ABC 1-91

American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions archives, 1810-1961: Guide.

Houghton Library, Harvard Library, Harvard University


Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138 USA

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Location: Harvard Depository, b
Call No.: ABC 1-91
Repository: Houghton Library, Harvard Library, Harvard University
Title: American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions archives,
Date(s): 1810-1961.
Quantity: 1261 linear feet
Language of materials: English
Abstract: Records of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, including personal papers and photographs of individuals and organizations associated with it.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

Deposited by Wider Church Ministries,
700 Prospect Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44115-1100
Phone: 216 736-3200
Fax: 216 736-3203. Wider Church Ministries is a ministry of the United Church of Christ and successor of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM).
The main body of the present collection was received on deposit from the ABCFM in 1944. Additions were made to it occasionally until 1958. From 1958 to 1966 there were more systematic deposits, known as New Series 1-6 (labeled [NS1], [NS2], etc., occasionally in this finding aid). Additions to the archive after 1966 have Houghton accession numbers also shown in this finding aid (e.g. [*69M-159] in 1969). The last official deposit was in 1995, but additions from other sources are ongoing.

Processing Information:

Processed by: J. F. Coakley.

Conditions Governing Access:

Parts of this collection to which access is restricted are: (1) manuscripts, correspondence and other materials of the last forty years; and (2) some materials specifically marked "Restricted". Since the ABCFM came to an end as a separate body in 1961, it is broadly the case (since June 2001) that the forty-year rule no longer affects the present collection. However, there are some items that contain material after this date and to which the rule applies. Where only parts (e.g. single folders) within an item are affected, it is only these parts that are restricted. Items specifically "Restricted" include the minutes of the Prudential Committee (ABC 80.1). Restricted items may be examined only with the written permission of the Executive Minister of Wider Church Ministries.
For parts of the collection that are on microfilm (for which see below), permission of the Curator of Manuscripts is required to consult the original documents.
Certain parts of this collection, noted in this finding aid as at Harvard Depository , are housed offsite. Retrieval requires advance notice. Readers should check with Houghton Public Services staff about retrieval policies and times.

Conditions Governing Use:

Permission to quote from the ABCFM archives for publication should be requested from both the Curator, Houghton Library (as for other manuscript materials), and the Executive Minister of Wider Church Ministries.
Images linked to this finding aid are intended for public access and educational use. This material is owned and/or held by the Houghton Library, and is provided solely for the purpose of teaching or individual research. Any other use, including commercial reuse, mounting on other systems, or other forms of redistribution requires the permission of the curator.

Existence and Location of Copies:

Research Publications Ltd. (now Primary Source Microfilm, an imprint of the Gale Group) filmed a considerable part of the collection in the early 1980s, their target being the correspondence to and from the field before 1919. For the contents of the 858 rolls of film, download the reel listing , or see the printed edition Papers of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions: Guide to the microfilm collection (1994), shelved in the Houghton Reading Room. A set of the microfilm is in Lamont Library, call number Film A467 (see HOLLIS record 1113915 ). Some parts of the ABCFM archives have also been microfilmed by interested historical societies and libraries in the countries where the ABCFM operated in early times.

Preferred Citation for Publication:

American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions Archives, 1810-1961 (ABC 1-91) Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Related Materials

It should be noted that as of April 2012, The American Research Institute in Turkey (ARIT) became custodian of the library and archives of the Amerikan Bord Heyeti, historical descendent of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions' administrative agency in Turkey. The library resources are located at ARIT's Istanbul Center (in Arnavutköy) and may be consulted by scholars. The archives, are stored offsite and closed to researchers as of this note (September 2012). It is expected that some materials will begin to be provided online this year by ARIT.

Biographical / Historical

The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions was founded in 1810, the first organized missionary society in the United States. By the time of its centenary in 1910, the Board was responsible for 102 mission stations and a missionary staff of 600 in India, Ceylon, West Central Africa (Angola), South Africa and Rhodesia, Asiatic and European Turkey, four different regions in China, Japan, Micronesia, the Philippines, and the "Papal lands" of Mexico, Spain and Austria. Missions to American Indians had come and gone; likewise a mission to Hawaii, where the church had achieved independence from the Board.
The Board's archives have an importance transcending ecclesiastical or missionary concerns. In particular, the voluminous letters of the missionaries from the field (amounting to 1500 sheets per year already in 1838) are often fundamental sources for the history of the various places where the Board operated. The ABCFM began as an inter-denominational society, including Presbyterian and Reformed churches, besides its core of Congregationalists. After some secessions due to the slavery issue and the formation by the Presbyterian Church of its own foreign mission board, the ABCFM was left as a Congregationalist body after 1870.
Woman's Boards of Missions were organized in association with the ABCFM in 1868 to promote work with women in the mission field. These continued as separate organizations until 1936. The ABCFM incorporated the Foreign Department of the Christian Church following the merger with that denomination in 1930. In 1957, the Congregational Christian Churches merged with the Evangelical and Reformed Church to form the United Church of Christ (UCC). On 29 June 1961 the ABCFM was formally concluded, becoming part of the United Church Board for World Ministries (UCBWM), an instrumentality of the new denomination. On 1 July 2000, the UCBWM became Wider Church Ministries, one of the four covenanted ministries of the UCC.


Arranged into the following series: Note that for some items that are bound volumes, there is a number in square brackets at the end of the description in this finding aid . This is a number on the spine of the volume, following an old scheme of classification in the ABCFM's own library.

Scope and Contents

The bulk of this massive collection consists of letters written by secretaries of the Board to its missionaries and others, and letters received by the Board, largely from missionaries in the field. Also included are records of organizations associated with the Board and miscellaneous manuscripts, largely personal papers and photographs of individuals connected with the Board.


A portion of this collection is shelved offsite at the Harvard Depository. See access restrictions below for additional information.

Index to ABC 6: Candidate Department, Volumes 1-24

Container List