Women against Slavery: The British Campaigns, 1780-1870by Clare Midgley

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  • Women against Slavery: The British Campaigns, 1780-1870 by Clare MidgleyReview by: Margot FinnThe American Historical Review, Vol. 99, No. 2 (Apr., 1994), pp. 561-562Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Historical AssociationStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2167351 .Accessed: 24/06/2014 21:40

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  • Modern Europe 561

    II averted the sort of die-hard defense of empire that the similarly structured French colonial army launched in Algeria.

    Written with great vigor and lightened by nice touches of wit, Ingram's work deserves an audience beyond those specialists for whom it will be required reading, if only because the problems of acting the role of a global power are not of merely historical interest.


    University of Delaware

    J. F. COAKLEY. The Church of the East and the Church of England: A History of the Archbishop of Canterbury's Assyrian Mission. New York: Clarendon Press of Ox- ford University Press. 1992. Pp. x, 422. $85.00.

    The world-wide expansion of European Christianity is not only one of the great stories of modern history but also one of the most difficult to tell. The organiz- ing story for modern religious history, the theory of secularization, places religion at the margins of his- tory. Furthermore, the history of religious expansion is inextricable from competing tales of imperialism and anti-imperialism, in which the Christian mission- ary characteristically plays the role of ecclesiastical adjunct to the Western imperialist.

    In this well-written history of a small but fascinat- ing mission sponsored by the Archbishop of Canter- bury, J. F. Coakley promises, and delivers, "contro- versy of all kinds, violence, strong-minded and eccentric characters, exotic scenes, adventures, and tragedy" (p. 1). But he attempts to engage not only a celebratory audience eager for tales of missionary heroism but also a skeptical secular audience that regards the entire enterprise as suspect.

    The Church of the East was a small, largely rural remnant of the Christian church of the Persian em- pire, usually known as Nestorian, sometimes as As- syrian, sometimes as Syrian Christian. These Syriac- speaking Christians had flourished for a time following the Muslim conquest of Persia, but came on hard times beginning in the fourteenth century. By the early nineteenth century two surviving communi- ties lived on either side of the border between Persia and Turkey, where they were sporadically persecuted by their powerful Kurdish neighbors. They had the further misfortune of being sought out by missionar- ies promoting the competing religious interests of Roman Catholicism, American Presbyterianism, Rus- sian Orthodoxy, and Anglicanism. The competition provided short-term material gains for their clergy, but ultimately led to internal schism and entangled the Syrian Christians in the extremely dangerous politics of Western intervention in Persia and Turkey.

    Leaders of the Church of England saw the Church of the East as a kindred Episcopal denomination, resisting the theological aggression of both Roman Catholics and American Presbyterians. Celibate High

    Church Anglican clergyman and nuns came to live with the Syrian Christians, not to recruit them into an Anglican church but ostensibly to revive their church from within by creating schools for their children and their clergy, and by training Christian women to be fit wives and mothers. Coakley believes that this mis- sion's distinctive rejection of proselytism removes much of the taint of Western imperialism.

    But the relationship between Christianity and im- perialism involves far more than proselytism. Angli- can missionaries wished to persuade the Church of the East to adopt Western standards of education, publish the Syriac liturgies and creeds with modern typefaces, and pursue an aggressive program of in- ternal moral reform. Believing as they did that the Christian church would outlast both the British em- pire and Western civilization, these missionaries did not understand their mission as an attempt to extend Western culture to the non-Western world. Yet in the short term the striking thing about them is their failure to transcend the limitations of late Victorian culture. It is difficult to think of a better label than "cultural imperialism" for a program of training Syrian Christian women to be fit wives by Victorian standards. The missionaries of the Assyrian Mission took seriously their own claims to be nonimperialistic, but by accepting those claims at face value Coakley has missed the opportunity to rethink the relation- ship between Western religion and imperialism.


    University of Iowa

    CLARE MIDGLEY. Women against Slavery: The British Campaigns, 1780-1870. New York: Routledge. 1992. Pp. xii, 281. $69.95.

    In this book, Clare Midgley provides not only a much-needed narrative of the contributions made by women to British abolitionism but also a sustained analysis of the particularistic ways in which gender shaped and constrained women's involvement in op- position to the slave trade, campaigns against slavery in the British colonies, and efforts to achieve univer- sal abolition. As considerable contributors to the literature and the finances of these movements, she argues, women channeled their influence in gender- specific directions. Thus, disillusionment with male abolitionists' tactic of parliamentary petitioning led women to initiate abstention campaigns in which individual female consumers were encouraged to boycott sugar and other slave-produced goods. Simi- larly, the networks of women's antislavery societies that emerged in the 1820s deployed their funds to their own abolitionist ends. In Birmingham, this policy of selective funding sustained a cadre of trav- eling antislavery agents; in other regions it promoted education, relief, and Christian conversion in the British West Indies. In this manner, antislavery activ- ities came to assume a gendered configuration: male


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  • 562 Reviews of Books

    abolitionists concentrated their efforts on the broad economic impact of slavery, whereas women empha- sized issues associated with morality and individual responsibility.

    But as Midgley clearly demonstrates, women abo- litionists by no means confined their activities to a putatively private female sphere of influence. From the 1830s, women entered with enthusiasm the realm of parliamentary politics, joining in the mass petition- ing campaigns initiated by men but changing the inflection of these campaigns as they did so. Most notably, women's preoccupation with moral issues led them to champion the immediate abolition of slavery, rather than the policy of gradualism espoused by most male abolitionists. The transatlantic focus of women's antislavery activities in the aftermath of the Emancipation Act of 1833 also served to broaden female abolitionism beyond a narrow private sphere. For although their contacts with American abolition- ists led to personal friendships and familial associa- tions, these links also enmeshed British women in the heated debates on women's political rights and the legitimacy of resistance to governments that sur- rounded the American abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison and Lewis Tappan.

    Well researched, broadly conceived, and coher- ently argued, this volume adds significantly to the literature on abolitionism. Whereas David Brion Davis has emphasized the centrality of the debate over the relative virtues of free and slave labor, Midgley highlights a "contrast emphasized by women campaigners between a society run by degraded slave holders who abused black women and undermined family life and a Christian society modelled on British, lines which elevated family life and women's domestic duties" (p. 103). Much work remains to be done on the connections between these two strands of aboli- tionist argument, on the relationship between British abolitionism and domestic agitations such as the fac- tory reform, poor-law reform, and prison reform movements, on the attitude of working-class women to slavery, and on the impact of British missionary endeavor on abolitionism, topics about which Midgley is largely silent. This book will provide scholars who turn to these subjects with both a wealth of informa- tion and an intelligent historiographical framework on which to base their studies.

    MARGOT FINN Emory University

    BARBARA CAINE. Victorian Feminists. New York: Ox- ford University Press. 1992. Pp. xii, 284. $39.95.

    With the resurgence of interest in-English women's history in the 1960s, stimulated by revived feminist political movements, many scholars focused on the Victorian women's rights campaigns. By the 1970s, the scholarship had broadened and deepened, with greater concern for the texture and context of Victo-

    rian women's lives, not necessarily analyzed within a framework of oppression and resistance. In recent years, historians such as Philippa Levine, Jane Ren- dall, Susan Kingsley Kent, and now Barbara Caine have returned to the political struggles of Victorian women with a more critical and analytic vision than that of the often hagiographic historians of the 1960s.

    Caine's contribution to the study of Victorian fem- inism is in her analysis of the theories about gender held by women's rights advocates. She focuses on four noted Victorian activists: Emily Davies, the founder of Girton College; Frances Power Cobbe, whose work for women's rights included the right to remain single in intimate relationships with other women rather than with abusive husbands; Josephine Butler, the prime mover of the campaign to repeal the Contagious Diseases Acts; and Millicent Garrett Fawcett, the suffragist who remained active in the early twentieth century as a moderate force in oppo- sition to the militant followers of the Pankhursts.

    Caine selected these four women not only because of their prominence but also because their differing ideas about the nature and role of women illustrate the diversity and complexity of Victorian feminism. With thorough mastery of the secondary literature and extensive research in both the published writings and the manuscript collections of her subjects, Caine offers fresh insights into the core assumptions, con- victions, and ambivalences of these women whose activities in the public realm are already well known. She shows, for example, that Emily Davies was much rmore interested in establishing the principle of higher education for women than she was in the actual students or their tuitions. Frances Power Cobbe, firm in her commitment to the moral auton- omy of women, is nevertheless revealed to have been primarily concerned with the absolute duty of a daughter to her parents, which Caine describes as "a central defining feature of [Cobbe's] feminism" (p. 134). In the discussion of Josephine Butler the major theme is Butler's strong liberalism, which led her to oppose any factory legislation restricting women's work and made her see the (male-run) state that had passed the Contagious Diseases Acts as the enemy of women. Millicent Fawcett, known for her moderate suffragist tactics, became what some of her colleagues felt was immoderate in her advocacy of social purity.

    Successful in her analysis of how ideas shaped action, Caine fails in her second goal of showing how biography influenced ideology. She does not succeed, in part, because of the necessary brevity of the bio- graphical material, but also because of her deliberate decision not to use psychological insights, a limiting factor when human motivation is the subject. Ideas can have a life and power of their own, but one of the arguments of the book is that it was family back- ground and life circumstances rather than intellectual influences that engendered feminist consciousness. The book is also weakened by the writing style, with too frequent use of such inflated words as "extreme-


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    Article Contentsp. 561p. 562

    Issue Table of ContentsThe American Historical Review, Vol. 99, No. 2 (Apr., 1994), pp. i-xviii+369-728+1a-46aFront Matter [pp. i - xviii]AHR Forum: Specie and SpeciesSpecie and Species: Race and the Money Question in Nineteenth-Century America [pp. 369 - 395]Thinking about the Languages of Money and Race: A Response to Michael O'Malley, "Specie and Species" [pp. 396 - 404]Response to Nell Irvin Painter [pp. 405 - 408]

    AHR Forum: American ConservatismThe Problem of American Conservatism [pp. 409 - 429]Will the Real Conservative Please Stand Up? or, The Pitfalls Involved in Examining Ideological Sympathies: A Comment on Alan Brinkley's "Problem of American Conservatism" [pp. 430 - 437]Why is There so Much Conservatism in the United States and Why Do So Few Historians Know Anything about It [pp. 438 - 449]Response to the Comments of Leo Ribuffo and Susan Yohn [pp. 450 - 452]

    The Invention of the Ethnocultural Interpretation [pp. 453 - 477]Review ArticleThe Contact of Cultures: Perspectives on the Quincentenary [pp. 478 - 503]

    Featured Reviewsuntitled [pp. 504 - 505]untitled [pp. 505 - 507]untitled [pp. 507 - 510]untitled [pp. 510 - 511]untitled [pp. 512 - 513]

    Reviews of BooksGeneraluntitled [p. 514]untitled [pp. 514 - 515]untitled [pp. 515 - 516]untitled [pp. 516 - 517]untitled [pp. 517 - 518]untitled [pp. 518 - 519]untitled [pp. 519 - 520]untitled [pp. 520 - 521]untitled [pp. 521 - 522]untitled [pp. 522 - 523]untitled [pp. 523 - 524]untitled [p. 524]untitled [p....


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