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Date of Award

9-1987

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

History

Supervisor

Professor H.E. Turner

Abstract

From its inception in 1881 until its activities were subsumed under the missionary mandate of the United Church of Canada in 1925, the Woman's Missionary Society of the Methodist Church of Canada energetically promoted the Church's gospel of social reform and individual salvation in its far-flung mission fields in West China, in Japan, in Canada's western frontier settlements and its inner-city immigrant ghettos. The Society's agents were 300 single women carefully chosen on the basis of age, educational background, related work experience and spiritual commitment.

The thesis argues that these women missionaries, broadly representative of small-town, middle-class, Protestant Canada in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, found in the W. M. S. an appealing alternative to both domesticity and the limited opportunities for women in secular careers. Nurtured by the structural and political autonomy of the W. M. S within the Methodist Church of Canada, by an aggressive Board of Managers, by the developing sense of sisterhood among the Society's recruits, and by the freedom to act independently according to the circumstances of remote mission fields, missionaries became more than mere proselytizers, social workers and teachers. They became professional career women with vested interests in the management, funding, success and rewards of their activities who were ultimately judged as much on the basis of their professional development as on the evidence of their spiritual commitment or their record of conversions.

Within this context, career commitment on the part of individual missionaries was dependent on several factors, including educational background, administrative skill and, not least of all, field location. Japan in the throes of industrialization and modernization was the Society's showcase. Its most skilled recruits were sent there; and it is not surprising that the Japanese mission field produced the largest number of life-long employees. The Home mission field, in contrast, enjoyed the lowest priority for funding and personnel, most of whom were drawn from a group of Iess skilled recruits for whom mission work was an interlude between school-leaving and marriage. West China, with its litany of political, social and physical hardships, arguably demanded, and produced, a degree of dedication and resoluteness unmatched in the recruits who served elsewhere.

At a time when Canadian society was widely debating the related questions of women's proper sphere and the social role of organized Christianity, the W. M. S. created for its women missionaries a separate sphere in which, freed from the sexual politics of both the home and the workplace, they could pursue Christian activism as a fulfilling and rewarding career.

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