Acts America

Biographies of Great Christians


Emma Dryer

While ministering in Chicago, Moody and his wife met a woman named Emma Dryer, a successful teacher and administrator. Moodemma dryery was impressed with her zeal for ministry and her educational background. He knew that women had a unique ability to evangelize to mothers and children in a way that men never could, and saw Dryer as just the person to help him encourage this group. 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.

While many have heard of D.L. Moody, the famous revivalist of the 19th century, and the prominent Bible School that bears his name, not many know of the woman who helped him make this school a success. Her name is Emeline Dryer.

Emeline Dryer, or Emma, as she was known by her friends, was born in Massachusetts in 1835. While she was still a child, both her parents died, leaving her orphaned. Emma was sent to live with an aunt in New York state and there she found educational opportunities open to her that were beyond the norm for a rural New Yorker. Being an excellent student, Emma gladly pursued her studies. She went on to study at the LeRoy Female Seminary and graduated with Highest Honors. 

After she graduated, Emma joined the staff of Knoxville Female College and stayed on there until the Civil War. For the next few years, Emma taught elementary school and then accepted an offer to join the faculty of Illinois State Normal University n 1864. Throughout her teaching career, Emma displayed a deep commitment to Christ. She often spent her summers and holidays participating in Christian work, such as teaching, evangelizing, discipleship, and relief-work.

In 1870, Emma went through a trial that would change her direction in life. In that year she became ill with typhoid fever. Her doctors did not hold out much hope that she’d ever recover and Emma, herself, didn’t expect to live through the illness. But the Lord had other plans. He provided complete healing and through this trial in her life, Emma felt God’s call to commit her life to Christian service rather than secular teaching.

It was not an easy decision for her to enter full-time Christian work. As head of the women’s faculty at Illinois State Normal University, she received a good salary, security, and much respect. To enter full-time Christian service meant for her to give this all up. But after counting the costs, she followed God’s lead and in late 1870, Emma moved to Chicago for a position that offered no salary and no worldly recognition. Miss Dryer was now going to live by faith. It was during this year that Emma was introduced to D.L. Moody and his wife. Emma and they became fast friends. 

While Mr. Moody admired Emma’s deep faith, he saw even more in her than that. He saw a woman of high intelligence, with superb teaching skills and a deep, practical knowledge of Scripture. Whatever Emma set her mind to, she accomplished. Time proved her to be dependable, energetic, and dedicated to Christian work.

In 1871, after the terrible fire that devastated Chicago, Moody began to spend most of his time ministering to the needs of those damaged financially and physically by the fire. He invited all the youth to his Church and he had enlisted the help of Emma Dryer to teach the masses of people Bible Study classes. He was able to persuade Emma to remain in Chicago and continue with her teaching at the Moody Church. He also prompted Emma to work as the head of Chicago’s Women’s Aid Society and as superintendent of the Women’s Auxiliary of the YMCA (later know as the YWCA). Seeing how this work was growing fueled Moody’s interest educational purposes. He began to develop a plan in which those men and women entering upon mission or evangelistic work might receive systematic training in the Bible.

In early 1873, a few months before He was to return to England on an evangelistic campaign, Moody convinced Emma Dryer to open a school to train women who wanted to enter home or foreign missions or evangelistic work. This school would give needed training in Bible, theology, and practical ministry to fulfill Moody’s primary goal of getting trained women evangelists and personal workers into the homes of unchurched residents of Chicago. While the school began with training women, Moody had a much larger vision and intended it to eventually include men as well.

With the influence of D.L. Moody, the school was provided with proper funding to support Emma and the women in training. The school provided suitable training befitting those going into Christian work. It was from these humble beginnings that the Chicago Bible Institute (later known as Moody Bible Institute) was born.

In 1883, with the permission of Moody, Emma organized and headed the first of a series of week-long training sessions known as the “May Institute”. At these meetings church members would meet to pray and have open discussions in regards to the Bible and the work of the Church. Emma was especially interested in deepening the role of women in the Christian community, as well as in their own families. It was with this goal in mind that she led a ladies Bible Study where she urged women to take an active role in their children’s education and upbringing. She urged them on into Christian service so they would be an example to their children of serving Christ in their community.

Emma Dryer gave her life in service to her God. She gave up a life of financial security and worldly acclaim to live a life based on her faith in God to provide for her needs while she worked to further the work of His kingdom. God did faithfully provided for her during her entire life and developed her work into a lasting legacy that continues even today in training men and women for the work of Christian service: the Moody Bible Institute.