Legacy Stories

Legacy's Beginning: Founding Member Clementina Butler

Legacy's Beginning: Founding Member Clementina Butler
Clementina Butler. Photo courtesy General Commission on Archives and History of The United Methodist Church.

Clementina Rowe Butler was one of the founding members of the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society in March 1869, and, along with Lois Parker, was one of the two women who called together that first meeting of women on a stormy afternoon in Boston. Born in Ireland in 1820, she married a Methodist pastor in Maine in 1854 and set off with her husband to India as the Methodist Episcopal Church’s first missionaries, establishing orphanages, schools, churches and printing presses among other outreach work. While in India she witnessed and recognized unmet needs of women there and set about to help by organizing women for mission.

She was a tireless supporter for foreign mission work, serving as a vice president and corresponding secretary for the New York Branch of the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society and arguably as the society’s top recruiter, organizing a “whole constellation of new auxiliaries” according to the August 1870 edition of Heathen Woman’s Friend and bringing about “‘a missionary awakening.’” She told her story to thousands of women, moving them to hope and action. “It is not surprising,” the magazine reported, “that with her words many have drunk in her spirit and caught her inspiration. Reports from auxiliaries formed make frequent mention of the interest which her addresses everywhere created.”

Her daughter Clementina started the first schools of mission in Massachusetts and founded the Committee on Christian Literature for Women and Children in Mission Lands in 1912, which remained in existence until 1989. Today’s mission studies, Mission u, World Day of Prayer and World Thank Offering can be tied to Miss Butler’s work for Christian education and to her mother’s hope, nurturing and example.

Twelve years after the founding of the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society Butler wrote an official account of the founding in order to, according to Frances Baker in 1895, “forever remove the Society from the perils of oblivion on the one hand, or of legend on the other.” The Mrs. William Butler Memorial Hospital in Baroda, India, opened informally on her 90th birthday, founded by the New England branch of the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society. Known as “Mother Butler” by many generations in many countries, she died at age 93 in September 1913.

Compiled from “Address to Mission Forward Symposium April 19, 2010, St. Louis, Missouri” by Dana L. Robert, The Story of the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church by Frances J. Baker (1895), The Story of the New York Branch by Louise McCoy North (1926) and The Christian Advocate, volume 86, number 14 (April 1911) and volume 88, number 38 (September 1913).

Posted or updated: 7/23/2019 12:00:00 AM

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