Annie Armstrong always found herself in the middle of things. She was born in 1850, the midpoint of the nineteenth century, in Baltimore, MD which was caught between North and South in the Civil War. Her wealthy family had connections to leaders in the newly formed Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). She once said she could be a Presbyterian, or perhaps an Episcopalian, but never a Baptist! Ironically, around the age of 20, Annie joined an SBC church. From then on, her drive and leadership abilities drew her to the heart of Baptist women’s missionary work.
At a young age, Annie accompanied her mother to the missionary meetings of Woman’s Mission to Woman where she learned the importance of giving and praying for missions. Though Annie heard a lot about the adventures of Lottie Moon and other overseas missionaries, she did not feel called to international missions. Instead, her heart for home missions grew as she worked with Indians, immigrants, blacks, and children. The year 1880 marked a turning point in her life. In response to a speaker who told of destitute conditions and needs of Indians, Annie and some other women sent clothes to Indian children enrolled in a mission school. Without the 240 sets of clothes these women sent, the school would have had to close. From there she began a pilgrimage of leadership in missions and missions support.
In 1882, at the age of 32, she helped organize the Woman’s Baptist Home Mission Society of Maryland (which was later renamed Woman’s Missionary Union - WMU) and became the society’s first president. The society’s objective was to involve women in support of the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Annie believed in Christ with all her heart, but it was her hands that expressed that belief in tangible ways. In 1888, Annie was elected corresponding secretary of WMU. As the first corresponding secretary, it was obvious that Annie took very seriously the word “corresponding.” She spent a great amount of time typing and handwriting letters in support of missions (sometimes writing until her fingers could no longer hold a pen). Many of these letters were quite lengthy and all were filled with conviction that more could and should be done in our mission efforts. In 1893 alone, she wrote almost 18,000 letters! In 1889 Annie discovered that Lottie Moon had been serving in China for 11 years without a break because there was no one to replace her if she left. Annie thought it was a disgrace that Lottie had been left there alone, so she helped organize a Christmas offering to pay for more missionaries to China. This offering became an annual tradition and today is known widely among the SBC as the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
Armstrong always refused a salary for the work she did through WMU to further the gospel. In 1906 Annie stepped down from her role at the WMU. In her time serving with WMU, she wrote thousands of letters, launched dozens of fund-raising campaigns, and helped organize women’s mission societies in every Southern state.
Annie rallied churches to give more, pray more, and do more for reaching people for Christ. In 1934, in recognition of Annie’s pioneering efforts to raise support for missionaries as well as her lifelong passion for God’s work in America, the SBC started the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for Home missions, which today has been renamed the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions. This offering has supported thousands of missionaries who evangelized the lost, ministered to the needs of millions of people, and started thousands of Southern Baptist churches in the U.S. and Canada.
Annie Armstrong died on December 20, 1938, the year of WMU’s 50th anniversary. Her tombstone reads, “She hath done what she could.”