Index Magazine: The Mission Messenger provided a voice for Georgia Baptist women, helping them obtain state-level leadership roles


For over a quarter of a century, from 1895 to 1921, the Woman’s Missionary Union of Georgia published a monthly paper called The Mission Messenger. In the beginning, it was written and published by a small band of volunteers, mostly state WMU officers. They understood the need to inform and inspire the Baptists women of Georgia to support missions. The early editions were four pages long, and a subscription cost 10 cents a year.

From those humble roots, The Mission Messenger developed into a quality, 28-page publication that included photographs and monthly mission studies. Through its mission features, and letters from missionaries on the field, it provided a purpose for their actions and meaning to the work of the WMU. The paper focused on how praying and giving resulted in lives being transformed by the gospel across Georgia and around the world.

Each month, at least one mission focus was featured. One month may be China missions, the next the Georgia Baptist Orphanage, over time state missions became a feature in either September or October editions after a state missions offering was established in 1904. The WMU state officers updated and reported on the work across the state, and later WMU staffers added their updates. Letters from WMU groups across the state shared victories celebrated and ideas for mission promotions. Each month featured a Monthly Mission Study for “WMU Circles” to use in their meetings.

The paper was blessed with several capable editors in the early years. The first editor was Mrs. J. B. Gambrell, wife of the president of Mercer University. The second editor was Mary E. Wright who was one of the few females before the 19th century to have a regular column in The Christian Index. Wright was the first writing female historian of Southern Baptists, publishing a history of SBC missions in 1902. These editors set a high standard for others to follow.

Because of its quality, other Baptist women across the South also began to subscribe to The Mission Messenger. It also served as a link, especially with female missionaries from Georgia serving around the word.

In September 1895, a letter from Rev. Z. C. Taylor, SBC missionary to Brazil, was published. It provided a brief biographical sketch of his late wife, Kat Stevens Taylor. She had passed away in 1894 at the age of 32, leaving four small children. The letter was thanking the Baptist women of Georgia for providing a home and an education for the two older children, Tarleton and Mabel, at the Georgia Baptist Orphanage.
Anna Pruitt, whose husband was a Georgia native, was serving in China. After the death of two of their children for lack of medical care in 1896, a letter was published in The Missionary Messenger that led to the establishment and appointment of the first Southern Baptist medical missionary, Georgia native Dr. T.W. Ayres, in 1900. The WMU of Georgia adopted the Ayers’ support and helped build a hospital in China in 1903 and other additions throughout the years which was featured in The Missionary Messenger.

The April 1909 issue had a feature entitled, “Georgia’s Sons and Daughter’s on the Far-Flung Battel Line,” It contained brief sketches and photos of foreign missionaries from Georgia. The December 1912 issue contained a feature on seven Georgia Baptist women serving in China. It included photos and a poem titled, “A Hymn for the Absent.” “Holy Father in thy mercy, hear our anxious prayer; keep our loved ones now far absent, neath thy care . . . Father, Son and Holy Spirit, God the One in Three, Bless them, guide them, save them, keep them, near to Thee.” It included the question: “Who will give that still others may go?”

In 1913, the promotion of the new Willingham School for Girls in Blue Ridge was featured. This school was established as a high school for mountain girls, by the WMU of Georgia. The school provided a vital ministry until it closed in 1931 because of the effects of the Great Depression and the opening of a public high school in Fannin County.

The September 1919 issue, which focused on state missions, included a photo of women in the WMU offices located in the Flat Iron Building in Atlanta. They were preparing The Mission Messenger for mailing.

Issues between 1919 and 1924 carried promotional materials and articles for “The 75 Million Campaign.” The July 1920 issue included a photo of a Model T Ford presented by the WMU of the Middle Association of Georgia to missionaries in Cuba serving under the Home Mission Board.

When the publication began in 1895, women typically didn’t attend the Georgia Baptist Convention. The report of the WMU report to the convention was presented by a man on their behalf. By 1921, women had found a seat at the table. They obtained the vote at the Georgia Baptist Convention in 1918 and were presenting their own reports and serving on various boards of state Baptist agencies.

In 1921, because of the rural depression sweeping the South, the final edition was published. The Christian Index offered two pages a month to the WMU to include their monthly mission studies and other features. At the time The Mission Messenger had over 11,000 subscribers. 

For over 25 years, The Mission Messenger provided a voice, a focus, and a unifying message to Georgia Baptist WMU. It had helped the WMU of Georgia find its voice in a world where women’s voices were not always welcomed. It was instrumental in keeping women informed, inspired, and supporting missions. Today, past issues of The Mission Messenger still serve as vital tools for research, with 250 editions having been digitized by the Mercer University archives in Macon. The stories remain an inspiration to those who choose to read them today.

The Mission Messenger helped the women of Georgia understand that supporting missions had consequences. Lives were touched and transformed because of their faithfulness through prayer and giving. It gave purpose to their actions and meaning to their work — a purpose which remains unchanged when missions are prayerfully and financially supported today.