During the meeting of the
Southern Baptist Convention
in Richmond, Virginia, in May 1888, a group of women delegates from 12 states gathered at the Broad Street United Methodist Church and organized the Executive Committee of the Woman’s Mission Societies, Auxiliary to Southern Baptist Convention.
In previous years, women had been meeting during the convention to discuss the possibilities of creating a national missions organization. During the 1888 meeting, a constitution was adopted and the first officers were elected. Baltimore, Maryland, was chosen as headquarters. Annie Armstrong, elected as the first corresponding secretary during the organizational meeting, lived in Baltimore.
WMU was originally established as and remains an auxiliary to the Southern Baptist Convention, which means that it acts as a “helper” to the SBC. The auxiliary status also means that WMU is self-governing and self-supporting.
Long before the meeting in 1888, women had been gathering to pray for missions under the leadership of such women as Ann Baker Graves. A women’s missionary society was recorded in South Carolina as early as 1811. In 1871, Baptist women in Baltimore founded Woman's Mission to Woman for the purpose of praying for and sharing information about missionaries. Maryland Baptist women began publishing and distributing missions literature in 1887.
Although many Southern states had a missions organization for women, there was no central body to provide unity or coordinate efforts. The time had come for the women to organize and the founding mothers of WMU established an organization that has been supporting Baptist missions for over a century. WMU has been blessed with the leadership of 7 corresponding secretaries/executive directors (Wanda Lee serves currently) and 21 presidents (Debby Akerman serves currently).
In 1890 the women adopted the name Woman’s Missionary Union, Auxiliary to Southern Baptist Convention. The headquarters of WMU were in the Maryland Baptist Mission Rooms, where Annie Armstrong had already established an office. In 1921, under the guidance of Kathleen Mallory, the national office was moved to downtown Birmingham, Alabama, to 1111 Comer Building, at 2nd Avenue North and 21st Street.
As WMU grew, space began to be a problem at the national headquarters. In 1951, WMU purchased property at 600 North 20th Street in downtown Birmingham. In 1984, the national headquarters moved once again to US Highway 280, just outside the Birmingham city limits.
Since its beginning in 1888, WMU has become the largest Protestant missions organization for women in the world, with a membership of approximately 1 million.
WMU's main purpose, unchanged since its founding, is to educate and involve adults, youth, children, and preschoolers in the cause of Christian missions. Although originally geared towards women, girls, and preschoolers, both genders are active participants in WMU organizations and ministries today.
The current WMU organizations are: Women on Mission®, Adults on MissionSM, myMISSIONSM (for young women), Acteens®, Challengers®, Youth on MissionSM, Girls in Action®, Royal Ambassadors®, Children in ActionSM, and Mission Friends®.
The current ministries are: Baptist Nursing FellowshipSM; Christian Men’s Job Corps®; Christian Women’s Job Corps®, International InitiativesSM, Missionary Housing, Project HELPSM; Pure Water, Pure LoveSM; and WorldCraftsSM.
WMU has been a publishing company since its creation, building on the missions literature produced by Maryland Baptist women. The first magazine (Our Mission Fields) began publication in 1906. In 1985, New Hope® Publishers was created for the publication of products designed to reach a wider Christian audience.
WMU also provides short-term missions opportunities through Acteens ActivatorsSM, Acteens Activators AbroadSM, International InitiativesSM, MissionsFESTSM and FamiyFESTSM, and Youth Missions Teams.
Today, Woman’s Missionary Union, SBC, continues to look toward the future to, according the WMU Vision Statement, challenge Christian believers to understand and be radically involved in the mission of God. National WMU provides missions resources that rekindle a passion for God's mission among God's people.