Stepping out of the Shadows: Alabama Women, 1819-1990

By Mary Martha Thomas | Go to book overview

3
White and Black Female Missionaries to Former Slaves during Reconstruction

HARRIET E. AMOS DOSS

Reconstruction sparked a host of changes other than the political and economic ones that scholars have studied so often. Both educational and religious opportunities opened to former slaves during the postwar era, and women of both races helped to open the doors to change. Yet female missionaries to former slaves have received relatively little mention in general studies of Reconstruction, women's history, and religious history.1 Females made up three-quarters of the northern teachers to freed blacks. Hundreds of black and thousands of white women left the North first for the occupied war zones and later for isolated rural areas in the postwar South. They found a new focal point for sharing their evangelical missionary spirit as they educated people recently liberated from bondage.2 Scores of women entered Alabama as teacher-missionaries during Reconstruction. Most remained only a few years, yet during that time, they fostered educational and religious development not only of local blacks but also of themselves.

Much of the story examined here comes from letters and reports that missionaries filed with federal and charitable organizations, especially the American Missionary Association, Women's Baptist Home Mission Society, and the Woman's American Baptist Home Mission Society. Some of the missionaries were native Alabamians or southerners; others came from outside the region to engage in the process of religious Reconstruction. They came from a variety of Protestant backgrounds. Like other American Protestant women involved in missions during the late nineteenth century, they felt Christian responsibility to reach the uncon-

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