Mary Webb (1779–1861) was a Baptist pioneer who founded the first female missionary society in the United States.
Born on March 12, 1779, in Boston, she was the daughter of Samuel and Margaret Webb. She contracted a deadly disease when she was 5 years old. Miraculously, she recovered, but she was crippled and confined to a wheelchair. However, she accepted her disease cheerfully.
Her father died when she was 13. Because they were in dire financial need, she and her mother ran a school in their home. A neighbor, Thomas Baldwin, pastor of Second Baptist Church Boston, took an interest in the family and especially Mary. She began attending his church and started studying the Bible. When she was 19, she made a public confession of faith and was baptized.
Plan to help
Webb read a missionary sermon based on 2 Chronicles 15:7: “Be ye strong therefore, and let not your hands be weak: for your work shall be rewarded” (KJV). She told her pastor about a plan to help the missionary cause. He encouraged her to pursue her dream.
In 1800 at the age of 21, Webb founded the Boston Female Society for Missionary Purposes with a group of 13 women. She served as the society’s secretary and treasurer for 56 years.
Because of Webb’s influence, more than 200 missions societies were formed all over America. She couldn’t travel to help them, but she wrote thousands of letters of encouragement and advice.
In 1803, she assisted in establishing the Female Cent Society and in 1811, the Children’s Cent Society. The goal was for each member to give 1 cent a week to missions. She also encouraged women to give $2 each year to support home and international missions and the translation and publication of Bibles.
Second Baptist Church established a Sunday School in 1816. Webb served many years as a superintendent.
Her many other benevolent activities included efforts to raise money to educate poor young ministers, clothe needy children, provide a day care for children of working mothers, begin a Sunday School for impoverished children and start the Penitent Females’ Refuge to rescue prostitutes from the street.
On May 24, 1861, Webb died of breast cancer at the age of 82. She is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Everett, Massachusetts. A marker was erected next to her grave in August 1988 by American Baptist Women and Woman’s Missionary Union of the Southern Baptist Convention.