Ann Baker Graves (1804-1878)
Ann Baker was a dedicated Methodist from a wealthy Baltimore family. Ann was a skilled writer with interests in literature, education, and especially, religion. She would often host missionaries from various denominations as they came through Baltimore.
She married John James Graves, from New York, a physician. Her first born was Rosewell. He became a medical doctor like his father and his father’s father, but he employed his profession in the direction of his mother’s first love, missions. He would go to China as a missionary.
At a time when foreign missions among Southern Baptists was at a dangerously low ebb, Ann Graves read of her son’s experiment with Bible women in China. Women there were not able to attend public worship services, and custom prevented ministers from visiting them in their homes. His plan for women to reach women aligned well with his mother’s twin interests of educating women and utilizing their potential for spiritual influence.
In 1867, Graves gathered a handful of female Baltimore Baptists into a prayer and support group for the Canton Bible women. For years little or no progress seemed to be made, but Ann continued to write letters, speak with friends, and educate herself about foreign missions of all sorts.
Along with her friend, Corinthia Virginia Read Williams, they served within the congregation later called derisively, the “First Female Church of Baltimore.” God had now “placed his Word in the hand of woman,” giving her “the angelic mission of restoring him to a higher state than that enjoyed in Eden."
She was instrumental in organizing the Baltimore Auxiliary of the Women’s Union Missionary Society which included Baptist, Methodist, and Friends. The organization fared well, but the Baptist members felt their denomination needed a society of women focusing on Baptist work alone.
Graves believed it impossible to arouse an interest for missions in the Baptist ladies of Baltimore. She soon found she was not as isolated in her missions concern as she imagined. A meeting was held at First Baptist in the spring, and a “great number” almost filled the room. In October 1871, the Woman’s Mission to Woman (WMW) was established with Ann Graves as corresponding secretary and Mary Armstrong, mother of Annie Armstrong, a vice president. Its purpose was to minister to women in foreign fields.
Graves prepared a circular letter to be sent to Baptist churches throughout the South explaining their method and defending their cause. Graves saw this as more reliable than subscriptions and more likely to keep the giver in a constant, prayerful awareness of missions. The genius of Ann’s Wesleyan orderliness, genuine piety, and intellectual integrity laid the groundwork for Baptist missions many decades into the future.
The circular was the first step in creating an extensive groundwork for a southwide women’s Baptist missions network. Graves and Williams wrote often and widely to women in churches throughout the SBC. In years to come these women would join forces in the Woman’s Missionary Union of the SBC.
Grave’s pastor, J. W. M. Williams, became disappointed at the SBC’s failure to accept women’s help in spreading the gospel. His church led the way in recognizing women’s leadership in faith communities at a time when the Women’s Movement was being born in the United States. Graves counseled him: “Do not be discouraged; you are only in advance of your brethren; in a few years they will be with you.” Grave's strongest ally in the founding of Woman’s Mission to Woman was Corinthia Williams.
When Graves died, the Baltimore Woman’s Mission to Woman was renamed the Maryland Woman’s Mission to Woman in Foreign Lands. It was these woman who made it possible for Annie Armstrong to lead in mission work.
Material used in this biography was taken from:
You Are A Great People, by W. Loyd Allen