Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in History (PhD)

Degree Level





Michael Pierce

Committee Member

Patrick Williams

Second Committee Member

Beth Schweiger


Activism, Civil Rights, Methodist, New Deal, South, Women


Over the course of three decades, white southern Methodist women took on issues of labor and poverty through their national women’s organization, the Woman’s Missionary Council (WMC). Between 1909 and 1939, the WMC focused their work on five groups of people they viewed as in need of their help: women, children, black southerners, immigrants, and rural people. Motivated by the Social Gospel and an intense belief that their faith led them to effect real change in the American South, the WMC intervened in people’s lives, pursuing reform that could at times be maternalistic and condescending but at other times radical and forward-thinking. Methodist women ultimately concluded that only state intervention could solve the systemic problems facing the poor and working-class, and they became staunch supporters of the New Deal. This dissertation examines the path to this conclusion, tracing the ways in which the WMC thought about and sought to help these groups changed over the span of thirty years, as World War I and the Great Depression shattered how the women viewed themselves and the world around them. Often at odds with other southerners of their race, class, and denomination, the women pressed onward in their bid to create an American welfare state. When the WMC dissolved into a new organization in 1939, white southern Methodist women were poised to be unprecedented allies in the mid-twentieth century civil rights movement.