Classification scheme: 

Title: Women's Missionary and Service Commission fonds

Dates of creation: 1917-1997

Physical description: 1.9 m of textual records

Administrative history: Mennonite women in Ontario began sewing for the needy as early as 1895. The first of the "sewing circles" in Ontario was organized at the Erb Street Mennonite Church in 1907 at the urging of Lena Weber, a worker with the Toronto mission. A second circle was organized at Berlin Mennonite Church (now First Mennonite, Kitchener), in 1908. In 1917, the "Ontario District" met for the first time and elected its first officers. In August of that year, at a meeting of women held in conjunction with the Mennonite General Conference, Mary Ann Cressman of Kitchener was chosen as the representative for the Mennonite Conference of Ontario to a new North American Mennonite women's organization. Also that same year, Mary Burkhart, a missionary on furlough from India, helped establish sewing circles in nearly every Ontario congregation. This activity was accomplished with the encouragement of the Mennonite Conference of Ontario.

The circles typically met monthly at churches or in homes. In addition to sewing for the needy, circles arranged visits to the sick, assisted grieving families, supported home and foreign missions, and provided "other tasks that willing hands may do." In 1942, in order to expedite sewing for relief of war suffering, the women purchased a cutting machine, which was later installed in a "cutting room" at the Mennonite Central Committee headquarters. The cutting room was operated by WMSC women until 1996.

Annual meetings were held to carry out the business of the organization, but always included an inspirational component in the form of a program and guest speakers. The first annual meeting was held in 1918. From 1921 to 1930, the meetings were held in conjunction with the Sunday School conference. From 1931 to 1949, the group met in conjunction with the Mennnonite Mission Board of Ontario annual meetings.

The Ontario sewing circles were one branch or district of the larger "general committee." The organization became known as the Mennonite Women's Missionary Society in 1922. In 1929, the General Sewing Circle affiliated with the Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities; previously the women's society had functioned almost independently of Mennonite Church structures. In 1955, it became the Women's Missionary and Service Auxiliary (WMSA).

In 1971, following structural changes in the Mennonite Church, it became the Women's Missionary and Service Commission (WMSC). In 1995, the Ontario WMSC merged with Ontario Women in Mission and became known as Women of Mennonite Church Eastern Canada (WMCEC). This mirrored a merger at the North American level, where the General Conference Women in Mission and WMSC of the Mennonite Church merged to form Mennonite Women. After the formation of Mennonite Church Canada, WMCEC became part of Mennonite Women Canada (MW Canada).

Custodial history: Records have been received at various times. The most recent accrual was received from Kathryn Good, WMCEC personnel coordinator, in Dec 2008.

Scope and content: Contains the minutes, reports and correspondence of the annual meeting, executive meetings, and committee meetings of the WMSC in Ontario. Related photographs can be located through the Mennonite Archival Image Database.

Note: This fonds was reappraised in 2011. Duplicate materials and most routine correspondence and financial records were removed. Detailed notes appear below in the file list. A file list of the fonds before reappraisal is available at the archives.

Archival description created by Laureen Harder-Gissing in 2012.

File list: The fonds is divided into 15 series: 1) General Committee, 2) Meetings, 3) Executive records, 4)Correspondence, 5) Reports, 6) Financial records, 7) Secretary of Literature, 8) Missionary support, 9) Food committee, 10) Home and special interests, 11) Cutting Room, 12) Girls' Missionary and Service Auxiliary (GMSA), 13) Fairview Auxiliary, 14) WMSC history 15) Secretary of Peace and Social Concerns

  1. File lists, Aug 2011, Mar 2012

Series 1: General Committee

  1. Correspondence from General Committee, 1929-1975
  2. Questionnaire sent out by General Committee, 1953 

Series 2: Meetings

  1. Annual reports, 1941-1955, 1956-1995
  2. Annual meeting minutes books, 1918-1957, 1958-1964
    Scope and content: Includes Fall and Spring meeting minutes, workshops and meetings of the WMSC executive with local executives. 
    Notes: Fall and Spring meeting minutes for 1966-1985 were recorded in the Minute Books (see Series 3).
    A digital copy of this file for 1918 is available here.
  3. Annual meeting minutes, 1954-1989
  4. Fall meeting minute book, 1960-1963
  5. Special meetings (public)
  6. Meeting programs, [1919?], 1931, 1940-1970, 1972-1974, 1977-1978, 1984-1986

Series 3: Executive Records

  1. Minutes, [19--], 1941-1953
  2. Minutes, 1954-1959
  3. Minutes, 1960-1962
  4. Minute book, 1960-1966
  5. Minutes, 1963-1968
  6. Minutes, 1968-1977
  7. Minute book, 1960-1975 (2 vols.; includes Fall and Spring meeting minutes)
  8. Minute book, 1975-1985 (includes Fall and Spring meeting minutes)
  9. Minutes, 1977-1979
  10. Minutes, 1980-1989
  11. Minutes, 1990-1995
  12. 1966 questionnaire
  13. Constitutions
  14. Executive job descriptions

Series 4: Correspondence

  1. Mailing lists (includes GMSA and Secretary of Literature mailing lists)
  2. Correspondence, 1925-1931, 1950-1969, 1970-
  3. Heart to Heart Program
    Note: "Heart to Heart" was a radio broadcast which ran for 16 years until 1973.
  4. District projects, 1960-1963
  5. Rockway kitchen
  6. Letter to Princess Margaret, 1956
  7. Conrad Grebel College Auxiliary

Series 5: Reports

Note: The Ontario WMSA submitted annual reports to the Ontario Mennonite Conference; these are located in the Ontario Mennonite Conference annual report books (title varies) in the Milton Good Library. (In 1964, the WMSA switched its reporting structure from the Ontario Mennonite Conference to the Mennonite Mission Board of Ontario.)The Ontario WMSA also submitted reports to the Mennonite Mission Board of Ontario periodicals Church and mission news (1940-1956) and Ontario Mennonite evangel (1956-1970). These periodicals are located in the Milton Good Library.

  1. District project sheets
  2. District secretary's reports to the General Committee 
    Scope and content: Contains reports from the Ontario WMSA district summarizing the activities of local WMSA and GMSA groups.
  3. Local reports
    Scope and content: Contains reports submitted by congregational ("local") WMSA and GMSA groups to the Ontario district secretary.
    1944/1945, 1946/1947, 1960/1961 (incomplete)
  4. Local auxiliary reorganization reports
    Scope and content: Contains reports by congregational ("local") WMSA and GMSA groups listing their officers for the year. The reports were submitted to the district secretary. 
    1960/1961 (incomplete) 

Series 6: Financial Records

Note: These records were re-appraised in 2009 and 2011. Cancelled cheques, receipts, most bank account books and monthly cash reports were withdrawn.

  1. Bank account books, 1952-1955, 1956-1958
    Note: These two books were kept as samples.
  2. Report of war sufferer's relief work done by the various sewing circles of the Ontario conference district for France and Belgium, 1918-1919
  3. Financial record book, 1918-1924
    A digital copy of this file for 1918 is available here.
  4. Journals
  5. Treasurer's correspondence, 1953-1969
    Scope and content: Most routine correspondence was withdrawn from this file during an archival re-appraisal in 2011. A representative sample was kept. 

Series 7: Secretary of Literature

  1. Secretary of Literature role description
  2. Literature reports
  3. Reading plans
  4. Correspondence

Series 8: Missionary Support

  1. Missionaries to Foreign Fields
    1. Missionary Letters
      pre 1956
      1956-1963, 1966 (1 letter)
    2. Ralph and Genevieve Buckwalter file
    3. Personal Needs correspondence
  2. Home Missions Committee
    1. Home Mission Workers lists
    2. Missionary Letters
    3. Minutes
    4. Correspondence
    5. Athabaska Project
    6. Camping Project
    7. Survey of home mission workers, 1956

Series 9: Food Committee

  1. Reports
  2. Correspondence
  3. Meal planning guide, 1959

Series 10: Home and Special Interests

  1. Business and Professional Women's Association
  2. "Welcome to baby" package
  3. "Have a creative Christmas," 1971
  4. Correspondence
  5. Swap Shop, [19--] 
    Note: This newsletter contained activity ideas gleaned from Home and Special Interest district secretaries' reports.
  6. Study guide for "Your child from birth to rebirth" by Anna B. Mow, [196-?]

Series 11: Cutting Room

  1. Minutes
  2. Correspondence
  3. Correspondence with Mennonite Central Committee
  4. Correspondence with Non-resistant Relief Organization
  5. Project design
  6. Policy
  7. Releases
  8. History, 1942-1983
  9. Financial statements, 1942-1972
    Note: See also II-5.4.2/1 Annual reports
  10. Financial records, 1946-1968
    Note: Some of these records are located in an oversize box. Includes information regarding cut garments and Christmas bundles, inventories (1947-1953), and a Mennonite Aid Union contents valuation (1974)

Series 12: Girls' Missionary and Service Auxiliary

  1. Constitution
  2. Reports
  3. Correspondence
  4. Christian Nurture Council
  5. Ideas for projects and activities

Series 13: Fairview Auxiliary

  1. 1957-1968

Series 14: WMSC History

  1. "The sewing circle work"
    Scope and content: A 4-page handwritten history of the sewing circles written by Amelia Bergey Nahrgang in the early 1930s.
  2. Publication committee, 1986-1987
  3. Submissions collected in spring 1980 for 1983 publication project
    Note: Includes biographical information for Edna Schmiedendorf Hurst, Lydia Bauman Martin, Elizabeth Brown Kanagy, Amelia Bergey Nahrgang, Barbara Schultz Oesch, and a few others. Also includes an autobiography by midwife Elsie Cressman, and information on the history of a few congregational sewing circles.
  4. Submissions collected in fall 1980 for 1983 publication project
    Note: Included a photocopy of: Glimpses of mother / by Salome Bauman, 1952. This photocopy was withdrawn; a copy is located in the Milton Good Library. This file still includes a manuscript of a biography of Lydia Ann Bauman titled: A biography of a Christian mother" / by Edna Hunsberger.
  5. WMSA published histories, 1967, 1983
  6. WMSA 40th anniversary, 1957
  7. Historical questionnaires gathered in 1967
  8. WMSA 50th anniversary, 1967
  9. Florence Shantz materials on history of WMSA
  10. WMSC, Ontario Women in Mission, and SWOWM (Southwestern Ontario Women in Mission) integration. 
    Note: Remembrances of the first meeting of WMSC with Ontario Women in Mission, 1987; chronology of integration; joint meeting program, 1994
  11. News clippings
  12. Explanation of WMSC symbol, 1972
  13. Publication Committee for Willing Service
  14. "The philosopy of WMSC : (its history)" / Vera Snyder, 26 Sept 1977
  15. "Let's tell our story : the Clara Eby Steiner biography project" 
    Note: Contains a flyer to raise funds for the publication of a book about the founder of the Mennonite Church women's organization
  16. "The local WMSA in action", 21 Apr 1961

Series 15: Secretary of Peace and Social Concerns

  1. Correspondence, 1979

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Last modified 22-Mar-2012 by Laureen Harder-Gissing


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Mennonite Archives of Ontario
Conrad Grebel University College
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