A new video produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints tells the story of how the first full-time proselytizing female Mormon missionaries came to be called in 1898. The video is part of an ongoing series by the Church History Department highlighting the faith and works of pioneering Church members throughout the world.

Before 1898, women shared the gospel informally with friends and family and occasionally accompanied their husbands on missions. At the April 1898 general conference, George Q. Cannon of the Churchs First Presidency announced that women could now be called to serve as missionaries. He noted the efforts of women who had publicly defended the Church against anti-Mormon rumors regarding the condition of Mormon women. The new video, titled “This Grand Opportunity,” tells the story of one of these women, Elizabeth McCune.

“Women such as Elizabeth McCune and Emma Pyper were instrumental in helping Church leaders envision a place for women in the mission field,” says Matthew McBride of the Church History Department. McCune spoke at several Church meetings in England with such success that the mission presidency wrote a letter to Church President Wilford Woodruff requesting sister missionaries. The First Presidency reviewed the letter on 11 March 1898 and made the landmark decision to immediately call sisters.

The first young single sister missionaries Inez Knight and Jennie Brimhall departed just a few weeks later. They served in England and did work similar to that performed by McCune. This was the beginning of a tradition that continues today. Over 20,000 sister missionaries are currently serving, thanks to an October 2012 announcement from Church President Thomas S. Monson to allow women to serve at age 19 instead of 21.

Additional resources

“I Could Have Gone into Every House”: Elizabeth McCune Helped Pave the Way for Sister Missionaries

VIDEO: Mormon Missionaries Women Called to Serve

Church Adjusts Mission Organization to Implement “Mission Leadership Council” (April 2013)

Thousands More Mormons Choose Missionary Service (October 2013)