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Section I: East Asia Missions

Part 4: Church of England Zenana Missionary Society, 1880-1957

These papers and the CEZMS periodicals (see Section II) enable scholars to study the role of women, the literature of the empire and the process of cross-cultural assimilation.

The CEZMS was founded in 1880 when it separated from the Indian Female Normal School Society which had been founded in 1852. It worked closely with the CMS until 1957 when they amalgamated.

A Zenana is a harem and the CEZMS specialised in sending missionaries to educate and evangelise the women of such closed communities. Its main aim was to convert the women of India by means of normal schools (teacher training colleges), Zenana visiting, medical missions, Hindu and Muslim female schools and the employment of Bible women.

The overseas work of the Society started in India but spread to China in 1884, Japan in 1886 and Ceylon in 1889. Work in China ended in 1950 when the missionaries had to leave, but from 1952 they worked among the Chinese in Malaya. Work in Japan was given up in 1892 and handed over to CMS. When the Female Education Society closed down in 1900, CEZMS took over their work in Singapore.

There is very strong source material for India, China, Japan, Ceylon, Malaya and Singapore. Many researchers are now turning to look at aspects of "world history" and the material to be found in the CEZMS Archive will open up many new research opportunities.

The main periodical of the CEZMS was India’s Women and China’s Daughters, 1880-1939 which was renamed Looking East at India’s Women and China’s Daughters, 1940-1957. This has been filmed as Section II Part 2 of this microfilm series and it is the main source for research into the early work of the CEZMS.

Also filmed in Section II in Part 3 are the issues of Daybreak 1889, 1893-1894. This magazine of CEZMS was published for the younger readers. Included in the same part are the issues for 1910-1948 of the CEZMS periodical Homes of the East. Interesting articles on and letters from missionaries are included.

The CEZMS archive contains the years 1872-1880 of the periodical The Indian Female Evangelist which was published by the Indian Female Normal School and Instruction Society, in 1880 to become the Zenana, Medical and Bible Mission and later Interserve, The issues for 1872-1880 have been filmed in Section II Part 3. The years 1881-1956 are held at Interserve in London and have been filmed as Part 4 of Section II. The Minutes of the Zenana, Medical and Bible Mission for 1865-1937 and the Annual Reports of the Indian Female Normal School and Instruction Society for 1863-1879 are filmed as Part 5 of Section II.

The complete catalogue to the CEZMS archive can be found in the Web information for Section I Part 4 after the Contents of Reels and it has also been filmed on the first reel of Section I Part 4.

The material to be found in Section I Part 4 consists of the Clerical Secretary’s material including some correspondence on advertising and publicity, staff correspondence, General Committee Minutes, Executive Committee Minutes and the papers of the Publication Committee.


The material in the CEZMS archive is extremely valuable in that it provides a great variety of information on many different aspects of missionary life. The scope of the archive encompasses material ranging from official reports, the minutes of various committees, and candidates’ papers, to periodical publications, fiction for both adults and children, and a small but eclectic collection of ephemera. This makes the archive of great interest to a variety of researchers.

Those interested in the gender related aspects of mission work, particularly in the earliest years of the Society, will be very interested in the Society’s foundation specifically as a "women’s mission to women", staffed only by unmarried women workers. Many articles in India’s Women and in the fiction published by the Society both justify and reinforce the "womanliness" of the work and the need for more women to become involved. Many of the papers dealing with the birth of the CEZMS from the ashes of the Indian Female Normal School and Instruction Society (CEZ/G AP 2 - Reel 66), and the proposals to amalgamate the CEZMS with the CMS (CEZ/G AP 1 - Reel 66), illustrate the administrative clashes which occurred over differences in approach between the CEZMS and other societies where the nature of "women’s work" was concerned. Both the General and the Executive Committee minutes also provide information on the Society’s stance regarding the issue of women as mission workers.

Researchers interested in the administrative history of the Society will find the various committee notes quite comprehensive and very useful. The Executive and General Committee Minutes are a good starting point (CEZ/G C 1 and C 2 - Reels 68-81). Also available are the Minutes of the Publications Committee (CEZ/G C 4 - Reels 83-84), the Medical Committee (CEZ/G C 5 - Reel 85), the Finance Committee (CEZ/F C 1 - Reels 196-199), the Home Organisation Committee (CEZ/H C 1/1 - Reels 207-208), and the Home and Depot Committee (CEZ/H C 2 - Reel 209).

The Minutes of the Candidates Committee provide a valuable introduction to candidates’ material generally (CEZ/C C 1/1-5 - Reels 194-196). Listings of successful candidates dispatched to the mission field each year can be found printed in both the Annual Reports and in India’s Women. Details of individuals can also be found in the Rolls of Missionaries (CEZ/C AM 1 and AM 4 - Reels 183-185), the Register of New Missionaries (CEZ/C AM 2 - Reel 184), and the Register of Supported Missionaries (CEZ/C AM 3 - Reel 184). Perhaps most useful to researchers investigating CEZMS applicants are the "blue packets" of individual candidates’ papers (CEZ/C AM 5 - Reels 185-193). These provide a wealth of important information, contained in application forms, letters of reference and the assessments of candidates. However, there are unfortunately relatively few available for women who joined the society before 1920.

For those who enjoy research, one of the pleasures of working with an archive such as that of the CEZMS is to be found in the sifting through of boxes of miscellaneous printed material and ephemera. The "Guard Book", circa 1880-1921 (CEZ/G EA 1/3), contains a collection of fragmentary papers, collection books, leaflets, brochures and posters, produced by the Society during that period. Unfortunately it has not been possible to film this item due to the size and the arrangement of the material. Similarly, a box containing correspondence regarding possible publications (CEZ/G EA 2 - Reels 86-88) contains an eclectic variety of items, ranging from draft articles for India’s Women, testimonials from Indian women converts, and letters and reminiscences from both Indian and English women workers. Another box labelled "miscellaneous overseas items and missionary stories" contains letters, notes and reminiscences of missionaries, many from the pre-1920 period. These are clearly valuable in the absence of their reports from the field before this time. Particularly fascinating, for instance, is the diary of Ada C Smith (CEZ/G EA 4/1 - Reel 89), likely an IFNSIS missionary, featuring accounts of her life and work in India in the mid-1870s.

Like any archive, the CEZMS archive is not complete. Most obvious is the absence of any original letters and reports from women workers in the various mission fields before 1921, in addition to the general lack of candidates’ papers from before the same date. However, the variety and scope of the material available make the CEZMS an attractive archive for researchers, whether interested in studying the Society as a whole or only specific aspects of its activities and administration.

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