The Most Influential Reformer You've Never Heard of
Update: Karen Swallow Prior's much-anticipated book on Hannah More, Fierce Convictions, released October 28, 2014.
Editor's note: Today's post continues our Women's History Month series, connecting our contemporary efforts for justice with the evangelical women who came before us. We will feature "women of character, courage, and commitment" each Wednesday in March.
Hannah More might just be the most influential reformer you've never heard of. (If you've seen the 2006 movie Amazing Grace, or read the companion book by Eric Metaxas, then you may remember her from a couple of small but significant scenes.)
Hannah More was one of William Wilberforce's most beloved friends and part of a small circle who worked most closely with him to abolish the British slave trade in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. She played so central a role in this and many other significant social reforms of the 19th century that she has been called "the first Victorian."
More's use of her considerable influence to bring widespread reform is rooted in two personal characteristics: a strong commitment to her Evangelical Christian faith and an equally strong commitment to building bridges with others vastly different from herself. Many of the longstanding institutions, structures, and hierarchies of More's world were—like many today—crumbling.
Rather than quail in the face of such challenges, More strengthened herself through faith and friendship. She provides a timely example for Christian women today, who likewise find ourselves in a culture marked by shifting roles and assumptions.
The world More was born into was one in which one's birth largely dictated the course of one's life. More's vocational options as a woman were to marry or become a teacher. Born to a schoolmaster, she (and her four sisters) chose teaching. Born to Church of England parents, More was destined to be Anglican, which she remained her whole life. But she was also born at a time when the Evangelical movement, popularized through the itinerant ministries of John and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield, was sweeping the transatlantic region, bringing with it an emphasis on personal faith that would transform More's life, and consequently, her world.
She spent her early adult years as a rising literary sensation who hobnobbed with London's most celebrated men and women of letters. But after reading the work of the former slave ship captain John Newton and hearing him preach, More turned her thoughts to more eternal things. While she remained steadfastly committed to the Church of England, her mind and spirit were stirred by this so-called "religion of the heart," and she joined the growing ranks of the Evangelicals.
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