Melody Maxwell’s The Woman I Am analyzes the traditional, progressive, and potential roles female Southern Baptist writers and editors portrayed for Southern Baptist women from 1906 to 2006, particularly in the area of missions.
The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) represents the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, yet Southern Baptist women’s voices have been underreported in studies of American religion and culture. In The Woman I Am, Melody Maxwell explores how female Southern Baptist writers and editors in the twentieth century depicted changing roles for women and responded to the tensions that arose as Southern Baptist women assumed leadership positions, especially in the areas of missions and denominational support.
Given access to a century of primary sources and archival documents, Maxwell writes, as did many of her subjects, in a style that deftly combines the dispassionate eye of an observer with the multidimensional grasp of a participant. She examines magazines published by Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU), an auxiliary to the SBC: Our Mission Fields (1906–1914), Royal Service (1914–1995), Contempo (1970–1995), and Missions Mosaic (1995–2006). In them, she traces how WMU writers and editors perceived, constructed, and expanded the lives of southern women.
Showing ingenuity and resiliency, these writers and editors continually, though not always consciously, reshaped their ideal of Christian womanhood to better fit the new paths open to women in American culture and Southern Baptist life. Maxwell’s work demonstrates that Southern Baptists have transformed their views on biblically sanctioned roles for women over a relatively short historical period.
How Southern Baptist women perceive women’s roles in their churches, homes, and the wider world is of central importance to readers interested in religion, society, and gender in the United States. The Woman I Am is a tour de force that makes a lasting contribution to the world’s understanding of Southern Baptists and to their understanding of themselves.
1. Southern Baptist Women's Writings in Context
2. Woman's Work for Woman, 1906–1918
3. Supporting the SBC, 1919–1945
4. Cultivating a Christian Influence, 1946–1967
5. Almost Unlimited Possibilities, 1968–1983
6. Developing Spiritually in a Context of Division, 1984–2006
7. Southern Baptist Women’s Writings in Retrospect
Melody Maxwell is assistant professor of Christian Studies at Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas. She previously served with East Texas Baptist University and Woman’s Missionary Union. Maxwell holds a PhD from the International Baptist Theological Seminary.
“Maxwell’s deft reading, description, and analysis of the publications of the WMU is a huge contribution to the field, and her scholarship is impeccable. Her study will keep company with other excellent studies in two different strands of American religious history: history of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and the history of women in American religion and culture. Her telling of the WMU’s side of the 1980s and the following battle for power in the SBC, and between the SBC and the WMU, is alone worth the price of the book.” —Betty A. DeBerg, author of Ungodly Women: Gender and the First Wave of American Fundamentalism
“No previous writer that I know about has made use of the vast amount of primary material mined in this study, or explored the evolution and impact of WMU on the SBC in greater depth. Maxwell illuminates, among other things, what Southern Baptist women thought about missions and contemporary issues in religion and society.”—David T. Morgan, author of Southern Baptist Sisters: In Search of Status, 1845–2000