Dr. Elizabeth Coles Bouey
Elizabeth Coles Bouey was a missionary, teacher, organizer, speaker, mother, wife, and friend who influenced the lives of countless women and children. Her friends were a legion. The rich, the poor, the high and the low all loved her alike. The story of Mrs. Bouey’s career goes back to June 15, 1911, the special night of her graduation, as valedictorian of her class, from the Armstrong High School in Richmond, Virginia, when Elizabeth Coles announced her plan to be a missionary. She made this early decision because her parents were missionaries to Africa. She was born in West Africa and brought to America for education. Early in life, she heard about the many people in Africa who did not have the opportunity to learn about Jesus and the message he came to bring. She loved to hear her mother tell of her experiences in that far away land and she dreamed of the day when she could return to Africa to help carry on the work.
After high school graduation, Elizabeth studied at the Armstrong Normal School and prepared to teach. Later she enrolled as the only female student in the Theological Seminary of Virginia Union University.
Edward H. Bouey, a product of Morehouse College, was also the son of missionary parents who had served in Africa. He had dedicated himself to mission work and desired to go to Africa for work as soon as he could find a wife with similar desires. He corresponded with, and soon met, Elizabeth. It seems that their marriage was “made in heaven”, for he proposed to her upon their first meeting. On his third visit to Richmond they were married at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, April 28, 1920, and very soon thereafter set sail for Liberia, West Africa, as Independent Missionaries. They had ambitious plans to re-establish the Bendoo Industrial Mission Station, a place where the parents of the couple had many years before carried on the work of the Lord.
The efforts of Rev. and Mrs. Bouey at the mission were wonderfully blessed as boys and girls from many tribes were brought to the station for Christian Education. Support was generously given the young couple by family and friends in America, who twice a month sent boxes of needed supplies from the Coles’ home in Richmond which served as headquarters. For nearly five years, Rev. and Mrs. Bouey worked at the Bendoo Industrial Mission. Two of their children were born there, and they adopted a boy of the Golah Tribe who was a promising student at the mission. The Boueys returned to America for a short furlough and then went back to Africa to work under the Foreign Mission Board of the National Baptist Convention. This time they built the Carrie Dyer Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia and in many other ways strengthened the program of missions in the country.
It has been reported that the Boueys are still remembered in Africa through the work of their children. One daughter, Elizabeth, works with the N.E.A. in the program of Educational Assistance and the U.S. State Department in West Africa. The two sons have become citizens and are employed in Liberia.
Mrs. Bouey’s life was a long one of fruitful works. She gave a total of thirty-one years as a teacher in the United States. For twelve years she taught the Young Women’s Bible Class at Mt. Calvary Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia. She was a regular speaker for the women at the State Prison Farm in Goochland, Virginia, and made weekly radio broadcasts for the Baptist Allied religious organizations, as well as several local, national and international groups.
Her work for the ministers’ wives began in the fall of 1940, when, guided by the hand of God, Elizabeth Coles Bouey issued a call to ministers’ wives and ministers’ widows for the purpose of uniting unto one Christian fellowship, ministers’ wives and ministers’ widows of the various religious denominations for greater and more effective service in kingdom building. Present at this meeting were Mesdames W.W. Blackwell, Annie J. Jackson, Winnie S. Jennings, Mary M. Ransome, Ora Brown Stokes, Ellen C. Thompson, and Mrs. Bouey. For several months these women visited and talked with the wives of the clergymen in many sections of Virginia. Mrs. Ellen Thompson, the only surviving committee member, fondly recalls the innumerable hours they spent traveling with Mrs. Bouey, on foot and car, to get in touch with prospective members. They were often accompanied on these excursions by their husbands. In addition to the recruitment in Virginia, letters were sent to ministers’ wives and ministers’ widows throughout the United States. Thus from house to house meetings, personal contacts and correspondence, the National Association of Ministers’ Wives was born. The first conference was held on April 8, 1941, at the Second Baptist Church, Richmond, Virginia, of which the late Rev. Joseph T. Hill was pastor.
Under Mrs. Bouey’s seventeen year term as President, much was accomplished. Ministers’ wives from more than thirty states, the District of Columbia, West Africa and eight denominations became affiliated. The Ministers’ Wives’ Herald was started, the Edra M. Hilliard Trophy was first presented, the Ministers’ Wife of the Year Plaque was initiated, and the Life Membership Department was organized. In addition, the Silver Loving Membership Cup was first given, the State Crown for financial effort was initiated, Prayer Group Certificates were originated and State units came into being. The NAMW Home at 425 N. 32nd Street in Richmond, Virginia, was purchased in September 1954, at a cost of $13,250.00. The utilization of Faith – Love – Prayer bore much fruit.
Mrs. Bouey traveled extensively. Her work and interest took her to African and European countries. She was honored in Copenhagen at a Christian World Assembly and participated in many meetings of the Baptist World Alliance. Her last and most important trip was to the Holy Land in 1955, with a tour group led by Dr. Charles L. Evans of Richmond. She was not well and had to be supported by her husband, but her greatest desire had been fulfilled. She had walked where her Master walked in the streets of Jerusalem. She and Rev. Bouey had both been re-baptized in the River Jordan by Dr. Edward D. McCreary, also of Richmond. She had visited the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane, Calvary and other places of Biblical interest.
Her last attendance at the National Conference was in 1956 in Washington , D.C., when she became so ill that she was returned to her home in Richmond by ambulance. After many months of illness, Mrs. Bouey passed away on February 5, 1957. Her body lay for several days in the Prayer Room of her home, a room in which she had met God many times. Death to her was a joyous home-going and she wanted all of her friends to rejoice, that she had now entered a richer, more beautiful life.