Early twentieth-century missionaries in South Africa invariably subscribed to an ideology of domesticity for African Christian women. Being a housewife and mother was seen as a full-time spiritual vocation. In Johannesburg, for example, women's domestic role within marriage gave point to the whole range of female mission activity. Housewifery was not only taught at special mission schools, but also in women's hostels, a girls' youth movement and a delinquents' institution. These agencies and the African women's prayer unions also sought to combat premarital pregnancy in adolescent girls, because Christian marriage was regarded as the only proper context for motherhood. Maternity was central as well to female medical mission efforts. But the ideology of domesticity was in practice fraught with contradictions in the South African setting. First, housework training inevitably had an ambiguous status since it often aimed at supplying domestic servants to white households. Secondly, full-time motherhood was impossible for urban African women compelled to supplement their husbands' low earnings. White liberals therefore favoured higher African wages partly to free black women financially to fulfil their ‘natural’ child-rearing role. African women themselves have campaigned for domesticity against the authorities' policies of labour control. Bloemfontein in 1913 and Crossroads squatter camp in the late 1970s provide striking examples of such struggles. The Western feminist may see both the family and the role of housewife as oppressive. For the black South African woman, by contrast, the ideology of domesticity infusing these institutions may represent something positive denied her by the state.