Guardians of the Great Commission: The Story of Women in Modern Missions, by Ruth A. Tucker (Zondervan, 278 pp.; $12.95, paper). Reviewed by Tim Stafford.

Women missionaries have coped with an image more comic than heroic. “Unclaimed blessings,” single women on the mission field have been called, with bemused patronage. Ruth Tucker helps us see more clearly. Delving into old missionary biographies, mainly from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, she presents brief portraits of about 60 women. As she did in her book on the history of women in ministry, Daughters of the Church, coauthored with Walter Liefield, Tucker places the women in their historical context and then lets their lives speak for themselves.

And speak they do. Independent (sometimes cantankerous), determined, able, these women would be difficult to patronize. Tucker quotes missiologist J. Herbert Kane: “The more difficult and dangerous the work, the higher the ratio of women to men.”

Until late in the nineteenth century, however, women were not accepted by mission agencies except as missionary wives (whose role was supposed to be strictly domestic). Unable to serve overseas, women frequently became leaders in urban missions at home. According to William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, “My best men are women.”

Beginning in 1861, though, women began to form their own mission boards. They were all-woman operations: Women’s missionary societies paid the bills; women administrators set policy; women missionaries were sent. (Once overseas, they worked within conventional mission structures.) They changed the face of missions. One of the movement’s leaders, Helen Barrett Montgomery, summarized their record: “We began in weakness, we stand in power. ...

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