Established in 1845 when white Baptists in the South broke with their Northern brethren over the issue of slavery, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) experienced unprecedented institutional transformation between the years 1880 and 1920. Historian Alan Trachtenberg argues that this period saw "the emergence of a changed, more tightly structured society with new hierarchies of control."1 While Trachtenberg focuses his study primarily on the Northeast and Midwest, the trends toward incorporation and modernization that he sees in those regions can also be observed in the increasingly powerful Southern Baptist Convention. But there is a difference: the Southern Baptist Convention that emerged during the years 1880-1920, while it reflected national trends toward incorporation and professionalization, remained a strongly regional institution. The Convention's leaders resembled the new professional class of bureaucrats elsewhere in the nation, but they were also evangelicals: bureaucrats in service of human salvation rather than progress or material prosperity. They were participants in the progressive movement, but reform, for them, meant the redemption of the South and its "Lost Cause." Thus, the Convention movement embodied contradictions: progressivism and the Lost Cause, soul-saving and scientific management.
This site follows the development of the SBC during the "New South" period by focusing on the organization of three specific agencies under its control: the Home Mission Board (1882), the Women's Missionary Union (1888), and the Sunday School Board (1891). The coordinated work of these three agencies established the Southern Baptist Convention as a powerful and enduring presence in Southern life. The other two elements of the site, entitled "SBC Established" and "75 Million Campaign," act as chronological endpoints for the scope of this project.
I suggest that visitors to this site begin with the Introduction for a critical overview of the national and regional trends embodied by the SBC during the period. Moving chronologically through the site will allow for the clearest understanding of the Convention's development, but the individual elements of the site may also be viewed separately. See "Home Mission Board" for a discussion of missions and the New South. "Sunday School Board" also discusses the New South and focuses on the ways in which Southern Baptists institutionalized regional automony by competing against Northern Baptist publishers of Sunday School literature. "Women's Missionary Union" looks at the particular sphere of women's mission work and argues that Southern Baptist Women's organizations deserve much of the credit for the overall success of the SBC in enlisting Southerners to its causes. Within the individual components of this site visitors will also find links to more extensive primary sources, including Sunday School literature, home missions publications, and correspondence.
1 Alan Trachtenberg, The Incorporation of America (Canada: HarperCollins, 1982) 3-4.