Behind Every Great Man is a Great Woman


The old adage, “Behind every great man is a great woman,” certainly rings true at Moody Bible Institute (MBI). The story of the founding of this well-known Christian institution provides a classic example of a strong alliance between a man and a woman. It also demonstrates what all too often happens: that history does a better job of remembering great men than the great women in their stories.

In American evangelical history, the 19th century revivalist, Dwight L. Moody (1836-1899) stands tall as MBI’s founder. Less known is Emma Dryer (1835-1925), the woman and experienced educator he met in 1870.

Dryer was the original visionary, inspiration, and impetus for the school.

Also noteworthy is that fact that from its founding, MBI was ahead of the curve in their commitment to train women for vocational ministry. Long before Christian colleges and seminaries were admitting women and decades before women gained the right to vote, MBI was training women.

Moody and Dryer shared the conviction that training women for ministry was strategic for the spread of the gospel in America. Together they were intentional about acting on that commitment. Initially their educational efforts focused on women’s significant potential as evangelists to reach other women and children.

But their alliance created a new and broader vision as Moody recognized Dryer’s giftedness as an educator, Bible teacher, and evangelist. As the story goes,

“Moody asked Dryer to oversee a ministry specifically to train women for evangelistic outreach and missionary work. Under Dryer’s leadership, the training program grew rapidly, and so did her desire for this ministry to reach men as well as women. She continued to pray that the Lord would place the idea for such a school on Moody’s heart.”

After founding two schools in Massachusetts (one for girls and a second for boys), Moody ultimately came to share her vision for a school in Chicago. In 1886, he launched the Chicago Evangelization Society that ultimately became the Moody Bible Institute.

MBI is mindful and proud of their feminine heritage and the accomplishments of their female graduates. Their 2017 Missions Conference will highlight the legacy of their feminine side and pay tribute to a constellation of female leaders that Moody trained.

So this Monday, October 9, I’m heading for Chicago where I’ll be speaking on the Blessed Alliance at MBI’s 2017 Missions Conference. This is one place where men and women serving God together comes with a long history.

About carolyncustisjames
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9 Responses to Behind Every Great Man is a Great Woman

  1. Very interesting! That you for bringing Emma Dryer to light.


  2. Diana says:

    Such a great encouragement. It’s great to hear about people and institutions who have a historical framework towards women in ministry.


  3. Eric C. Redmond says:

    Thank you for this post!


  4. Pete Ahlstrom says:

    Did not know this! Very good information!
    Yvonne’s status: Finishes her 3rd infusion of chemo today. (Slept almost all day yesterday after this infusion started Monday.
    Would you mind if we asked you to pray for a friend of ours, named Kathy? Her husband died of cancer last year. About the same time she was laid off from her job, and mostly due to age has not even been able to get an interview for another. Lives on a widow’s pension. Has had health problems with a bleeding ulcer, but because she cannot afford insurance, she can’t get it treated. Then last weekend her dad died. Our family has been praying, and seeing results, but right now she needs all the support she can get. Thanks.


  5. Suzanne M Burden says:

    Their story is told in When Others Shuddered I pray Moody will move forward in truly equipping and releasing women to serve in all ways!


  6. Susan C Nash says:

    So many stories like these remain hidden. Thanks for bringing it to light and thanks, Suzanne, for the book mention. The blessed alliance was not our idea; it had a greater beginning!


  7. Pingback: Moody Takes the Lead Again! | Carolyn Custis James

  8. Jamie Janosz says:

    Thank you for this fabulous review which I passed on to many of my coworkers. The “feminine” story associated with Moody has long been a burden on my own heart and one I tried to tell in When Others Shuddered. Indeed – without Emma’s tireless efforts and her ability to speak up and confront Moody, the school would never have been founded. I am so thankful for this conference theme which highlights this rich and often unspoken heritage of my alma mater.

    Liked by 1 person

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