During the 19th century Christian women of the United States and Canada initiated a variety of cooperative activities in support of women’s involvement in mission activities at home and abroad. In spite of resistance from all-male mission boards, from 1861 onwards women were responsible for several projects aimed specifically towards the well-being of women and children.
For many years women from different denominations encouraged one another to engage in days—and occasionally weeks—of communal prayer, and in 1897 a committee was formed to establish a united day of prayer in support of home missions; in 1912 this was joined by a day of prayer in support of missions overseas. The women in all these groups had a vision of Christian unity that was seen as essential to their exercise of mission, a belief that gained momentum following the devastation of the first world war.
In Canada, representatives of women’s missionary societies from five denominations formed a committee—now the Women’s Inter-Church Council—which organized the first national Day of Prayer, observed on 9 January 1920; in the United States, a similar event was organised for the first Friday of Lent. By 1922 the Canadians were also holding their observance on this date, and by the beginning of 1927 a call was issued for a World Day of Prayer.
Now observed on the first Friday in March, World Day of Prayer has grown into a global movement of Christian women from many traditions. Each year there is a different theme, and it is hoped that by participating individuals will: