Lucy W. Hayes and The Woman's Home Missionary Society


Volume IV, Number 4
Fall, 1984

The same pleasant personality and efficiency as a hostess that won Lucy Hayes the approval of Washington observers during her husband's term as president (1877-81) contributed to her success as the first president of the Woman's Home Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Lucy accepted the presidency of the newly-formed missionary society in 1880 and continued to serve as national president until her death in 1889.

Impetus for the organization of the missionary society can be traced to the efforts of a young New Orleans woman, Jennie Hartzell, who traveled to Cincinnati in 1880 to ask the General Conference of the church to send missionaries and teachers to her area. Although the matter was not discussed at conference sessions, the presiding elder of the Cincinnati district suggested Hartzell discuss the issue with a group of church women on June 8. In the account of this meeting the Cincinnati Gazette reported that fifty female members of the Methodist Episcopal Church met in the lecture room of Trinity Church "to confer together concerning the organization of a society having for its purpose the amelioration of the conditions of the freed-women of the South." A foresighted woman, Mrs. J. L. Whetstone, urged that the aims of the society be extended to the whole population.1

A committee was appointed to select officers with the report due in a month. Since no one wanted to assume the "awesome" responsibility for leading the society through its formative years choosing a president proved difficult. At the suggestion of R. S. Rust, the husband of one of the committee members, the women considered the name of Lucy Hayes, but, because of her responsibilities as first lady, they hesitated to contact her. Mr. Rust insisted, however, that Lucy's devotion to Methodism would prompt her to accept the challenge of the program planned by the women.2 As expressed in a declaration the women of the missionary society intended to send Christian women to "destitute" and "degraded" homes and neighborhoods where they would endeavor to "impart such instruction as can enlighten the minds, reform the habits, and purify the lives of the occupants."3 Other offices were filled by Mrs. John Davis and Mrs. Francis S. Hoty, vice-presidents; Mrs. R. S. Rust, corresponding secretary; Mrs. A. R. Clark, treasurer; and Mrs. James Dale, recording secretary.4

Lucy, contacted through her pastor, was reluctant to accept the presidency of the missionary society, but finally through the efforts of Eliza Davis she promised to assume the responsibility. The close friendship between Eliza and Lucy, dating from their college days together at Cincinnati Wesleyan Female College, had continued throughout their married lives. Eliza's letters to Lucy reflect the subtle but effective way she persuaded her friend to accept the presidency of the Woman's Home Missionary Society. On July 20, Eliza wrote that she presumed Lucy had been "informed of the action taken by the newly formed society here in making you its President . . . I think it is right to say that I am in no way responsible for even the least hint in that direction . . ."Eliza claimed that she did not decline for Lucy because she thought she might be interested in the job.5 The next month Eliza wrote, "I don't for a moment agree with you that you are 'not good enough' to occupy the place to which you were elected . . .6

In November of 1880 she wrote to Lucy, "What are you going to do about being president of the Home missionary society? . . . It is a great big idea (organize schools among poor whites, negroes, Indians & Chinese) and send women missionaries among them . . . I really believe you now have the opportunity of doing a really good thing by your name and position and good helpful judgement."7

Soon after Eliza's November letter Lucy agreed to serve as a titular president of the WHMS. The missionary society consented to this condition but Eliza continued to hope that Lucy would become an active president. Eliza wrote to Lucy, "The 'Home Missioners' are duly and sincerely grateful - They accept the conditions of your acceptance of the presidency - but I shall expect to see you presiding at mass meetings and even making fervid and eloquent addresses!!! Women are moving now a days and there is no telling where it will stop."8

Organizing her household staff and remodeling the house in Spiegel Grove occupied most of Lucy's time in the months following the return of the Hayes family to Fremont, Ohio in March 1881. In the meantime, the WHMS acquired the Thayer home in Atlanta, Georgia. This model home had been established earlier to train young black women in household management.9 In December 1881 Lucy traveled to Delaware, Ohio for a meeting of the board of the WHMS. Urgent business revolved around the hostility of the Woman's Foreign Missionary Society to the work of the home missionary organization. In 1869, a group of Methodist Episcopal women had met in old Tremont Church in Boston to organize a foreign missionary society with the avowed purpose of carrying Christian principles and faith to foreign lands. Establishing the necessary schools and hospitals in these countries required money which the foreign missionary society feared would be diverted to the activities of the home missionary society. In an effort to placate the advocates of foreign missions, the executive board of WHMS asked Lucy to travel East to assure church leaders of the need for both home and foreign missionary societies. Anxious to avoid becoming the center of a controversy, Lucy urged Eliza Davis, first vice-president of the WHMS, to assume the responsibility for talking with eastern church leaders and organizing chapters in New England.10

In 1882, the WHMS also turned its attention to the opening of day schools in the south for the number of black children who were not accommodated in public schools. Early in the year, two young women were sent to Savannah, Georgia where they started a school and later a model home. Eventually, this was combined with another school to become Boylan-Haven School in Jacksonville, Florida.11

The first annual meeting of the Woman's Home Missionary Society was held at St. Paul's Methodist Church, Cincinnati, October 30, 1882. In her opening remarks, Lucy assured the women of her interest in the work of the society and "her cordial sympathy with its purposes and plans," but used as an excuse her inability to attend the majority of the executive board meetings and transferred the direction of the business sessions to Eliza Davis. Illness limited Lucy's activities in 1883 and she did not attend the second annual meeting at Cincinnati, November 1883.12

At the second annual meeting, Mrs. Clark, the treasurer moved that a paper be published to reflect the aims and progress of the WHMS. Harriet McCabe, wife of L. D. McCabe, a professor at Ohio Wesleyan University and a good friend of the Hayes family, became the first editor of Woman's Home Missions, a position she held for 18 years. In the beginning the subscription price was twenty-five cents for the eight page monthly.13 Harriet Clarista Clark McCabe, head of the Woman's Department at Dickinson Seminary, Williamsport, Pennsylvania before her marriage to McCabe, proved an excellent choice. In an eulogy to Harriet at the time of her death in 1919, the current editor of Woman's Home Missions wrote, "How well she filled the office our records tell: how she influenced the upward progress of the society can not be put into words."14

Lucy presided at the annual meeting of the WHMS at Cleveland, October 1884. Better health and, significantly, the official recognition of the missionary society by the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, which permitted the society to be incorporated under Ohio law, accounted for some of the change in Lucy's attitude. Earlier in 1884, while the General Conference met in Philadelphia, Lucy and her young cousin, Adda Cook, traveled to the city for a home missionary society meeting. By working behind the scenes of the conference, Lucy and her friends managed to secure official approval for their National Woman's Home Missionary Society.15

Lucy explained in her annual report to the WHMS at Cleveland that the general conference of the church after "ample consideration" officially recognized the home missionary society and "adopted it as one of the trusted instrumentalities of the Church . . ." She went on to say, "The most inspiring and attractive field which invites our efforts is the home." In addition to the "uninformed, destitute, and unfortunate of our own race. . . we must add the just claims of the lately emancipated people and their posterity, of the Indians, of the Mormons, of the Spanish Americans, and the Chinese now within our borders - all of whom, it has been well said, have claims upon us for Christian civilization not to be surpassed by those of the heathen of foreign lands." She closed her remarks with a thought uppermost in the minds of many members of the WHMS: "We believe that the character of a people depends mainly on its homes. Our special aim therefore is to improve home environments, home education, home industries, and home influences."16

As indicated in Lucy's talk, the work of the WHMS had been expanded from the south to other parts of the country. Missionaries instructed western Indians how to cook, sew, and attend to the medical needs of the tribes. In Utah's strongholds, the WHMS cooperated with the Methodist church in efforts to organize schools within the churches. Nor were the Spanish-speaking people of the Southwest forgotten by the missionaries of the WHMS.17

Although Lucy continued to try to resign her office periodically, her letter files show increased involvement in the affairs of the missionary society. She tried to resign prior to the annual meeting at Philadelphia in 1885, but again the board persuaded her to continue. An invitation to stay at the home of the widow of Bishop Simpson probably made the task easier for Lucy.18 Doubtless Lucy remembered the pleasant Thanksgiving holiday that she, Rutherford, and their daughter Fanny had spent at the Simpson home in 1879.

In an effort to mitigate the hostility of some members of the foreign missionary society, Lucy took the opportunity at the Philadelphia Conference to eulogize Bishop Simpson who had died recently at his post in Foochow, China. Lucy explained, "From the earliest beginnings of our enterprise he was our trusted and earnest adviser and helper." While he was personally engaged in the foreign missionary field "he was so well persuaded that missionary work at home furnished the only sure foundation for success and progress abroad, that he gave his whole influence and power to the organization of the Woman's Home Missionary Society, and to its recognition and adoption by the Church."19

Lucy also mentioned in her Philadelphia address the "gratifying increase" of conference organizations, auxiliary and juvenile societies, and membership.20 Loving children as she did, it is not surprising to find drafts of letters in her correspondence with comments such as, "Your letter announcing the formation of a Young Ladies Missionary auxiliary was very interesting to me . . . To the young people we look as our hope in the future."21 And in another letter, "I think you have gotten hold of the most certain and promising field in our work. The young people . . . once interested in doing something for the happiness and good of their fellow creatures will grow and strengthen in this work."22 Shortly after its inception, the WHMS began to organize children's bands. Children under eight years of age, known as Mother's Jewels, paid dues of ten cents a year. Older children were called Lucy Webb Hayes Bands and paid dues of twenty-five cents a year. Girls sixteen and over were encouraged to join Queen Esther circles. To further these activities, a Bureau of Young People's Work was created in 1886.23

Lucy again considered resigning the presidency of the WHMS in 1886, but apparently changed her mind when Rutherford wrote that Eliza Davis could not possibly take her place, and while Lucy might inform the officers of her desire to relinquish the office, she probably would find it best to remain as president.24 Rutherford knew that Lucy, in spite of continued misgivings, had become very much interested in the work of the WHMS and would miss the activity and associations connected with it. Of course, the misplaced zeal of some of the officers irked her. After the secretary, Elizabeth Rust, publicized Lucy's contribution of a large roll of butter from their farm to a luncheon, Lucy told Eliza Davis, "The disagreeable report about my raising chickens to sell has nearly died out and now she has started another story." She explained that her son Rud had telegraphed about a caricature in the paper ridiculing Lucy's gift of farm produce.25

Lucy enjoyed the annual meeting of the WHMS at Detroit the last of October, 1886. She told Fanny, her only daughter, that attendance "had been very large." The beauty of the city impressed her; she wished one of her boys would settle in Detroit so she might visit there more frequently.26

The Detroit Tribune reported that Lucy read her address in a "clear even musical tone that was pleasing to hear." The reporter noted her costume - a black silk dress with a simple ruching of lace at the neckline, and a close-fitting gray bonnet trimmed with short ostrich plumes. The reporter continued, "Added years have somewhat increase[d] her proportions, but she has the same pleasant manner, the same dark hair worn plain over the face and gathered into a knot, and the same good face which was made so familiar . . ."27

In her Detroit talk, Lucy reminded the audience, "The cornerstone of practical religion is the Golden Rule. How best to obey its mandate is the vital question." She praised their Delaware friend, Reverend L. D. McCabe,28 for raising money to promote mission work at home and abroad. Influenced by Rutherford's thinking at the time, she emphasized that any "imperilment" of social and political institutions was largely due to the wealthy and fortunate who were too engrossed in material progress to be "sufficiently mindful" of the Golden Rule - "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." Lucy concluded with a quotation from Woman's Home Missions, "The lifting up of the lowly of our own country ought to interest every man and woman."29

As the WHMS prospered the split widened between the home and foreign missionary societies. While Lucy believed in the promotion of home missions, she did not want the efforts of foreign missionaries to suffer. Writing to her husband after a meeting of the executive board of the WHMS at Cincinnati, she told Rutherford she had only come "to the front on one point - that we must strive to preserve and keep on Christian terms with other Church organizations."30

When Rutherford traveled to Georgia on a prison inspection trip, Lucy asked him to visit the society's industrial home near Clark University, Atlanta. Rutherford's assurance that the little home was just what she wished, "Beautifully placed . . . well furnished and kept," must have pleased his wife who occasionally felt discouraged because it sometimes seemed that gathering pennies was about all women and girls could accomplish.31 Most of the time, however, Lucy radiated optimism in her relations with other members of the WHMS. She told Miss Jenny Crawford of Iowa that while the magnitude of the work placed on women of the church often seemed impossible there were places that only women could fill in the missionary work. She described how girls trained in the society's industrial schools carried their knowledge and enthusiasm back to their home cabins.32 As the volume of Lucy's correspondence indicated, she was becoming more and more interested in the various charities and reforms that were brought to her attention.33

In an unusually long and emotional speech at the sixth annual meeting of the WHMS at Syracuse, N. Y., 1887, Lucy expressed alarm over the number of immigrants entering the country. Like nationalists before and after her, she believed that the "best hope for humanity is in America." She warned, "If, by reason of our neglect of our homework, the stream of unchristian tendencies from abroad, and the flood of indifference and vice in our own country, shall overwhelm our cherished institutions, all missionary work, at home and abroad, will suffer alike by the common calamity." While many of the immigrants would become valuable citizens, others would bring evil influences "into the very bosom of American society." She summarized her plea to the members of the WHMS by saying "the future of America is in her homes, and her homes depend upon the mothers of America. Hence the value and importance of missionary societies whose work is done by women in the homes of our beloved country."34

The same concerns about immigration Lucy expressed at Syracuse prompted her to ask Whitelaw Reid, editor of the New York Tribune for help. Mrs. Matthews, the WHMS representative at Castle Garden Immigrant Station in New York, and others had reported that women and children entering there were going hungry and young immigrant women were being "carried off to their ruin." Lucy requested Reid to look into the matter "and if it is as we represent to you give us the aid of your paper in bringing it before the public."35

While helping immigrant women, building model homes and industrial schools, establishing mission centers for Indians, sending supplies to frontier ministers, and similar actions seemed worthy of aid from the WHMS, Lucy, like presidents of other volunteer organizations, tried to keep her officers and assistants from expending the society's energy on what she regarded as side issues. When the corresponding secretary, Elizabeth Rust, suggested an Alaskan project, Lucy answered that the Executive Board should discuss the matter before taking any action.36

Lucy's answer to a letter from Susan B. Anthony, one of the founders of the National Woman Suffrage Association, expressed her desire to limit the activities of the Woman's Home Missionary Society and to avoid any semblance of support for the woman suffrage movement. Anthony asked why the missionary society had not responded to the suffrage association's invitation to send delegates and a summary of their objectives to the meeting of the International Council of Women, scheduled to convene in Washington, the last week of March 1888.37 Lucy explained it would be impossible to send a delegation without action by the whole society. She continued, "Our society embraces in its membership all shades of opinion on the Woman Suffrage movement, you will therefore see that in the absence of action by the Society itself, no officer would feel authorized to send a delegation to your convention."38 Meanwhile, Lucy made it virtually impossible for the missionary society to participate in the international council. In a memorandum to the officers of the WHMS, she instructed them to refrain from introducing resolutions to approve activities of the national suffrage association.39

Invitations to speak at home missionary society meetings throughout the Midwest and East presented another problem. While Lucy attended a number of meetings in the Fremont area, she had neither the desire nor the energy to speak elsewhere. She wrote repeatedly that she was the "speechless" member of the board, however, once a year at the annual meeting she broke her silence, "with a few words of encouragement."40 Lucy explained to Fanny who had returned to New York after a winter in Bermuda that she hoped to be able to decline renomination of the presidency of the WHMS in 1888.41 A letter from Rutherford to Lucy, after she arrived in Boston, evidently persuaded her to serve at least one more year.42

The day Lucy left for Boston (Oct. 30, 1888), Rutherford noted in his diary, " Lucy's short speech is a good one. About ten minutes - plain and to the point."43 In this address, Lucy devoted attention to the "lamentable situation" of southern Negroes, some of whom were "still in chains to . . . the ignorance and vice of generations of bondage." She felt improvement in family living conditions - "the peculiar province of women and special object of the Women's Home Missionary Society" - would alleviate the problem. She also believed that problems caused by the increase in the numbers of immigrants could be handled best by missions under the direction of church women. Reminding her audience of the hardships and extreme poverty of Methodist ministers and their families in wilderness areas, Lucy went on to describe their letters of gratitude when a box or barrel arrived from the missionary society. To lend authority to the efforts of the WHMS, Lucy told her audience that the objectives and methods of the organization had been sanctioned by the highest authority of the Church and General Conference and approved by the bishops. With that in mind, she appealed to the clergy and membership of the church to help the WHMS "carry the gospel of Christ to needy souls at our very doors."44

The list of achievements included in the Quadrennial Report of the WHMS to the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1888 testify to the organizational skills and energy of the society's members. In the eight years since the founding of the missionary society and four years since its official recognition by the General Conference, the membership had reached 40,000. The society supported 42 missionaries in the field. Mission schools had been established to educate Indians in theWest, Spanish Americans in Arizona and New Mexico, and to counter the religious doctrines of Mormonism in Utah. In the South the emphasis was on industrial homes and schools, and the incorporation of departments of home economics and industrial training in "schools of higher grade." The phenomenal growth of juvenile and young people's societies pleased the officers, especially Lucy Hayes. The report noted 100 Queen Esther Circles, 200 Lucy Webb Hayes Bands, and approximately 2000 children enrolled as Mother's Jewels.45 Lucy Hayes, Eliza Davis and other members of the executive board could be proud of these and other achievements in spite of apathy toward their goals by some members of the clergy and laity.

After Lucy's death in 1889, Eliza Davis succeeded to the presidency and continued to lead the WHMS until her death four years later. While Lucy Hayes and other members of the WHMS would have been surprised by the changes occurring in missionary societies in the twentieth century, the continued emphasis upon service would have pleased them. The merger of three Methodist communions and the Evangelical United Brethren Church and their women's societies resulted in the formation in 1968 of the Woman's Society of Christian Service of the United Methodist Church. In 1971, the Women's Division of the church decided to have "one inclusive organization for women, with a new name. . . ." As explained in a handbook, "by December 1973, the United Methodist Women became a reality in each local unit, as well as in district, conference and jurisdiction organizations."46

The ability of Lucy Hayes to keep the Woman's Home Missionary Society on a limited course during its formative years without discouraging the hopes and dreams of women such as Eliza Davis, Elizabeth Rust, and Harriet McCabe, and to work as much as possible with the church hierarchy helped the WHMS prosper during the first nine years of its existence. Lucy and her officers proved to a skeptical public that women, almost single-handedly, could organize and run a society dedicated to the social welfare of people in the United States. Lucy's contributions to social welfare as national president of WHMS compare favorably with the prestige her competency as a hostess added to the position of First Lady.


1Louise Morrison, "We Have Proved the Past," Response (Dec., 1983), 21. 


2Mrs. R. S. Rust, "Memorial Paper," In Memoriam: Lucy Webb Hayes (Cincinnati; printed by Cranston and Stowe for the Woman's Home Missionary Society, 1890), 70-73; Morrison, 22. 

3"Missions In Our Land," [1880], outline of the objectives of the WHMS. Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, hereafter cited as RBHPC.

4Morrison, 22. 

5Eliza Davis to Lucy W. Hayes, July 20, 1880. RBHPC. 

6Ibid., Aug. 23, 1880. RBHPC. 

7Ibid., Nov. 22, 1880. RBHPC. 

8Ibid., Dec. 15, 1880. RBHPC. 

9Morrison, 23. 

10LWH to Eliza Davis, Jan. 23, 1881. RBHPC. 

11Morrison, 23. 

12"Addresses by Mrs. Hayes," In Memoriam, 79-80. 

13Morrison, 23, 29. 

14"Mrs. H. C. McCabe," Woman's Home Missions (Nov., 1919); 1. Josephine Newhard, Carey, Ohio supplied interesting information about her grandparents, Harriet and L. D. McCabe. 

15RBH Diary, May 19 and 28, 1884. "Quadrennial Report of the WHMS of the Methodist Episcopal Church," presented to the General Conference of 1888 by its officers, Mrs. Rutherford B. Hayes, President. RBHPC.

16"Addresses," 81-4. 

17Morrison, 23; "Addresses," 83. 

18RBH to "Aunty" Davis, Aug. 17, 1885; LWH to Mrs. Simpson, Oct. 15, 1885. RBHPC.

19"Addresses," 85-86.

20Ibid., 85. 

21LWH to Miss Etta, n.d., draft. RBHPC. 

22LWH to Mrs. Ferris, Dec. 22, 1885. RBHPC. 

23Morrison, 23. 

24RBH to LWH, Sept. 15, 1886. RBHPC. 

25LWH to Eliza Davis, Mar. 16, 1886. RBHPC. 

26LWH to Fanny Hayes, Nov. 9, 1886. RBHPC. 

27Detroit Triumph, Oct. 29, 1886, clipping from WHMS scrapbook. RBHPC. 

28McCabe had been one of Lucy's teachers at Ohio Wesleyan, the minister at her wedding, and the clergyman who presided at Rutherford and Lucy's silver wedding anniversary. 

29"Addresses," 87-91. 

30LWH to RBH, [1886 or 1887]. RBHPC. 

31LWH to RBH, Nov. 7, 1886; RBH to LWH, Nov. 13, 1886. RBHPC. 

32LWS to Miss Jenny Crawford, Miles, Jackson County, Iowa [1886], draft. RBHPC.

33LWH to Mrs. Smith, [Nov. 1886], draft. RBHPC. 

34"Addresses," 91-96.

35LWH to Mrs. Matthews [1887], draft; and LWH to Whitelaw Reid [Nov. 1887], draft. RBHPC. 

36LWH to Mrs. Rust, n.d., draft. RBHPC. 

37S. B. Anthony to LWH, Jan. 16, 1888, RBHPC. 

38LWH to S. B. Anthony, Feb. 1, 1888, second and final draft. RBHPC. 

39LWH memorandum to officers of the WHMS [1888]; the original manuscript is in the handwriting of RBH. RBHPC.

40LWH to Mrs. Potter [July 1888]. There are a number of other letters on the same subject in the LWH papers. 

41LWH to Fanny Hayes [Spring 1888]. RBHPC. 

42RBH to LWH, Nov. 3, 1888. RBHPC. 

43RBH Diary, Oct. 30, 1888. RBHPC. 

44"Addresses," 97-104. 

45"Quadrennial Report of the WHMS," 1888. 

46Handbook for United Methodist Women, n.d., 105-7. I am indebted to Elfreda Rusher, Marcy Bright, and Beryl Parrish for this and other information.