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Pioneer Workers, Invaluable Helpmeets, Good Mothers

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A Study of the Role of the Missionary Wife in the Church Missionary Society

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For more content, please see Le Fait Missionnaire.

This article explores the role of 20th century missionary wives by the examples of six women in the Church Missionary Society (CMS). It offers complexity to a gendered analysis, as well as insight into a time period, c. 1900–c. 1960, which is only beginning to attract attention from researchers of this field. Through the lens of life course theories, the sources reveal official ideals and personal interpretations related to the transitions of marriage and motherhood, and point to motherhood as a turning point. The discussion demonstrates changing role expectations, from an emphasis on wives’ contribution through the companionate missionary marriage towards individual job descriptions and domesticity for wives. However, the women responded differently to the expectations, and the analysis emphasises how the agency of the women was enabled or limited by the timing of transitions. The article positions the individual woman in her immediate context, and in the CMS and wider English society, and search to reveal the interplay of the agents and these structures.

Affiliations: 1: NLA University College, Norway


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