong by opposing the Sunday School Board.

Armstrong to T. P. Bell, March 24, 1894 This detailed letter reveals Armstrong's keenness in both business and public relations. There are several points in which she describes the relationship between the Women's Missionary Union (WMU) and the Sunday School Board; both organizations were only a few years old and still defining their roles within the Convention. Armstrong writes: "I trust there will be no opposition to the public recognition of the connection between the W.M.U. and the S.S.Bd., which has been, ever since its organization, a tacit one. I am prepared, though, to use any influence I possess to carry this measure [regarding official WMU support for the SSBd] through, as I have more hope of the work growing as prosecuted by the S.S.Bd. than with either of the other [Foreign and Home Mission] Boards . . ."


Annie Walker Armstrong
1850-1938

Armstrong was the Woman's Missionary Union's most important leader during its first two decades. She worked to establish the WMU in 1888 and served as its Corresponding Secretary from 1888 until 1906. Based on these letters, it is clear that Armstrong's influence extended beyond the WMU into all the Boards of the Southern Baptist Convention. Armstrong's role in the WMU was comparable to that of the male leaders of the Convention's other Boards, who received full-time salaries. Armstrong was never paid for her work, and once the WMU established salaries in 1900, Armstrong continued to refuse pay. This is one example of the ways in which Armstrong alternately challenged and accepted Victorian gender roles. In addition to her career as a WMU leader, Armstrong contributed to various Convention publications and traveled extensively to conduct domestic mission work and build support for the Southern Baptist Convention. She spent her life in Baltimore, Maryland, dying there in 1938 at the age of 88.1
































































1 "Annie Armstrong," Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists, 1958 ed.