The Massachusetts Woman's Home Missionary Union, a grant making organization, was founded over 125 years ago to “promote the spiritual and temporal welfare of those in need, especially women and children…” helping them to improve the quality of their lives and to serve them by prayer and good works,. Grants are made twice a year particularly but not exclusively in Massachusetts.
It was in the vestry of the Park Street Church in Boston, on November 4, 1879, a small band of far-sighted and consecrated women ultimately launched an enterprise whose only capital at that time, was faith and courage, and whose workers were yet unknown. Their purpose was to engage all churchwomen in home mission work and to collect money towards that end. The right of these women to organize was challenged by the women's boards of Congregational churches. It was suggested that auxiliaries who contributed directly to this new association would forfeit membership under the parent board. This new startup caused quite a stir. These pioneer women changed the traditional role of churches women’s boards. During the first year funds were raised, a constitution adopted and this fledgling body was given the name The Woman’s Home Missionary Society. It was chartered on September 28, l881, "….for the purpose of enlisting all the women of the Congregational churches in prayer and efforts for home missions. To acquire and diffuse the information needed, and to collect money, and other gifts, by contributions, bequests., and otherwise, for the support of women as home missionaries and teachers, for the aid of home missionary families, and for the promotion of the spiritual and temporal welfare of those among whom they labor, especially the women and children."
The first annual report recorded “two missionaries at work, one more under appointment and two partially supported.” Financial support came from 41 auxiliaries, 69 life members, and 204 annual members. “The treasury received $535 in donations, $730 from life memberships, $1206 from, church auxiliaries and annual subscriptions of $173 making a total of $2544. This was the beginning of “the day of small things” for this organization would become like the “great oak from little acorns”! Their major source of income in those early days came from money raised through church concerts, and lectures with the emphasis on the need for education, clothing and the Good News of God's love for ALL His children. They distributed Mite boxes prayerfully filled (a penny a prayer).
In their early days and in the aftermath of the Civil War with on-going westward expansion and the rapid industrialization of what had been an agrarian economy, the American Missionary Association sent out pastors (male, of course) whose main work was to establish churches in rural areas. These Boston women dedicated themselves to meeting the practical needs of women and children. They filled barrels with clothing, books, toys and school supplies, supporting missionary families and teachers working with Native Americans, the Mormons of Utah, the Mexicans of Albuquerque, and the “blacks” in the South. They responded, as did other missionary societies to the pleas from Booker T. Washington, hence they were part of the legacy of the founding of the Tuskegee Institute. In the North, lent their support to what is now Springfield College.
The growth of their work, and the enthusiasm of the women involved were phenomenal. During this time substantial bequests were left to support their work, i.e. money gifts increased in the first ten years from $2,500.00 to $29,000.00. In this same period, it was proudly noted, their first missionary Mrs. Almira Steele, was sent south.
It is helpful to note here that the General Association of Massachusetts, which came into being in 1802, ultimately became the Massachusetts Congregational Conference. In 1966 the name was again changed to its present one The Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ. When the work and funds of both the men's and women's organizations were merged in the early 1920’s, the Massachusetts Court decreed that the money held as specific bequests for women and children must be kept separate, and be administered by a Corporation elected for this purpose, hence in 1924 Woman's Home Missionary Association became the Massachusetts Woman's Home Missionary Union. The 1924 charter states: To act as trustees of fund entrusted to them, and to disburse the income of the same for the work of Congregational Home Missions.”
Today the Massachusetts Woman’s Home Missionary Union, now affiliated with the Massachusetts Conference, United Church of Christ, annually disburses the invested income from over a million dollars endowment fund responding to requests from churches and social service agencies, supporting what is perceived as the more critical needs of our time. Since those early beginnings, through rapidly changing nation’s history and an economy periodically in flux, we no longer distribute food and clothing to families in Boston, yet our efforts have the same focus, to serve the needs of women, children and families throughout Massachusetts and beyond.