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Can Women Be Missionaries? Envisioning Female Agency in the Early Nineteenth-Century British Empire

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 December 2012


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1 Brontë, Charlotte, Jane Eyre (Harmondsworth, UK, 1966 ed.), 424–34Google Scholar. The novel was originally published in three volumes under a pseudonym: Bell, Currer, ed., Jane Eyre: An Autobiography (London, 1847)Google Scholar.

2 Cunningham, Valentine, “‘God and Nature Intended You For a Missionary Wife’: Mary Hill, Jane Eyre, and Other Missionary Women in the 1840s,” in Women and Missions, Past and Present: Anthropological and Historical Perceptions, ed. Bowie, Fiona, Kirkwood, Deborah, and Ardener, Shirley (Oxford, 1993), 85108Google Scholar, quotes on 89, 97.

3 Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty, “Three Women's Texts and a Critique of Imperialism,” in Feminist Postcolonial Theory: A Reader, ed. Lewis, Reina and Mills, Sara (Edinburgh, 2003), 306–23, quote on 311Google Scholar.

4 For works that focus on the later nineteenth century, see Huber, Mary Taylor and Lutkehaus, Nancy C., eds., Gendered Missions (Ann Arbor, MI, 1999)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Semple, Rhonda Anne, Missionary Women, Gender, Professionalism, and the Victorian Idea of Christian Mission (Woodbridge, UK, 2003)Google Scholar; Maughan, Steven S., “Civic Culture, Women's Foreign Missions, and the British Imperial Imagination, 1860–1914,” in Paradoxes of Civil Society: New Perspectives on Modern German and British History, ed. Trentmann, Frank (New York, 2000), 199219Google Scholar; Rowbotham, Judith, “‘Hear an Indian Sister's Plea’: Reporting the Work of Nineteenth-Century British Female Missionaries,” Women's Studies International Forum 21, no. 3 (1998): 247–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Gill, Sean, “Heroines of Missionary Adventure: The Portrayal of Victorian Women Missionaries in Popular Fiction and Biography,” in Women of Faith in Victorian Culture: Reassessing the Angel in the House, ed. Hogan, Anne and Bradstock, Andrew (Basingstoke, UK, 1998), 172–85CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

5 Key studies include Kent, Eliza F., Converting Women: Gender and Protestant Christianity in Colonial South India (Oxford, 2004)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Twells, Alison, “‘Let Us Begin Well at Home’: Class, Ethnicity, and Christian Motherhood in the Writing of Hannah Kilham, 1774–1832,” in Radical Femininity: Women's Self-Representation in the Public Sphere, ed. Yeo, Eileen Janes (Manchester, 1998), 2551Google Scholar; Goodman, Joyce, “Languages of Female Colonial Authority: The Educational Network of the Ladies Committee of the British and Foreign School Society, 1813–1837,” Compare 30, no. 1 (2000): 719CrossRefGoogle Scholar; the section on female missionaries in Morgan, Sue, ed., Women, Religion, and Feminism in Britain, 1750–1900 (Houndmills, UK, 2002)Google Scholar.

6 Hall, Catherine, Civilising Subjects: Metropole and Colony in the English Imagination, 1830–1867 (Cambridge, 2002)Google Scholar; Twells, Alison, “‘Happy English Children’: Class, Ethnicity, and the Making of Missionary Women in the Early Nineteenth Century,” Women's Studies International Forum 21, no. 3 (1998): 235–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Thorne, Susan, Congregational Missions and the Making of an Imperial Culture in Nineteenth-Century England (Stanford, CA, 1999)Google Scholar.

7 Gibson, Mary Ellen, “Henry Martyn and England Christian Empire: Rereading Jane Eyre through Missionary Biography,” Victorian Literature and Culture 27 (1999): 419–42CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Peterson, Linda, “‘The Feeling and Claims of Little People’: Heroic Missionary Memoirs, Domestic(ated) Spiritual Autobiography, and Jane Eyre: An Autobiography,” in Traditions of Victorian Women's Autobiography (Charlottesville, VA, 1999), 80108Google Scholar; Lamonaca, Maria, “Jane's Crown of Thorns: Feminism and Christianity in Jane Eyre,” Studies in the Novel 34, no. 3 (Fall 2002): 245–63Google Scholar.

8 deVries, Jacqueline, “Rediscovering Christianity after the Postmodern Turn,” Feminist Studies 31, no. 1 (Spring 2005): 135–55CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

9 Stanley, Brian, The Bible and the Flag: Protestant Missions and British Imperialism in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Leicester, 1990)Google Scholar; Porter, Andrew, Religion Versus Empire? British Protestant Missionaries and Overseas Expansion, 1700–1914 (Manchester, 2004)Google Scholar.

10 Prochaska, F. K., “Women in English Philanthropy, 1790–1830,” International Review of Social History 19 (1974): 426–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and Women and Philanthropy in Nineteenth-Century England (Oxford, 1980)Google Scholar. For testaments to the early importance of ladies' associations to the Baptist Missionary Society, see Missionary Herald, August 1820, 59; for testaments to the Church Missionary Society, see Stock, Eugene, The History of the Church Missionary Society (London, 1899), 1:243Google Scholar.

11 The respective dates at which the major English missionary societies made a formal decision to directly recruit women were as follows: Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society in 1858, Baptist Missionary Society in 1866, London Missionary Society in 1875, and Church Missionary Society in 1887. In Scotland the United Presbyterian Church made the move in 1881. For specific societies, see The Women's Auxilary of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society, The Story of the Women's Auxiliary, 1858–1922 (London, 1923)Google Scholar; Stanley, Brian, The History of the Baptist Missionary Society, 1792–1992 (Edinburgh, 1992), 228–32Google Scholar; Lovett, Richard, The History of the London Missionary Society, 1795–1895 (London, 1899), 714–16Google Scholar; Is It Nothing to You? A Record of the Work among Women in Connection with the London Missionary Society (London, 1899)Google Scholar; Macdonald, Lesley A. Orr, A Unique and Glorious Mission: Women and Presbyterianism in Scotland, 1830–1930 (Edinburgh, 2000), 115Google Scholar. For the Church Missionary Society and a general overview of the developments, see Maughan, Steven S., “Regions Beyond and the National Church: Domestic Support for the Foreign Missions of the Church of England in the High Imperial Age, 1870–1914” (PhD thesis, Harvard University, 1995), 259327Google Scholar.

12 Founding constitution of the Baptist Missionary Society as quoted in Stanley, History of the Baptist Missionary Society, 233.

13 Murray, Jocelyn, “Gender Attitudes and the Contribution of Women to Evangelism and Ministry in the Nineteenth Century,” in Evangelical Faith and Public Zeal: Evangelicals and Society in Britain, 1780–1980, ed. Wolffe, John (London, 1995), 97116Google Scholar; Valence, Deborah M., Prophetic Sons and Daughters (Princeton, NJ, 1985)Google Scholar; Dews, D. Colin, “Ann Carr and the Female Revivalists of Leeds,” in Religion in the Lives of English Women, 1760–1930, ed. Malmgreen, Gail (London, 1986), 6887Google Scholar; Anderson, Olive, “Women Preachers in Mid-Victorian Britain: Some Reflexions on Feminism, Popular Religion, and Social Change,” Historical Journal 12, no. 3 (1969): 467–84CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Kenzle, Beverly Mayne and Walker, Pamela J., eds., Women Preachers and Prophets through Two Millennia of Christianity (Berkeley, 1998), esp. preface and chap. 15Google Scholar.

14 Piggin, Stuart, Making Evangelical Missionaries, 1789–1858: The Social Background, Motives, and Training of British Protestant Missionaries to India (London, 1984)Google Scholar.

15 Hall, Catherine, “Missionary Stories: Gender and Ethnicity in England in the 1830s and 1840s,” in White, Male, and Middle Class: Explorations in Feminism and History (Oxford, 1992), 205–55Google Scholar; Hall, Civilising Subjects.

16 Stock, History of the Church Missionary Society, 124–25.

17 For a summary of these early developments, see Midgley, Clare, “Female Emancipation in an Imperial Frame: English Women and the Campaign against Sati (Widow Burning) in India, 1813–30,” Women's History Review 9, no. 1 (2000): 95121CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

18 Stanley, Bible and the Flag, 78.

19 Noel (1799–1873) was a clergyman in the Church of England until 1848, when he became a Baptist minister. He was an influential reformist Whig who opposed the Corn Laws and led pan-evangelical initiatives to evangelize the urban poor. See Carter, Grayson's entry on Noel in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004)Google Scholar.

20 “Appeal,” in Society for Promoting Female Education in China, India, and the East (London, n.d.), 912, 13Google Scholar; History of the Society for Promoting Female Education in the East (London, 1847)Google Scholar; The Twenty-Fourth Annual Report of the Society for Promoting Female Education in the East (London, 1858), 1936, 16Google Scholar. For a brief overview of the activities of the society, see Donaldson, Margaret, “The Cultivation of the Heart and the Moulding of the Will: The Missionary Contribution of the Society for Promoting Female Education in China, India, and the East,” in Women in the Church, ed. Shiels, W. J. and Wood, Diana (Oxford, 1990), 429–42Google Scholar. The minutes and other records of the FES are preserved in the Church Missionary Society archive at the University of Birmingham (available on microfilm from Adam Matthew publishers).

21 This breakaway group was called the Female Society of the Free Church of Scotland for Promoting Christian Education of the Females in India. Swan, Annie S., Seed Time and Harvest: The Story of the Hundred Years’ Work of the Women's Foreign Mission of the Church of Scotland (London, 1937)Google Scholar; Eighth Annual Report of the Scottish Ladies’ Association for the Advancement of Female Education in India, under the Superintendence of the General Assembly's Committee on Foreign Missions (Edinburgh, 1846)Google Scholar; Rev.Duff, Alexander, More Fruits from India (Edinburgh, ca. 1848)Google Scholar; The Eastern Females’ Friend, n.s., 3 (July 1857): 34.

22 Stock, History of the Church Missionary Society, 128.

23 Chapman, Priscilla, Hindoo Female Education (London, 1839)Google Scholar.

24 History of the Society for Promoting Female Education in the East; prefatory note to a bound volume of The Eastern Females’ Friend, n.s., 1–19 (1857–61).

25 Peterson, “Feeling and Claims of Little People.”

26 Memoirs of Mrs. Harriet Newell, Wife of the Reverend Samuel Newell, American Missionary to India (London, 1815)Google Scholar.

27 Philip, John, DD, preface to Memoir of Mrs. Matilda Smith, Late, of Cape Town, Cape of Good Hope (London, 1824), viixviGoogle Scholar.

28 Elbourne, Elizabeth, Blood Ground: Colonialism, Mission, and the Contest for Christianity in the Cape Colony and Britain, 1799–1853 (Montreal, 2002), 113–15Google Scholar. For a fascinating account of one African Caribbean woman's missionary work in the mid-eighteenth century, see Sensbach, Jon F., Rebecca's Revival: Creating Black Christianity in the Atlantic World (Cambridge, MA, 2005)Google Scholar.

29 Judson, Ann H., An Account of the American Baptist Mission to the Burman Empire, 2nd ed. (London, 1827)Google Scholar; Knowles, James D., Memoir of Mrs. Ann H. Judson, Wife of the Reverend Adoniram Judson, Missionary to Burmah, 9th ed. (London, 1838), 34, 35Google Scholar.

30 Winslow, Miron, A Memoir of Mrs. Harriet W. Winslow: Combining a Sketch of the Ceylon Mission; With an Introductory Essay by James Harrington Evans, Minister of John Street Chapel (London, 1838), x, xiGoogle Scholar.

31 Rev.Fairchild, A. G., comp., Memoir of Mrs. Louisa A. Lowrie, of the Northern India Mission: With Introductory Notices by the Reverend E. P. Swift, the Reverend W. H. Pearce, and the Reverend A. Reed, DD. Reprinted from the Second American Edition (London, 1838), 1, 4–5Google Scholar.

32 Harvard, W. M., Memoirs of Mrs. Elizabeth Harvard, Late, of the Wesleyan Mission to Ceylon and India: With Extracts from Her Diary and Correspondence (1824; repr., London, 1825), iii, 22, 52Google Scholar.

33 Ibid., 55, 57, 157.

34 Extracts from the Journal and Correspondence of the Late Mrs. M. M. Clough, Wife of the Reverend Benjamin Clough, Missionary in Ceylon (London, 1829), xxxv, 37Google Scholar.

35 Johnston, Anna, Missionary Writing and Empire, 1800–1860 (Cambridge, 2003), 147–55CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

36 Ellis, William, Memoir of Mary M. Ellis, Wife of the Reverend William Ellis, Missionary to the South Seas, and Foreign Secretary of the London Missionary Society (London, 1835), lv, vi, 12Google Scholar. Ellis's second wife was Sarah Stickney Ellis, a highly successful author whose literary career he supported. She was the author of best-selling prescriptive tracts for women that combined an acceptance of women's social subordination with a stress on their moral authority in the domestic sphere.

37 Rev.Middleditch, T., The Youthful Female Missionary: A Memoir of Mary Ann Hutchins, Wife of the Reverend John Hutchins, Baptist Missionary, Savanna-la-Mar, Jamaica; And Daughter of the Reverend T. Middleditch, of Ipswich; Compiled Chiefly from Her Own Correspondence, 2nd ed. (London, 1840), 63, 69–72Google Scholar. See also Hall, “Missionary Stories,” 205–54.

38 Wilson, John, A Memoir of Mrs. Margaret Wilson of the Scottish Mission, Bombay, 3rd ed. (Edinburgh, 1840)Google Scholar.

39 Memoirs of Female Labourers in the Missionary Cause (Bath, 1839), 2526Google Scholar. Catherine Hall discusses a rather similar account relating to a woman who married a missionary to Jamaica—see Hall, “Missionary Stories,” 223.

40 Memoirs of Female Labourers; Thompson, Jemima, preface to Memoirs of British Female Missionaries (London, 1841), ixGoogle Scholar; Morison, John, The Fathers and Founders of the London Missionary Society (London, 1840)Google Scholar.

41 Luke, Jemima, Early Years of My Life (London, 1900), 115–23Google Scholar.

42 Biller, Sarah, ed., Memoir of the Late Hannah Kilham (London, 1837)Google Scholar. For a fuller discussion of Kilham, see Twells, “Let Us Begin Well at Home.”

43 The third was Miss Smith, one of the early agents of the FES in Bombay, and to her biographical entry Thompson appended some general information on the society, together with a list of the single women it had sent out to India and elsewhere.

44 Thompson, Memoirs, xxvi.

45 Brontë, Jane Eyre, 434.

46 Luke, Early Years, 116.

47 Brontë, Jane Eyre, 477.

48 Luke, Early Years, 85, 108, 114–23.

49 Thompson, Memoirs, xxv–xxvi.

50 Entry for Mrs. Jemima Luke, Dictionary of National Biography Supplement, 1901–1911, vol. 2; Luke, Early Years, 148–50.

51 Pitman, Emma Raymond, Heroines of the Mission Field: Biographical Sketches of Female Missionaries Who Have Laboured in Various Lands among the Heathen (London, 1880)Google Scholar.

52 Davidoff, Leonore and Hall, Catherine, “Religion and Ideology,” in Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780–1850 (London, 1987), 71192Google Scholar.

53 Lewis, Sarah, Woman's Mission, 2nd ed. (London, 1839)Google Scholar, quotes on 12, 20, 128, 48, 11–12, respectively.

54 Amanda Vickery has suggested that such prescriptive tracts can be read not as evidence of the constriction of women's lives but as a defensive reaction against women's public activities: Vickery, Amanda, “From Golden Age to Separate Spheres? A Review of the Categories and Chronology of English Women's History,” Historical Journal 36, no. 2 (1993): 383414CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

55 Thompson, Memoirs, xx.

57 Cox, Francis Augustus, prefatory essay to Female Scripture Biography: Including an Essay on What Christianity Has Done for Women, 2 vols. (London, 1817), xxiv, xcviGoogle Scholar.

58 James, John Angell, Female Piety; or, The Young Woman's Friend and Guide through Life to Immortality (London, 1852)Google Scholar. This consisted of ten sermons, the first of which was entitled “The Influence of Christianity on the Condition of Women.” This work had entered its 10th ed. by 1864. A note on p. 6 acknowledges its indebtedness to Cox's essay.

59 Mani, Lata, Contentious Traditions: The Debate on Sati in Colonial India (Berkeley, 1998)Google Scholar.

60 Midgley, “Female Emancipation in an Imperial Frame.”

61 “Appeal.” The text of this appeal was also published as app. B to the History of the Society for Promoting Female Education, where its author is named as the Reverend Baptist W. Noel (see 266–75).

62 Thompson, Memoirs, xv, lxxviii.

63 British and Foreign School Society, “Appeal in Behalf of Native Females,” Missionary Register, 1820, 434.

64 “Appeal,” 9.

65 Ibid., 13.

66 Report of the Glasgow Association for Promoting Female Education in the East (Glasgow, 1840), 7Google Scholar.

67 Thompson, Memoirs, v.

68 Missionary Register, 1815, 396–400.

69 Harvard, Memoirs of Mrs. Elizabeth Harvard, 94.

70 Noel, Baptist W., Duty of Christians towards the Female Children of India and the East (London, 1836), 43Google Scholar.

71 Kenzle and Walker, Women Preachers and Prophets, xix.

72 See the entry on Tonna by Lenard, Mary in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004)Google Scholar.

73 , C.E., “China, India, and the East,” Christian Lady's Magazine 3 (1835): 540–42Google Scholar, quote on 542.

74 Lydia, , “China, India, and the East,” Christian Lady's Magazine 6 (1836): 498502Google Scholar.

75 , G.H.G., letter to the editor, Christian Lady's Magazine 7 (1837): 241–43Google Scholar.

76 Ibid., 242.

77 , J.S., letter to the editor, Christian Lady's Magazine 7 (1837): 540–43Google Scholar.

78 Thompson, Memoirs, ix; History of the Society for Promoting Female Education in the East, 1; Female Agency among the Heathen, as Recorded in the History and Correspondence of the Society for Promoting Female Education in the East” (London, 1850)Google Scholar; The Female Missionary Intelligencer and Record of the Proceedings of the Society for the Promotion of Female Education in China, Africa, and the East (1854), see esp. 1:108, 186, 188.

79 The Female Missionary Intelligencer 2 (1855), 4950Google Scholar.

80 The English Woman's Journal, the earliest English feminist journal linked to the Langham Place Circle, which began publication in 1858, makes no reference to the work of British Protestant missionary women (although it does include information on Christian educational work by a Catholic woman in the French colony of Algeria).

81 For the classic discussion of early “imperial feminism,” see Burton, Antoinette, Burdens of History: British Feminists, Indian Women, and Imperial Culture, 1865–1915 (Chapel Hill, NC, 1994)Google Scholar.

82 Morgan, Women, Religion, and Feminism in Britain; deVries, “Rediscovering Christianity after the Postmodern Turn.”

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