April 9, 2024

The Legacy of Maud Sisley Boyd

Michael W. Campbell
Maud Sisley Boyd (wife of Charles L. Boyd). Photo courtesy of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Archives.

As a young girl, after her father died, Maud Sisley moved from England with her mother to live with her two older brothers in the United States.* They located to a farm in Convis, Michigan, where an early Sabbatarian Adventist minister, J. B. Frisbie, pitched a tent in their neighborhood. Her oldest brother, John, joined the church during these meetings, and soon afterward, so too did her mother. When James and Ellen White visited their family, they chose to move to church headquarters at Battle Creek, Michigan, so that Maud and her siblings could obtain an education. She worked part-time at the Review and Herald and was an early student of Goodloe Harper Bell’s, the denomination’s first full-time educator. Early on Maud had a heart for mission, donating some of her limited earnings to help support the emerging work.

Missionary to Europe

As an active member of the Tract and Missionary Society in Battle Creek she shared her sense of a call to be a missionary: “While kneeling in prayer about 7:00 one evening, I heard a voice distinctly ask me this question: ‘Are you willing to do anything that the Lord wants you to do?’ At this time I had been a member of the church for 10 years, and I had often thought I was willing to do anything. . . . [But] I now found that I had not made the wholehearted surrender that I had thought.” As she wept and prayed, she surrendered her life to God. The next morning she received a call from the denomination’s Foreign Mission Board to serve in Europe.

On November 17, 1877, Maud went with William and Jennie Ings to Europe. The group met up with J. N. Andrews and assisted him in publishing the church’s first missionary paper, Les Signes des Temps. One special memory for her was being able to set the type for the very first Adventist publication in the Italian language. Not long after the Ingses moved to England, Maud joined them and gave Bible readings in homes as they conducted evangelistic meetings.

Maud returned to the United States to attend meetings of the General Sabbath School Association held in Battle Creek. Here she met a widower, Charles Boyd, and soon afterward tied the knot on December 8, 1879. They then traveled to Nebraska, where Charles served as conference president and Maud led the Nebraska Tract Society. They traveled by “covered wagon” across the region, then ventured to the Northwest Territory (today Washington, Idaho, and Oregon), where they pioneered some of the early work there. While there, their two daughters, Ella and Ethel, were born (1883).

Called to Africa

On May 11, 1887, the Boyds went as part of the first pioneer group of Adventist missionaries to South Africa. Soon after their arrival, their daughter Ethel tragically died. They went to Kimberly, where they conducted evangelism, and raised up a church of 21 members in Beaconsfield. Maud specialized in training “canvassers” on how to distribute Adventist literature in homes since public preaching was difficult at best. On January 6, 1891, because of health challenges, the family returned to America just in time to attend the 1891 General Conference Session.

Missionary to the South

Upon their return the Boyds were asked to serve in the Tennessee River Conference. Maud had a special burden to work to break down racial barriers in response to Ellen White’s resounding call to work on behalf of the downtrodden Blacks in the American South. She was so perplexed over the “color line” that she felt it unjust to have Black members sit behind White congregants. She came up with an innovative approach, creating an L-shaped church with a slanted pulpit that prevented anyone from sitting behind anyone else and thus promoted a more egalitarian space. This was an early effort by Maud to break down racial barriers.

“It will give them just as good a chance as the White people,” she wrote to Ellen White, “and yet no one can object, as they will be separate and yet all together.” She believed, following Mrs. White’s prophetic counsels, that it was possible for “both colors” to be able to “hold membership in the same church.” Maud worked earnestly to break down the “wall of partition between God’s children,” since “all [were] made ‘of one blood’ and all redeemed by one blood.” While they lived in a time of great racial prejudice during the post-Civil War Reconstruction period, they believed that they must keep trying to help establish the early Adventist missionary work in the American South. The efforts of Maud and Charles helped pave the way for later missionaries, notably James Edson White and his Morning Star boat, which reinforced these early efforts.

Bible Teacher and Mentor of Missionaries

In 1898 the Boyds moved to Asheville, North Carolina. Tragically, soon after they arrived, Charles died, and was buried there. Afterward Ellen White requested that Maud assist her with the newly formed Avondale School. She spent the next nine years as a “highly respected” preceptress (women’s dean), matron (cook), and educator. She popularized cooking classes replete with samples of their cuisine in the dining room. She again led the Victorian Tract Society, and for a time went with her daughter Ella as a missionary to Tonga.

Later in life she returned to live with her sister in southern California, serving as a Bible teacher at the Loma Linda and Glendale sanitariums, where she became a popular Bible teacher. She returned for one year (1927-1928) to teach at Oakwood Junior College before returning one last time to Australia, where she died in 1937. She rests next to her mother, Susannah, in the Avondale Adventist Cemetery in Cooranbong, New South Wales, with her life as a testament to God’s ability to work in the life of this persistent and courageous missionary who in her later years trained another generation of missionaries.

* For sources used in this article, see a detailed article by the author as part of the Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=AAZ0&highlight=boyd.