Texas Woman's Missionary Union

By: Karen O'Dell Bullock

Type: General Entry

Published: December 1, 1995

Updated: May 26, 2017

Several Baptist families settled with Stephen F. Austin's Old Three Hundred in the early 1830s. Soon after Texas proclaimed independence in 1836, Baptist women began to organize mission societies. As early as 1839 Massie Millard and Annette Bledsoe, sister of Margaret Lea Houston (Mrs. Sam Houston), organized the first Baptist women's group in the Old North Church at Nacogdoches. Many women's groups were established during the Republic of Texas and Civil War years, the names of which corresponded with the varied Texas Baptist state bodies of the same era. The two most influential Baptist organizations were the Baptist State Convention (1848–86) operating in the central and southeast regions of Texas, and the Baptist General Association (1868–86) which encompassed the northern and northeastern sectors of the state. When the national Southern Baptist Convention met in annual session in Nashville in 1878, it resolved to create "Central Committees" within each state for the purpose of fostering home and foreign mission enterprises. Acting upon this resolution in Texas, twelve local societies and other women of the Baptist State Convention organized the Woman's Missionary Union on October 3, 1880, in conjunction with its annual session in Austin. This newly-formed WMU, with Fannie Breedlove Davis as president, undertook the support of Texas Baptists' first woman foreign missionary, Anne Luther Bagby, and organized 345 Anne Luther Bagby local societies in 1881. Their sisters of the Baptist General Association followed suit in Paris on July 27, 1884, when the Ladies' General Aid Society convened for the purpose of furthering mission, educational, and benevolent causes and the support of William Buck Bagby, husband of Anne. Texas Baptists would continue to support the Bagbys for the next sixty-one years, the longest tenures of any Southern Baptist missionaries.

When the Texas Baptists consolidated all of their interests to form the Baptist General Convention of Texas in Waco on June 29, 1886, the women's groups joined hands and changed the name of their organizations to Baptist Women Mission Workers, electing Fannie Breedlove Davis as president and Mrs. S. J. Anderson as corresponding secretary. The objects of the new society were to organize mission societies, win the cooperation of women and children in the systematic study of, and in collecting money for, missions, disseminate mission information, and assist, as an auxiliary body to the convention, state denominational enterprises through churches and their agencies. This group, as is true with the later WMU organization of the SBC, was created to function outside the organizational structure of the SBC. It served in an auxiliary capacity, operating with its own officers, trustees, and organizational format and was the only SBC entity to hold such distinction. In the years preceding the twentieth century, BWMW supported foreign missions, established schools and orphanages in Mexico, ministered among the Creek tribes in the Indian Territory, built chapels and churches in San Antonio, Laredo, and Dallas, and supported Texas educational and benevolent institutions, such as Baylor Female College (later Mary Hardin-Baylor University) and Buckner Orphans' Home (later Buckner Baptist Children's Home).

On May 11, 1888, Fannie B. Davis, Minnie Slaughter, and Mrs. A. C. Audrey represented Texas women in the founding of the national organization, Woman's Missionary Union, Auxiliary to the Southern Baptist Convention, at its annual session in Richmond, Virginia. In the following years, Texas BWMW launched the Texas Baptist Worker, edited by Fannie B. Davis, and commissioned Mina Everett as traveling organizer and corresponding secretary for the group. Recently returned from Brazilian missions, Everett was the first female missionary to tour the confines of the SBC. Much of the later explosive growth of the BWMW was in direct response to her prodigious work. By 1895, the year Fannie Davis stepped down from her fifteen-year presidency, BWMW had appointed an executive board and established an organized program of work. The offerings had grown from $35.55 in 1880 to $23,193.55 in 1895. With the election of Lucinda Beckley Williams as president in 1895 and Mrs. J. B. Gambrell as corresponding secretary in 1897, associational societies began to form, and by 1906 325 mission societies gave $33,739.49 toward missions. Mary Hill Davis became BWMW's third president in 1906 and served in that capacity until 1931. In 1910 BWMW voted to erect a $50,000 building at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, giving Texas women the opportunity to obtain formal theological training. In 1914 a Bible course became a significant part of the WMU program, published in lesson form of each issue of the Royal Service, the organization's magazine.

In 1919 the name Baptist Women Mission Workers was discarded in favor of Woman's Missionary Union, which conformed to the name used by Southern Baptist women in all other states. By 1931 Texas Baptist women were divided into seventeen districts with 1,732 societies. Another 2,746 young people were enrolled in mission education groups established according to age, including Young Woman's Association (1906), Girl's Auxiliary (1913), Royal Ambassadors for boys (1908), and Young Reapers for preschoolers (1866), which was called the Sunbeam Band beginning in 1882. Each of these auxiliaries had its own publication and organizational structure. Funds continued to be raised for ministerial relief, benevolent institutions, buildings for Texas Baptist colleges, universities, seminaries, and special-emphases offerings. Practical community service was an important part of WMU work, whose members engaged in activities such as tending the sick, holding religious services in isolated places, sending parcels to the armed forces in wartime, assisting the Red Cross, and providing goods for orphanages.

By mid-century WMU had expanded its services and mission-education programs to language groups within Texas. The Business Women's Circle Federation, begun in 1946, had expanded to 349 circles by 1950. The WMU sponsored literacy classes, established summer camps for young people, and offered college scholarships for Baptist young adults of all races. In 1954 the Royal Ambassadors were transferred to the Texas Baptist Men, formerly Brotherhood. The year 1970 produced many changes within the organization: Woman's Missionary Society became Baptist Women; Young Woman's Association became Baptist Young Women; Girl's Auxiliary became Acteens and Girls in Action; and Sunbeams became Mission Friends. New literature and magazines also supplemented the graded groups. Texas WMU celebrated its centennial in 1980 with continued growth. In 1991 WMU had 146,859 participants. Still leading the Texas denomination to focus upon missions, the organization gave $13,078,093 to the Lottie Moon Offering for Foreign Missions, $5,391,569 to the Annie Armstrong Offering for Home Missions, and $4,530,917 to the Mary Hill Davis Offering for State Missions. Today, WMU bible mission-study language materials are provided in Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, French, Korean, Japanese, Laotian, Romanian, Vietnamese, and special emphasis is provided for the deaf. Throughout its heritage, the strength of the organization has been concentrated in its unbroken emphasis upon missions across the globe and its denominational leadership in that direction.

Those who have served as presidents are Fannie Breedlove Davis (1880–95), Lucinda Williams (1895–1906), Mary Hill Davis (1906–31), Crickett Keys Copass (1931–46), Rosalind Kyser Smith (1946–49), Marie Mathis (1949–55), Ethel Cooper Hardy (1955–61), Mrs. Bert Black (1961–63), Ophelia Humphrey (1964–68), Inez Hunt (1968–72), Mauriece Johnston (1972–76, 1980–83), Huis Coy Egge (1976–79), Amelia Bishop (1984–87), and Gerry Dunkin (1988-). The WMU executive director-treasurer is a member of the executive boards of both the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the WMU, with offices in the state Baptist headquarters in Dallas, Texas. Those serving in this capacity have been Marie Mathis (1945–47), Eula Mae Henderson (1947–79), and Joy Fenner (1980-).

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James Milton Carroll, A History of Texas Baptists (Dallas: Baptist Standard, 1923). Crickett Keys Copass, "Women and Their Work," in Centennial Story of Texas Baptists (Dallas: Baptist General Convention, 1936). Mrs. W. J. J. Smith, A Centennial History of the Baptist Women of Texas (Dallas: Woman's Missionary Union of Texas, 1933). Texas Baptist Woman's Missionary Union Collection, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth. Mrs. W. L. Williams, Golden Years: An Autobiography (Dallas: Baptist Standard, 1921).


  • Religion
  • Baptist
  • Organizations
  • Women

Time Periods:

  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Karen O'Dell Bullock, “Texas Woman's Missionary Union,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 27, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/texas-womans-missionary-union.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1995
May 26, 2017

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: