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American Periodicals: A Journal of History, Criticism, and Bibliography 16.2 (2006) 172-199


Bringing the "New Woman" to the Mission Site:
Louise Manning Hodgkins and the Heathen Woman's Friend
Cheryl M. Cassidy

In 1893, Miss Louise Manning Hodgkins became the editor of the Heathen Woman's Friend, a monthly magazine published by the American Woman's Foreign Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church. The magazine was designed to inform Methodist auxiliary societies throughout the United States about female missionary endeavors. Like other American evangelical female missionary magazines, the Heathen Woman's Friend hired its own managerial staff; conducted its own accounting and business affairs; wrote, edited, and distributed its own monthly magazine; and did so generally without any male supervision. In accepting the editorship of the Heathen Woman's Friend, Hodgkins had no intention of emulating her predecessor, Mrs. Harriet Merrick Warren, whose twenty-five year leadership of the magazine reflected an evangelical ideology of duty and self-sacrifice, principles she promoted by dying in office. Hodgkins had other ideas about what a missionary magazine might be and what missionary women might achieve. Single, professional, and highly educated, Hodgkins responded to the increased professionalism of the missionary societies, and her leadership reflected the dramatic changes in gender ideology and publishing needs of the time. Under Hodgkins's professional hand, articles, illustrations and editorials continued the process of shaping a "new 'missionary' woman": one whose missionary life was not solely devoted to evangelical work but whose service at home or overseas combined spiritual endeavor with professional experience. Although the magazine continued to support and further a missiology of "woman's work for heathen woman," the Heathen Woman's Friend extended traditional evangelical gender ideology to promote professional opportunities, especially for those in leadership positions in Methodist missionary societies. 1

Louise Manning Hodgkins's role in the Heathen Woman's Friend can best be understood in the context of the American women's foreign [End Page 172] missionary movement and its expression in denominational missionary magazines. Evidence of the new professionalism of women and the ideological changes that brought about the New Woman in the later decades of the century were apparent years before Hodgkins was appointed editor of the Heathen Woman's Friend. The flexibility of evangelical Christianity produced what Lenore Davidoff and Catherine Hall suggest was a "negotiability" between domestic spheres and public agency. 2 Although Protestant ideology sanctified the home and glorified the essentialist nature of women, evangelical gender ideology encouraged women to undertake mission work as part of "woman's work for woman." Western women were seen as the repositories of civilized culture and their presence in heathen societies—whether as teachers, doctors or administrators—would not only elevate heathen women and children to Western standards (and ultimately their cultures), but would offer heathen women (some in seclusion) education and Christian salvation. Thus, the elasticity of missionary work encouraged extended roles for women, allowing women to define themselves as agents within and beyond the domestic sphere.

Beginning long before the Civil War, American women were involved in voluntary activities designed for and dedicated to promoting woman's special nature and providing avenues for "woman's work for woman." Catharine Beecher, in her Treatise on Domestic Economy, argued in 1841 that "self-denying benevolence" was crucial to charity work. In her advice to women readers to put aside small sums from their household accounts for charity, Beecher contended that "in a democracy like ours, where few are very rich . . . this collecting and dispensing of small drops and rills is the mode by which, in imitation of Nature, the dews and showers are to distil on parched and desert lands." For Beecher, women's special nature required that they have "no interest or concerns in civil and political affairs" but instead devote themselves to "morals or manners" where women "have superior influence." 3 Although women might have no direct interest in public affairs, Beecher emphasized the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-4238
Print ISSN
1054-7479
Pages
pp. 172-199
Launched on MUSE
2006-08-30
Open Access
No
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