A Forgotten Story - The Lady Missionary

by Jane Poster - September 21, 2021

Just as families lose their stories from one generation to another, the same is true for South Carolina Baptists. This lost story is an incredible and inspiring story of how missions, cooperation, and education, the three founding principles of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, came together to shape the future of the Convention and the understanding of State Missions. In this story, the growth of State Missions and the development of Woman's Missionary Union, both nationally and locally, converge in a mutual commitment to tell the story of Jesus to all the people of this state.

The basic framework is from 1886-1919, a period of great change and growth. South Carolina was moving from an agricultural to an industrial state. The population increased rapidly, and the number of Baptist churches grew from 730 in 1886 to 1,139 in 1919. During this time, the Convention, or State Mission Board as it was then named, employed missionaries who worked across the state planting new churches, supporting and building up weak churches. Others were employed to be colporters or Bible and tract salesmen. As the turn of the twentieth century dawned, the state grew from 34 cotton mills in 1888 to 159 by 1907, and there were more mills every year. A large focus of state missions was on the mill villages which seemed to appear almost overnight. Thousands of people flocked to the mills creating entire new towns and new mission opportunities.

Into this challenge, God called two men to lead the Convention as Corresponding Secretary and Treasurer, Thomas M. Bailey, 1886 - 1909, and William T. Derieux, 1910 -1919, along with many dedicated pastors and a group of thirty plus women workers. These women workers, known as State Lady Missionaries, were assigned to minister in the mill villages basically with women and children, but their duties spread to include the entire village. Others were assigned as city missionaries working in what would now be called the inner city. The cooperation and commitment of the Convention and Woman's Missionary Union, Auxiliary to South Carolina Baptist Convention made the work possible as many associational WMUs supported the salary of a lady missionary.

Not only is this story extraordinary, but the State Lady Missionaries had a special section in the Convention's annual included in the Report of the Executive Board. They were called "noble and consecrated" with the understanding that their work was far more than the sum of their monthly reports. Even though the individual applications and reports no longer survive, association, WMU and church histories give insight into their commitment and energy. Relegated to a paragraph or two in history books, this lost story is their story.

The first lady missionary to be employed by the Convention was Mrs. Massie Marshall. Marshall worked from 1888 -1889 in Greenville with factory workers. The focus then shifted to Charleston. The Convention asked the Central Committee, now the Woman's Missionary Union, Auxiliary to South Carolina Baptist Convention, to support the Cannon Street Mission (Rutledge Avenue Baptist) by providing the pastor's salary. This financial support would in 1891 become financial support of Miss Eliza Yoer Hyde who served Charleston as City Missionary from 1891 - 1912.

Hyde's long tenure of service sets her apart. She worked with the industrial schools of both Charleston First and Citadel Square. She also worked with the Cannon Street Mission. Appointed by the Convention, but supported by Woman's Missionary Union, Auxiliary to South Carolina Baptist Convention, her field of work was quite large. She also organized a band for children which came to be known as Sunbeam Bands. She coordinated that work until her health, already fragile, failed. Each year she gave reports on her city missionary work as well as Sunbeams. In her honor and memory, funds were collected to build the Eliza Y. Hyde Memorial Chapel. Even the children in Sunbeams contributed their pennies. A much loved woman, the Convention in the 1912 annual obituary report paid her tribute. "She was a rare spirit, and gave it in consecration to her Master's service. to the end of her days she fulfilled her mission."
(SCBC Annual, 1912, p. 114)

Hyde's dedication and success was a testimony to what women could do on the mission fields at home. Single women missionaries had already proved valuable on the foreign field, Hyde would be the only lady missionary in the state for ten years, with the exception of Mrs. A. P. Brown who served as City Missionary in Columbia in 1894. In 1902, Maria Jones and Lois Baker were appointed to serve in Columbia with the mill workers. Their financial support mirrored the cooperation between the Convention and WMU. In this case, Jones was supported by the Greenville Association WMU and Baker by the Abbeville WMU,

In the 1903 Fairfield Baptist Association annual meeting, Rev. Vernon l'Anson, pastor of South Side in Columbia, introduced Miss Baker who worked with his church located across from the Olympia Mills, and commended her work. When the State Missions report was given and accepted, Rev. I'Anson made "a strong speech advocating women's work in his field." Later, Dr. Bailey speaking on State Missions commended ". . . the improved missionary spirit manifested over our entire state, and in forceable language endorsed and advocated women's work in the mission field." (Fairfield Baptist Association Minutes, 1903, p. 15)

Bailey, Corresponding Secretary and Treasurer of the Convention, was faithful to attend association and WMU association meetings. As both the number of mills and workers increased, he had a vision for reaching the unchurched people in the mill villages. He truly felt God had called South Carolina Baptists to minister to this great host of people. His communication skills must have been extraordinary. He talked about the needs and opportunities of State Missions on the same level as those of Foreign and Home Missions, challenging the Baptists of the state to respond. He was not hesitant to tell an association WMU that they needed to support a lady missionary.

He saw the Convention and WMU as two sides of the same coin. They both saw people in need of Christ and took action.

The Convention increased their missionary workforce of both men and women to meet the needs before them. The 1904 Executive Board Report shows thirty-seven men and seven women working to minister to over 75,000 mill workers. By 1907, there were 159 mills and 126,698 workers, and it continued to increase. The goal was to establish a Baptist church in each village. Money was given for church buildings and many times the mill company assisted as well, giving land and money to supplement the pastor's salary or build a parsonage. Sometimes it was an empty mill house for Sunday School classes.

The information about individual State Lady Missionaries is limited, but the 1910 U.S. Census sheds light on their ages and living situation. Most were in their early to mid-thirties, single and living in boarding houses. Their salaries were between $300 -$500 a year depending on assignment.. Transportation would have been an issue for all the women since several worked with multiple mills and churches.

Cleo Attaway, (1906 -1911) served at Converse Mill and Clifton No. 1 and No. 2 in Spartanburg County. A flood in 1903 caused either full or partial destruction of the mills, houses in the villages and loss of life. Attaway reports that the flood damage is still evident seven or so years later when she is appointed to the area. She also says in a 1911 brochure "Messages from Our Missionaries" published by the WMU that her mills are scattered, and it requires "many miles of walking" between them.

The work of the women was similar in that they were to visit house to house giving not only spiritual guidance but also helping with the sick and many times offering nursing assistance. They sold Bibles, gave out tracts and other spiritual literature. Attending and sometimes conducting prayer meetings, they organized mothers' meetings, distributed clothing to needy families, recruited for and taught Sunday School, organized and led WMU, YMCA (Young Woman's Auxiliary), Sunbeams and later Royal Ambassadors for the boys. Sometimes they taught mission studies, but they were always teaching about the Christian life, educating about missions and regular giving. Their influence on the children of the mill village is beyond measure, and the success of these churches and their participation in giving directly contributed to the strength of missions at home and abroad and the success of the State Convention.

The ministry of each State Lady Missionary deserves to be told, but the examples of the following women will illustrate how God worked through them across South Carolina.

Daisy Cummings presented a paper to the 1903 Spartanburg Association WMU titled, "What Is the Measure of Woman's Responsibility to Foreign Countries Where the Gospel Is Not Known?' The women were so moved that they recommended it be published in the Baptist Courier. Dr. Bailey was in attendance at this meeting, and challenged the women to have a larger vision of how God could use them. At the end of the meeting, the women voted to support a Lady Missionary and told Bailey the Convention could choose both the person and the place where she would serve. It's a story of God's timing always being the right time, because Cummings was appointed that year to serve in Spartanburg at Spartan Mill. She served from 1903 - 1912.

Anna 3. Berger worked in Anderson from 1903 - 1914. She attended and reported at every meeting of the Saluda Association WMU. Appointed by the State Convention, the association WMU supported her salary of $300. The 1904 association WMU minutes say that she delivered her report "in her own sweet and modest way." She was also called an association missionary.

The history of Anderson First Baptist states that Berger enlisted the youth of the church in the mill towns. She worked with Second Baptist (Garner Memorial), Riverside and Orrville The history of Orrville included in the 2003 association history gives credit to her leadership in helping start the church.

Berger visited homes and did all the church related ministry, but perhaps the most poignant part of her 1911 report is attending 189 funerals in eleven months and that "medicine, provisions and fruit have been dispensed to the sick and needy. With the help of others, fruit, toys and clothing found their way into many homes to make the Christmas time a happy time." (Messages from Our Missionaries, pamphlet, pp. 12,13)

Tibbie (Rebecca C.) Carroll ministered in McColl on the other side of the state from Berger, Working from 1905 - 1916, she visited 125 - 150 homes a month. Visiting with sick people required more of her time, and she also functioned as a nurse because the mill company had not yet hired a nurse. Carroll worked with all age groups helping them grow in their spiritual lives and their understanding of missions.

She is called "the leading spirit" in organizing McColl Second later known as Eastside as well as the "constant and leader in its work and development." (Pee Dee Association History p. 149) The struggles to start and keep the church going even included losing the first church building in a fire.

Carroll continued her work even after the Convention discontinued the work of the State Lady Missionaries, resigning in 1922 from the association. Sadly, she died a few years later. Her tribute in the WMU Report to the 1925 Pee Dee Association meeting reflects on the impact she made in people's lives and hearts. it also says her life was "A rich life - rich in usefulness, rich in Christian faith and practice, rich in high ideals . .." (Pee Dee Association History p.9)

It would be almost impossible to record the impact that Emma Dowell had on Rock Hill from 1904 - 1919. She helped organize and guide Park, Northside and West End churches working alongside the mission pastor from the State Convention. In 1907, Rock Hill First established an "Emma Dowell Chapel Committee" to raise funds for a chapel which later became West End. The dedication of the three churches was held on the same day but at different times. Dowell played the organ, sang a solo and rejoiced in what God had done.

Dowell proudly hosted a meeting of the York Association WMU at West End so the women could see the church they, along with others, helped build. She would also serve as association WMU president.

Dowell was a tireless worker reporting that during one five month period she worked 165 days with 511 religious visits and 155 to sick people. She was happy to work for her Lord and Savior knowing God had truly called her to the ministry to mill people.

Mamie A. Barton's work at Pelzer Mill really helps put the work of the State Lady Missionaries in perspective. She served 1907 - 1914 and related that during 1911, she spent ten weeks attending revival meetings and three weeks at deathbeds and funerals. In addition to church work, she mentioned her night school with 20 enrolled. These were the days before child labor laws were enacted, and many reports place the number as high as one in five children working shifts in the mills. Barton reported that five learned to read, one was prepared for high school in the fall and one will attend Furman Fitting School. ("Messages from Our Missionaries," pamphlet, pp. 4,5)

Multiply these stories by the 37 women who served as State Lady Missionaries and then again by the total number of years served. The total number of children who were nurtured in Bible and mission stories, as well as youth and adults, is enormous. The investment in changed lives is truly a God-sized number. Furthermore, the Lady Missionaries taught all ages the importance of regular Bible study and regular giving. The hearts of the people were shaped into hearts for missions from their local area to the most distant foreign field. The Baptists of South Carolina gained a new understanding of mission work in their home state. Very simply, people needed to hear the good news of Jesus right here. The best example is the first State Missions offering, now known as the Janie Chapman Offering for State Missions, collected $908.32 in its first year in 1900, and $32,667.28 in 1920. The twenty year total offering was $200,744.42. The State Lady Missionaries told their stories of State Mission work in the mill villages, and hearts and pocketbooks were opened to the lost people in our state. May God bless the memory of these women whose work extended the Kingdom of God in South Carolina.

As the mill churches grew stronger and their members became leaders, the State Lady Missionaries had in some ways worked themselves out of a job. More to the point, there were other fields in South Carolina needing attention. When the United States entered World War 1, South Carolina became a major location for training the soldiers who would serve and many die in France. Resources were quickly shifted to provide for the spiritual training of "the soldier boys." Other ministry areas acquired during the 1886 to 1919 Bailey and Derieux period include the Connie Maxwell Orphanage and Baptist Hospital. Additional educational institutions were added, and there was a movement to establish academies (high schools) in areas where there was a lack of educational resources. New needs and challenges led to reorganization of the State Mission Board into the General Board of the South Carolina Baptist Convention. Changes come and go, but the story of the State Lady Missionaries is no longer a forgotten story -- indeed a remarkable group of dedicated Christian women who followed God's leading.

1909 Compiled Statistics
Woman's Missionary Union, Auxiliary to South Carolina Baptist Convention Annual

Insert 1909 Chart from WMU annual

Sources:

South Carolina Baptist Convention Annuals, 1886 -1920

Woman's Missionary Union, Auxiliary South Carolina Baptist Convention, 1887 - 1920 -Minutes of the Aiken, Fairfield, Pee Dee, Saluda, Spartanburg. York Baptist Associations in South Carolina, selected years

"Messages from Our Missionaries," pamphlet published by WMU of SC

State Mission Handbook, Published by the South Carolina State Mission Board, 1913 The Eternal Now: A History of Woman's Missionary Union. Auxiliary to South Carolina Baptist Convention Kathryn A. Greene, Woman's Missionary Union, 1980

A History of South Carolina Baptists, Joe King, General Board of SC Baptist Convention, 1964

Appreciation is expressed to:

Nancy Kight and Donna Britt, Woman's Missionary Union, Auxiliary to South Carolina Baptist Convention

Anna Wilson-Stillwell, Editorial Assistance

Researched and written by Jane Young Poster, part-time historian for South Carolina Baptist Convention

More Articles