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“That's the Modern Girl”: Missionary Women and Modernity in Kolkata, c. 1907 - c. 19401

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 January 2011

Extract

In 1923, three young single western women—Margaret Read, Iris Wingate, and Eleanor Rivett—made an adventurous summer trip riding and trekking from Kalimpong in West Bengal, right up to Sikkim. Read and Wingate, both wearing riding breeches and with hair bobbed, were somewhat more adventurous, continuing their trip to Tibet. This was a holiday from their work in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), the great cosmopolitan city of the British Raj in India. Surely these independent and mobile women were reminiscent of “the Modern Girl” that has been “singled out as a marker of ‘modernity’”. However, these women were not in the sites where “the Modern Girl” has hitherto been located, for they were working in the Christian missionary movement in India. Eleanor Rivett, an Australian and the oldest in the trio, was principal of United Missionary Girls High School (UMGHS) while Iris Wingate and Margaret Read, both British, were working with the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) in Kolkata.

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Copyright © Research Institute for History, Leiden University 2010

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1 I would like to thank the reviewers for Itinerario for their comments and the National President and staff of the National Office of the Indian YWCA for access to Women's Outlook in India. I am grateful to Dr Joan Read and the Institute of Education, University of London, for access to Margaret Read's papers. Current names for Indian cities are used, except where the older versions are used in proper names or quotations.

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“That's the Modern Girl”: Missionary Women and Modernity in Kolkata, c. 1907 - c. 19401
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