AU's Woman’s Guild: Inspired Collaborators

Within the Methodist faith, women had numerous opportunities to engage in politics while preserving their pious, self-effacing image. Participating in fundraising for worthy causes, such as the creation of Methodist schools, was one such opportunity.

In 1898, the American University project was far from complete, and money was tight.  In order to gather the funds for a $1,000,000 endowment, the university’s Board of Trustees reintroduced the idea of the Woman’s Guild, following a previous attempt to establish such an organization in 1892.

This time, it stuck. Initially, the organization consisted mostly of the wives and daughters of AU’s founders and trustees, but through outreach, they expanded the Guild to include Methodist women across the country.

The College of Comparative Religion

Envisioning American University as an august institution on a hill overlooking Washington, DC, the religiously motivated women of the Woman’s Guild saw a particular building, made of gleaming white marble, standing prominently in the middle: the College of Comparative Religion.

In 1900, AU’s Woman’s Guild organized an energetic campaign to build and endow The College of Comparative Religion.  To Guild members like J. Ellen Foster, “the dream of the women” was a not a school of theology, but one where scholars of many faiths could gather and debate the merits of one another’s religions. Only through such debate could the ultimate truth and perfection of Christianity be revealed, and the arguments of its challengers addressed.  The College, as they imagined it, would be a beacon for the protection of Christianity and its adaptation to America and the world’s needs.

Despite their earnest endeavors, the Woman’s Guild was unsuccessful in their campaign to establish the College of Comparative Religion, the funds they had raised going instead to the university’s general endowment.  However, their outreach and their efforts to articulate their vision brought more Methodist women into the fundraising fray, inspired to promote their ideals.