Skip Navigation

Mission Photograph Albums

Featured Mission Photograph Albums

Almost a Day in the Life of …

In the opening years of the 20th century the Board of Missions of the Methodist Episcopal Church, set out on an ambitious project; to document the work of their ministry. If it had been technologically possible to photograph in one day every institution run by the Board, or to document all the types of ministries in which they were involved, they would have tried.  But the result is just as outstanding.  Photographs from around the world taken over at least a decade documents this work.   The result was 257 photographic scrapbook-style albums containing over 100,000 images.  In reality the images range over time from the 1890s to the late 1930s followed by a very small set taken between 1948 and the early 1950s.   But the bulk belongs to the decades of the 1910s and the 1920s.  The probability is that many of these images were taken in anticipation of the 1919 Centenary Celebration commemorating the founding of the Missionary Society in 1819.  A 'worlds-fair-like' event was held in the summer of 1919 in Columbus, Ohio.   

The images fall into three large categories.  The first can be described as church life and documents structures like churches, hospitals, schools and other institutions built by the denomination.  Along with those images there are images of people making use of those structures, everything from children in Sunday School, to Sunday morning worship, to students in colleges and hospital staff in action.   The second category can be described as ‘need.’  There are images of the poor, those lacking an education, the lonely, the sick and the wounded.  There are photographs of the destruction caused by war as well as by flood and storm. These images were probably used in lantern slide productions or in church newspapers to dramatize the need for donations.  There was no Committee on Relief prior to the end of the Second World War.   Taken together the two sets of topics present the challenge facing the church as it was understood at the beginning of the twentieth century and ways in which it was addressing that challenge.   Within the U.S. there were photographs showing homeless children, children working in factories or on farms, countered by images of children in Sunday School, students studying at college, worshiping communities and even  the teaching of job skills.  Similar images could be seen for any representative country or region.  

And many of the images have extensive captions giving context and meaning.  About half the albums are focused on the U.S. and the other half focus on the rest of the world.  And that leads to the third category.  Many images are representative of daily life; they just show what it was like to live in a certain place.  In  our over homogenized global village it is fascinating to see the many cultures and differences apparent in these images; documenting a world and a time that is long ago and long past.  You can almost sense the wide-eyed amazement and the wonder of the worlds experienced by these people

The albums, until recently,  could only be viewed at the UM Archives and History Center, but now can be viewed on-line.  Each album now constitutes its own on-line collection and each page of the album is viewed as a whole, which allows the user to see how the albums were assembled.  You can view them at the GCAH Galleries site -

Enjoy discovering one of the most fascinating collections held by GCAH.  We hope to have all the albums on-line for you by the end of the year. 

Related Collections

Mission Geographical Reference Files - descriptions of church institutions around the world
Mission Biographical Reference Files - brief biographies on many of the missionaries.  Some have been scanned and can be viewed on-line
Missionary File Series for the Board of Missions of the MEC  and
Missionary File Series for the Board of Missions of the MECS
Both of these contain the correspondence of the missionaries with the Board of Missions.