Bennett, Belle Harris (1852–1922)

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Bennett, Belle Harris (1852–1922)

American church worker. Born Isabel Harris Bennett on December 3, 1852, in Whitehall, near Richmond, Kentucky; died on July 20, 1922, in Richmond, Kentucky; educated privately in Kentucky and Ohio.

Belle Bennett began a long career in church work as a Sunday-school teacher for the Southern Methodist Church. In 1889, she undertook a plan to establish a training school similar to the one founded in Chicago by Lucy R. Meyer for the Northern Methodist Church. With the approval of the Southern Methodist Woman's Board of Foreign Missions, Bennett initiated a strenuous fund-raising drive, and a large gift from Dr. Nathan Scarritt of Kansas City, Missouri, made possible the Scarritt Bible and Training School, which was dedicated in Kansas City in September 1892 (it was later moved to Nashville, Tennessee, and renamed Scarritt College for Christian Workers). Bennett went on to raise over $130,000 for the project. In 1897, she opened the Sue Bennett Memorial School in London, Kentucky, in honor of her older sister.

Named to the central committee of the Woman's Parsonage and Home Mission Society in 1892, Bennett later became the society's president. In 1898, as president of the newly organized Woman's Board of Home Missions, Bennett helped establish more than 40 "Wesley Community Houses" for whites and "Bethlehem Houses" for blacks throughout the segregated South. In 1910, she became president of the unified Woman's Mission Council, a post she held until her death. Responsible for both home and foreign mission work, she helped establish a woman's college in Rio de Janeiro (later named for her) as well as the Woman's Christian Medical College in Shanghai. She also campaigned to gain admission of women to full lay status in the Southern Methodist Church. In 1919, with admission finally granted, Bennett became the first woman elected a delegate to the church's General Conference. She died on July 20, 1922, before the conference convened.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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Bennett, Belle Harris (1852–1922)

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