Academic journal article African Research & Documentation

Mary Slessor - Everybody's Mother: The Era and Impact of a Victorian Missionary

Academic journal article African Research & Documentation

Mary Slessor - Everybody's Mother: The Era and Impact of a Victorian Missionary

Article excerpt

Mary Stesser - Everybody's mother: the era and impact of a Victorian missionary, by Jeanette Hardage. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock, 2008, xxv, 344 pp. $39

Mary Slessor is a local hero in eastern Scotland and in south-eastern Nigeria. In both areas, plaques, statues, memorial windows and a great deal more commemorate her heroic labours. She is of course much more widely known too, but in the regions of her birth, adolescence, and service she holds a very special place. When Mike Gibbs's musical play Mother of all the Peoples was performed around Scotland quite recently, it enjoyed packed houses and the representatives of the Mary Slessor Foundation (based on Dundee and working in Nigeria) were in attendance. In a final chapter, Hardage lists all the many other ways in which Slessor has been honoured and remembered. It makes a strikingly impressive list.

What is the appeal of this astonishing woman? It is of course based upon her working-class origins, her survival in a problem home, rendered all the more poverty-stricken by an alcoholic and abusive father, her unshakeable faith, her astonishing courage, her insistence on living as Africans lived (with all the attendant dangers), her capacity to deal with and overawe men (both black and white), and her feisty insistence on reform over such issues as twin murder. Her eccentricities were legion, as were the children she adopted (so many of them died), and she herself died in harness after years of illness and physical wear and tear. It is perhaps not surprising that she has so many admirers, a contingent recently enlarged by members of the modern women's history movement. She is a female hero in a Valhalla generally inhabited by men and she gives pause for thought even to those most critical of the missionary impulse.

That is surely the key. Missionaries have not had a good press in recent historiography, particularly perhaps in works written by non-believers. Viewed as agents of imperialism (and Andrew Porter's denial of this impulse does not entirely convince this reviewer), they have also been seen as culturally arrogant, imposing alien values in inappropriate ways. Even Slessor was active, for a number of years, as a British-appointed magistrate, working on the basis of sensible rather than professional justice. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.