Home without Walls
Southern Baptist Women and Social Reform in the Progressive Era
The Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU), founded in 1888, carved out a uniquely feminine space within the Southern Baptist Convention during the tumultuous years of the Progressive Era when American theologians were formulating the social gospel. These women represented the Southern Baptist elite and as such had the time to read, write, and discuss ideas with other Southern progressives. They rubbed shoulders with more progressive Methodist and Presbyterian women in clubs and ecumenical missionary meetings. Baptist women studied the missionary publications of these other denominations and adopted ideas for a Southern Baptist audience.
Home without Walls: Southern Baptist Women and Social Reform in the Progressive Era shows how the social attitudes of women were shaped at the time. By studying primary documents—including personal letters, official exchanges and memoranda, magazine publications, newsletters, and editorials—Carol Crawford Holcomb uncovers ample evidence that WMU leaders, aware of the social gospel and sympathetic to social reform, appropriated the tools of social work and social service to carry out their missionary work.
Southern Baptist women united to build a financial empire that would sustain the Southern Baptists through the Great Depression and beyond. Their social attitudes represented a kaleidoscope of contrasting opinions. By no stretch of the imagination could WMU leaders be characterized as liberal social gospel advocates. However, it would also be wrong to depict them as uniformly hostile to progressivism or ignorant of contemporary theological ideas. In the end, they were practical feminists in their determination to provide a platform for women’s views and a space for women to do meaningful work.
Chapter 1. They Feared God More Than Men: The Birth of the WMU
Chapter 2. The Reconstruction of True Womanhood: WMU and Gender
Chapter 3. Professionalism and Administration: The Armstrong Era
Chapter 4. Unreliable Allies: Southern Baptist Women and Race
Chapter 5. Saving Society: The Personal Service Department and the Social Gospel
Chapter 6. “A Gospel for All of Life”: Teaching and Proclaiming the Social Gospel
Chapter 7. The Kingdom at Hand: Social Work Training and Social Settlements
“Home Without Walls should appeal to historians of Baptists, women, and the women’s mission movement. In addition, individual chapters, or the book as a whole, could easily be adapted for classroom use with both undergraduate and graduate students. In short, Holcomb’s book charts new waters, offering new streams of inquiry into the Progressive Era to novices and experts alike.”
—Baptist History and Heritage
“Southern Baptists are not usually associated with the social gospel, but they should be. In Home without Walls, Carol Crawford Holcomb demonstrates that the Woman’s Missionary Union nurtured women and encouraged them to engage in socially oriented ministry that went far beyond church planning. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in southern religion and social engagement.”
—Keith Harper, author of The Quality of Mercy: Southern Baptists and Social Christianity, 1890–1920
“In her detailed, nuanced, well-written and sympathetic account, Holcomb leaves no doubt that the social gospel was indeed present and vocal in the South, even within the most socially and theologically conservative denomination of the region, however much restrained by its own traditions. . . . Holcomb’s important work on settlement houses and urban reform alone makes this book an eye-opening and welcome addition to the historiography of the social gospel and progressive reform.”
—Journal of Ecclesiastical History