In 1869, the wives of two missionaries to India, Mrs. William Butler and Mrs. Edwin Parker, met with a group of eight women in Boston, MA.  Mrs. Butler told the group about the need for medical care and education for women in India. A male doctor could not treat women, and schooling for girls was almost non-existent. Single, trained, and dedicated women were needed for medical and educational work.

The women organized the Methodist Woman's Foreign Missionary Society (WFMS) and by November 1869, the WFMS had raised funds and sent Isabella Thorburn, and educator, and Dr. Clara Swain, a Doctor, to India.

Over the next 104 years, several women's groups were organized for special mission work around the world. In 1973, these various groups  were brought together to become United Methodist Women, the women's mission organization of the United Methodist Church.  At the United Methodist Church General Conference 2012, delegates voted to make United Methodist Women's policymaking body autonomous.  The transition began October 1, 2012. Harriett Jane Olson in her chief executive report at the organization’s annual meeting in New York City, October 2013 reported, “Our work is not just about service, it’s about worship, it’s about standing up, stepping up making our voices heard,” she said. “We try to help governments see the world the way we see the world because it will positively impact the lives of women, children and youth."