From the Archives: Women’s Foreign Missionary Society keeps alive the flame of the missionary spirit

Founded in 1869, the purpose of the Women’s Foreign Missionary Society was “to engage and unite the efforts of Christian women in sending female missionaries to women in the foreign missionary fields of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and supporting them and native Christian teachers and Bible readers in those fields.” In 1882 Mrs. W. S. Harrington, the wife of then First Church pastor Rev. Harrington, organized the first Auxiliary of the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society (WFMS) west of the Rocky Mountains. First Church was then “The White Church” on the corner of Second and Columbia. The parsonage was next to the church on one side and Mrs. Parkhurst lived on the other side.

1874 photo of Harriet Parkhurst’s house next to First Church’s original “White Church” at 2nd and Columbia

The following is excerpted from Mrs. Harriet Parkhurst’s account of the WFMS organization. “We had no knowledge of what to do or how to do it. We had no news from other societies in the East, no news from the missionary fields afar, no returned missionaries to inspire our hearts, no leaflets … ’ Surely we were blind leaders of the blind.

…In that same summer, 1882, came our beloved Frances Willard across the continent on a tidal wave of temperance reform. She was an old-time friend of Dr. and Mrs. Harrington, and it was my privilege and pleasure to meet her and know her great spirit of love. If ever there was a city on this earth that needed temperance reform, it was the beautiful City of Seattle, set like a gem on its seven hills, framed by the silver waves of its lakes and the bay, but filled alas—with its many saloons, open doors to drunkenness, debauchery and crime. Here were drunken husbands, broken-hearted wives, wrecked homes, and neglected children. 

1922 photo of the First Church pioneers of the Women’s Foreign Missionary Society. Harriet Parkhurst is in the middle row, farthest left.

… [And so the Women’s Christian Temperance Union worked 365 days in a year, with no time for foreign mission.] We kept alive the tiny flame of the missionary spirit to the middle of the seventh year, when Mrs. Switzer came, with knowledge and enthusiasm, and reorganized our society and we handed over to her the ten splendid faithful paid-up members as a nucleus for the new society now numbering in the hundreds.

–Written circa 1922, History of Woman’s Work Vol. I