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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Soon she was part of an intimate circle of activists and reformers known as the Clapham Sect, named for the area of London that served as their base. Its members (which included Wilberforce) were politicians, parliamentarians, ministers, and wealthy philanthropists. All, like More, were Anglicans of the Evangelical party. More was the sole woman in the circle of leadership.

The great reforms the group helped accomplish—abolishing the slave trade, enacting animal welfare laws, establishing Sunday Schools, enacting prison reforms, increasing literacy among the poor, and promoting observance of the Sabbath (the only day of rest for the laboring classes)—were achieved by the group's willingness to work with co-belligerents of divergent political and religious affiliation, including Quakers, liberals, freethinkers, and unbelievers.

Hannah More humorously referred to their powwows as akin to "Noah's Ark, full of beasts clean and unclean." Secular historians have noted the group's remarkable crossing of the rigid barriers of class, party, and creeds of their day, a model for Christians today, living in an even more pluralistic society. More and her friends poured their energies, not into in-fighting, but into world changing.

While helping to abolish the slave trade was More's most important work (and the subject of my forthcoming book, Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More—Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist), it wasn't all she did. When she died in 1833 at age 88, More had seen her plays produced at London's Theatre Royal, heard her poetry praised by distinguished English writer Samuel Johnson, opened Sunday Schools throughout rural parishes in the West Country of England, taught countless poor to read and do arithmetic, battled Thomas Paine with the power of her pen, advised the royal family in the education of the princess, wrote one of England's first bestselling novels, and befriended bishops, dukes, and duchesses.

All this—yet she had been born poor and a woman in an age that was kind to neither. How did she accomplish so much?

She did it by remaining true to her convictions while reaching across the class, creedal, and gender boundaries to partner with those of common cause. Owing perhaps to her disenfranchised status, More mixed relatively easily with rich and poor, learned and unlearned, pious and impious.

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For example, while, like most of her fellow Britons, she opposed equal civil rights for Catholics, one of her closest and longest friendships was with the Catholic Eva Maria Garrick (wife of the famous Shakespearean actor David Garrick). More was also very fond of the eccentric, irreligious (and probably homosexual) earl, Horace Walpole, a friendship that alarmed some of her more conservative friends. She shared meals with the poor villagers served by her Sunday Schools and dined with aristocrats and ladies as well.

As a devoted member of the Church of England, she fostered connections between those of high church and low. She disavowed the "enthusiasm, cant, and sectarian phrase" that divided Christians of her day. "How I hate the little narrowing names of Arminian and Calvinist," she wrote. Because it was so divisive, she even shunned the label "Evangelical" – an impulse quite familiar today.

Ironically, it was largely her Evangelicalism that has relegated More to obscurity today. With the rise of modernism at the end of the Victorian age, conservatives such as More who had ushered in that age fell out of fashion, replaced in the cultural imagination by more revolutionary icons such as her contemporary, Mary Wollstonecraft, and the later feminist Virginia Woolf.

Fortunately, however, More was not only faithful and tolerant—she was witty, too. She would have appreciated the irony of being forgotten as a result of the very faith that sustained her. We would do well to remember her and be instructed by her example of broad-mindedness and faithfulness.