The view that only men can use their gifts in service to the Lord is too widespread in our churches today and should be countered by the evidence. I believe that Eminent Missionary Women, though gently written, is an antidote to unscriptural teaching by patriarchal groups. It is tragic that in our day so many people in the church actually believe that women are only called to serve men in the home.
That is why I believe that this book is so important. It is unique in that it was written in the nineteenth century when the prevailing belief was that the only option for women was to remain in the home. Annie Ryder Gracey shows by her stories of these remarkable, courageous women that Christ does call women to serve Him in other ways.
The women in this book came from many different denominations, but they all put Christ first. The author shows that caring for human beings is more important than sectarianism. Mrs. Gracey shows that women are in fact uniquely gifted for service: “Women, in their devotion to God’s cause over the world, have never been deterred by any form of heathenism. With cultured intellects, womanly tenderness, and spiritual devotion they have gone into unhealthy climates, suffered privations, isolation, and even death at the hands of those for whom they labored.” (Page 167)
The author relates stories of women who were “firsts,” including many medical doctors. In the nineteenth century women had to struggle to get an education in some fields that were primarily open only to men. Dr. Fanny Jane Butler, for example, was the first enrolled female at the Women’s School of Medicine in England. The professor who administered her final exam said that her paper was “the best he had ever had from any candidate.” (Page 137) Closer to home was Mary Lyon, founder of Mount Holyoke Seminary. Mary Lyon believed that “education of the daughters of the Church calls as rightfully for the free gifts of the Church as does that of her sons.” (Page 3) Hundreds of men and women went out to serve the Lord from Mount Holyoke.
The author, Annie Ryder Gracey, was a missionary herself and well qualified to bring these stories to us. She was not forcefully propounding an egalitarian point of view; she proved it is true indirectly by simply telling the stories of women who were called by God to use the gifts that the Holy Spirit gave them to work outside of the home. Therefore, by relating these facts, she exploded the patriarchal view. A good example of this is the story of Melinda Rankin, missionary to the Mexicans who believed that her divine Master has work for women to do and that if she had gone along with the prevailing view that women’s place was only in the home she would never have left New England. Melinda Rankin said, “But when Christ took possession of my heart I submitted myself and all my possibilities to him, and was filled with a desire to make known the blessed Gospel, and I went out to do the Master’s work, and felt no proscription because I was a woman.” (Page 59)
This book is important because it shows that egalitarianism was alive and well in the nineteenth century. It is not a twentieth century Marxist invention as claimed by some leaders in the patriarchal churches. One tactic used by those in the patriarchy movement is to equate biblical feminists with the liberal, secular feminists. Annie Ryder Gracey’s book shows that Christian women are called to serve in the kingdom of light and are not members of the kingdom of darkness as those in patriarchal churches would have unwary followers believe.
While this book may be “preaching to the choir” for CBE folks, it could be a good book for our sisters and brothers in patriarchal churches. Mrs. Gracey’s book is written solely to recount the stories of these followers of Christ. It is a good tool for egalitarians because it is not polemic, and it gives the glory to God for the lives of these faithful women.