Spreading the Word: A Selection of Missionary Posters, Games,
and Ephemera from the Day Missions Collection

Exhibited at the Yale Divinity Library: November 2013 - May 2014

During the height of the missionary movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, tens of thousands of missionaries went abroad, seeking to spread their Christian beliefs and bringing with them their devotion to Western civilization. This exhibit focuses on two aspects of "Spreading the Word":

•  materials that were used to convey the missionaries' message to the people with whom they were working, including posters, broadsides, and tracts.

•  materials and events used to encourage the home public to understand and support the missionary enterprise, including missionary exhibitions, concerts, postcards, publications, calendars, collection boxes, artifacts, cards, and games.

Visual materials were crucial to capturing the attention of the audiences that the missionaries sought to reach.
Posters included illustrations of Bible stories as well as public health and Christian life lessons.

Examples from set of posters for teaching the Bible in Africa, published by Paulines Publications, Kenya, in 2002.


Samples from a set of illustrated boards showing the story of the Prodigal Son:

Posters from the papers of Catherine Stirewalt, a Lutheran missionary in China in the 1940s:

The poster to the right was published by the Religious Tract Society of Hankow, China in 1933. It was most likely used in street corner evangelism in rural China. The text in the bottom right corner says "Please go to church to hear the Good News and study the Bible." The poster was brought back from China in 1947 by Viola Larson, a missionary serving under the Swedish Evangelical Covenant Church in Hupeh Province.

The Divinity Library holds numerous oversize Chinese language posters. A few samples are shown below:

The broadside at left, translated as "Promote Thriftiness in the Home," is one of a set found in the papers of Episcopal missionary Marian Craighill. Others in the set include "Promote Family Prayers," "Promote Literacy," and "Promote Cleanliness."


At right are examples of tracts from the George and Ora Taylor papers. The Taylors were nondenominational missionaries who ran an orphanage and press in China.

In order to sustain their work, the missionaries were dependent on churches and individuals in their home countries to provide financial and spiritual support. Various methods were used to bring attention to the missionary movement with a view to encouraging support.

Missionary Exhibitions:

Missionary exhibitions were a popular means of spreading the word about missionary work in the late 19 th and early 20 th century. The "Official Handbook to the Missionary Loan Exhibition and Sale of Work in the Town Hall, Oxford, from October 23rd to 28th, 1899" with its description of "Courts" containing "specimens of Native Dress, Ornaments, Pictures, Weapons, Idols, and other images of interest, illustrative of the daily life and customs, Religions, Arts and Industries of the different races in [various countries]…" illustrates the scope and flavor of such exhibitions.

America's first major missionary exhibition, "The World in Boston," was held from April 22 to May 20, 1911. As described by Erin Hasinoff in her book Faith in Objects: American Missionary Expositions in the Early Twentieth Century (2011),

"The World in Boston was an outgrowth of English missionary expositions, and the culmination of an ardent American interest in the exhibition of missionary objects…. The World had the excitement and pomp of a world's fair, attracting some 400,000 visitors to take in the immensity of its sights and sounds in an abridged trip of worldwide evangelism…. It presented a microcosm of foreign fields then known to missionaries, and well known to their supporters. Between 10,500 and 20,000 costumed stewards were carefully integrated into these lands as docents who offered demonstrations and illustrated lectures about the contents of the exposition and kept visitors on the path, ensuring that they remained mindful of its overarching purpose....

Architecturally, the World in Boston was arranged as a series of "scenes" (reconstructed environments) and "courts" (displays of objects, texts, and print ephemera) on a model that English missionary expositions had adopted and modified from world's fairs and which was initially devised for England's Crystal Place of 1851."





This manual for the stewards who introduced attendees to the artifacts and scenes at Church Missionary Society exhibitions, illustrates the nature of the events:

Even at the time of their popularity, there were those who objected to the view of non-Western cultures and religions that was purveyed by missionary exhibitions. This opinion is reiterated by a more recent scholar, Raymond Corbey, writing in the journal Cultural Anthropology (Aug., 1993):

During the first half of the present century, many European missionary museums and countless missionary exhibitions, Roman Catholic as well as Protestant, tried to persuade their visitors to take certain views and certain actions concerning colonially dominated non-Western, non-Christian peoples. Such exhibitions, permanent or temporary were staged by missionary societies with the help of objects, photographs, maps, and sometimes dressed mannequins or busts. On such occasions, the well-known narrative plots and metaphors, slightly modified, return: civilized or Christian whites bringing the light of civilization or religion to savages or pagans, in the name of some higher instance, be it progress or God. Missionary photography for propagandistic goals showed characters and scenes from such narratives.

Missionary exhibitions were convenient points of distribution for missionary postcards. The postcards at left and below were produced for distribution by the London Missionary Society at the Great Missionary Exhibition held at Islington, June 11th to July 11th, 1908, and by the East Midland Baptist Association in connection with the Congo Exhibition held in Leicester, November 12-18, 1928.

Missionary Concerts and Events:

Monthly "missionary concerts" were held in many American churches in the early 20 th century. This pamphlet promotes the idea of such events being adopted by every church because "Missionary fervor must be fed by missionary facts. Ideal enthusiasm springs from personal knowledge of actual conditions…. Let Christ's soldiers at home receive regular bulletins from the front telling of their comrades' dangers, perplexities, and needs, and they will be inspired to send forward reinforcements and supplies."

This poster advertises a "universal missionary day" event sponsored by the Catholic Society for the Propagation of the Faith.

Missionary Education Materials:

Most church bodies, as well as organizations such as the Missionary Education Movement of the United States and Canada, published extensive literature to inform children and adults about the work of missionaries and the cultures of the countries where they were based. The two coloring books and missionary play illustrated below serve as examples:


Many mission agencies published and distributed calendars to provide an ongoing reminder to their supporters:

Collection boxes:

These collection boxes from the London Missionary Society and Methodist Missionary Society are typical of the containers used to gather small contributions for mission work overseas.

Artifacts and lantern slides

While on furlough missionaries often traveled around to churches to inform the congregations about their work and garner support. Artifacts from the field and lantern slides, such as those shown below, were used to illustrate the way of life of the peoples they were trying to reach with the gospel and to show the work of the mission.

Games and cards

Souvenir trading cards related to mission work were packaged with chocolates in the same way that baseball trading cards came with bubble gum in later years.

A missionary card game produced by the Church Missionary Society:

Though of recent vintage, this missions-related board game utilizes the military metaphor of conquest that was so popular in the first half of the 20th century. Most churches and mission agencies would now describe their work as partnership or co-working, rather than conquest...

Shown below are two additional missionary games for children from the Library's collection.
The first was issued during the period of Pope Pius XI (1922-1939) by Pro Scuola Apostolica Carmelo - Monza.
The second was issued by Pro Pontificia Opera Della Santa Infanzia and is dated 1939.

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Last modified: 6 November 2013
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