In 1904, Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, allowed four women to attend classes without credit or participation in class discussion.
Baptists in California hired Amy Lee Stockton as state evangelist. Dubbed “the Girl Preacher,” Stockton led revivals for forty years throughout the West. At the same time, according to Auburn Distinguished University Professor Wayne Flynt, several female preachers led revivals in rural areas throughout the Southeast.
In 1905, three women (including African-American educator Dr. Nannie Helen Burroughs) addressed the first Baptist World Congress in London, England. At the next Baptist World Congress in 1911, women held a separate meeting, attracting 3,000. World War I temporarily disrupted the international network of Baptist women, but the spirit of global cooperation, rather than competition, thrived.
Enthusiastic applause greeted the election of Helen Barrett Montgomery as the first female president of the American Baptist Convention (ABC) in 1910. The first modern woman to translate the New Testament from Greek into English, Montgomery advocated ecumenical cooperation. The ABC would elect three female presidents by the 1950s.
Increasing numbers of independent and Southern Baptists were highly suspicious of Baptist women’s involvement in the broader women’s movement in America and Europe. Nevertheless, enough SBC men voted to accept women messengers with voting privileges in 1918, two years before passage of the 19th Amendment that enfranchised American women.
In 1929 the WMU executive director, for the first time, reported directly to the SBC rather than through a male proxy. A small group of male messengers walked out before listening to a woman report from the woman’s auxiliary.
Buoyed by optimism and feelings of progress, Baptist women met with the male Baptist World Congress in Stockholm, Toronto, Berlin, and Atlanta in the 1920s-30s. Later, after the destruction wrought by World War II, European Baptist women united in an Annual Day of Prayer for healing among Baptists whose countries had been at war.
In the 1960s, the Women’s Department of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) focused on leadership training, international networking and inclusion of non-European-American-Canadian Baptist women. Interest in women’s lives in all countries coincided with the American civil rights movement, from which sprang another American women’s movement.
Carol Ann Vaughn is director of the Christian Women’s Leadership Institute of Samford University and Woman’s Missionary Union in Birmingham, Ala.