The Legacy of Lottie Moon

By Allen, Charlotte B. | International Bulletin of Mission Research, October 1993 | Go to article overview

The Legacy of Lottie Moon


Allen, Charlotte B., International Bulletin of Mission Research


Like many other missionaries, Lottie Moon left a legacy that paved the way for succeeding generations. But unlike any other missionary, Miss Moon left a legacy that largely paid the way for the growth of the largest missionary force of any evangelical or Protestant denomination.

When she died in 1912 after nearly forty years in China, she left an estate of approximately $250 and a battered trunk of personal effects. She also left a shining name, a spotless record, and a sterling idea for fund-raising. The Woman's Missionary Union (WMU) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) shaped these legacies into the most magnetic collection plate in mission history.

The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for Foreign Missions is the largest source of funding for the SBC's overseas missions, involving almost four thousand missionaries. By 1992 the cumulative total of the offering was nearly $1.3 billion. With more than $80 million raised in the 1992 collection, the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is thought to be the largest annual offering collected by Christians.(1)

After a century of intensive scrutiny by researchers, four-foot three-inch Lottie Moon continues to stand tall in estimation. She has become a cultural icon with wide name recognition in the southern United States. Southern Baptists have taken her name around the world, with Baptists in many countries contributing to the offering bearing Lottie's name.

Best Educated Woman of the South

The Lottie Moon story always begins with a touch of nostalgia for old Virginia.(2) Charlotte Digges Moon was born in December 1840 near Scottsville, Albermarle County, Virginia. She grew up on the "Road of the Presidents" at a family estate called Viewmont. Her maternal uncle, Dr. James Barclay, bought the nearby Monticello mansion after Thomas Jefferson died. Then as one of the early followers of Alexander Campbell, in 1850 he went to Jerusalem as the first missionary of the Disciples of Christ.

As a child, "Lottie" (as she was known) earned a reputation for mischief and intelligence. She was initially hostile to the religion of her devout Baptist parents, pillars of the Scottsville Baptist Church. She may have been influenced more by a highly independent older sister, Orianna. Orianna Moon went away to study at Troy Female Seminary in New York, caught the early winds of the feminist movement, and was one of the first two southern women to earn medical degrees. Orianna graduated from Female Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1857.

Lottie's girlhood seemed similarly marked with higher intellect and greater potential than society would allow her to exercise. After studying with tutors on the plantation, she was sent for formal schooling at the Baptist-related girls institute, which became Hollins College, near Roanoke, Virginia.

By the time she graduated from Hollins, Virginia Baptists had organized a woman's college that was to be equivalent in quality to the males-only University of Virginia. Lottie enrolled in this new school in Charlottesville, known as Albermarle Female Institute, in 1857. Her professors included Crawford Howell Toy, who later became the fifth faculty member of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He would be branded a heretic and banished to distinction as Harvard University's professor of Semitic languages. Toy and Moon maintained a friendship, and they may have come to the point of an engagement by 1881, but the specifics of their private lives cannot now be documented. Under Toy's tutelage, Lottie studied Greek, Hebrew, and Latin. She became fluent in Spanish and French. In 1861, just as the guns of Civil War were beginning to sound, Lottie and four other young women were awarded master of arts degrees. These were thought to be the first masters degrees awarded women of the South or in the South.

Lottie took away from school a new life and vision as a Christian. …

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