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Women, Missions and Modernity: From Anti-Slavery to Missionary Zeal, 1780s to 1840s

  • Elizabeth Dimock


This paper focuses on women and the early period of the modern missionary movement from the late eighteenth century to the 1830s, considering links between the anti-slavery campaigns and the development of overseas missions within a framework of early twenty-first century understandings of modernity. There are three sections. The first discusses women's writing in relation to anti-slavery, the second examines the shift from women's anti-slavery activism at home to broader activities at home and overseas, while the third focuses on the London-based Female Education Society and its role as an organising body for women in educational work overseas. Connecting the three sections is an understanding of women's lives in a changing world, caught up in Britain's expanding empire. The women described here were mostly from Christian families in a time when religious affiliation was in a state of flux. This paper argues that women's interest in anti-slavery became enmeshed with a desire to bring education to those who would attain freedom and was encompassed in broader understandings of liberty and enlightenment. The desire to educate expanded to include the “heathen” in many parts of the world, and this paralleled the burgeoning of modern missions.



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* Previous versions of this paper have been presented at different conferences. We would like to thank the participants in these conferences as well as Bouda Etemad, Harald Fischer-Tiné, Patrick Harries, Claude Lützelschwab, Kristina Mundall, Christian Topalov, Klaus Weber, and two anonymous referees for their precious comments and Elisabeth Spilman for her very helpful research assistance.

* Elizabeth Dimock is a Research Associate in History at La Trobe University. She edited the Africa volume in the Routledge series Women and Empire, 1750-1939: Primary Sources on Gender and Imperialism (2009). Her e-mail address is .

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Women, Missions and Modernity: From Anti-Slavery to Missionary Zeal, 1780s to 1840s

  • Elizabeth Dimock


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