The rise and demise of missionary wives

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The white missionary couple is an assumed presence in mission history; its mid-nineteenth-century
ubiquity read back into the formation of evangelical mission. This article questions that assumption by
creating a chronological and conceptual framework for the professional trajectory of missionary
women, and demonstrates that it was on the issue of female mission engagement that complex debates
about the nature of mission were negotiated and defined. The rise of the missionary wife shaped
mission history, through both the complementary rise of the civilising mission and through active
female spiritual agency. By the mid-nineteenth-century however, it was clear that missionary wives had
created a space they could not fill in the evermore institutionalised and secularised world of mission
building. The rise of single female religious engagement in Britain meanwhile, provided a timely
alternative to wifely activism, and missionary wives were increasingly institutionally marginalised by
the very single female missionaries who had come to ‘assist’ them.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)135-159
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Women's History
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 20 Mar 2014


  • Women's history
  • Missionary history
  • Colonialism
  • Cultural imperialism
  • Missionary wives

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