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'Them women be best man for missions' : women and missions in nineteenth-century British West Africa

Jolliffe, Clive (2003) 'Them women be best man for missions' : women and missions in nineteenth-century British West Africa. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94447) (KAR id:94447)

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Africa occupies a special place within missionary history. It was seen in the nineteenth century as the dark continent which needed to be saved and missionaries set out to do this. The thesis shows how women were essential to this effort. It was not just the wives, widows and single female missionaries who worked overseas who were vital for missionary work but also essential were those women who worked at home to provide the support necessary for missionary enterprise. The West African women whom the missionaries believed they came to save were also an important aspect of missionary work. The thesis looks at how all these women came together in the missionary effort in British West Africa from the beginning of the 19th century to the end of W.W.I., placing them in the context of contemporary society. The work of five major missionary societies is looked at in the four countries which eventually comprised British West Africa.

Missionary work was one of the few areas in the 19th century which women could appropriate. It was not just overseas that they could do this. In Britain they were able to control and run large organisations which provided opportunities for women to show what they could do given the opportunity. The Women’s Auxiliary of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society was one such organisation and is examined in the thesis, as is the training and recruitment of female candidates. In West Africa wives, widows and single female agents all made their own important contributions to the missionary work. They developed a wide range of skills, especially in working with local women and children. This thesis examines the ways in which they did this and also what they were not able to do. The missionary heroine was an important part of the promotion of the missionary cause and her role is looked at and compared with the depiction of missionary women in 19th century fiction.

The missionaries came to change society in West Africa and local women were not exempted. Missionaries brought with them ideas about polygyny and domestic slavery which affected women particularly. What this meant for African women and how they responded is a particular feature of the thesis.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Bolt, Christine
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94447
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 25 April 2022 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Subjects: D History General and Old World
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of History
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 27 Oct 2022 14:29 UTC
Last Modified: 27 Oct 2022 14:29 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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