Book chapter / Female education and the London Missionary Society in Nineteenth-Century Travancore

Divya Kannan. 2018. “‘Saving Our Sisters’: Female education and the London Missionary Society in Nineteenth-Century South India,” in Ulrike Lindner and Dörte Lerp (eds). New Perspectives on the History of Gender and Empire: Comparative and Global Approaches, London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Abstract: In the history of educational provision, the role of European missionary women have been underplayed. They have often been subsumed under general missionary educational activities, without due attention to the specificities of female schooling. This is a pertinent domain because an exploration of gender identities must take into account the educational histories of varying groups of people.

Apart from imparting the three Rs, premised on the Christian faith, schooling practices also manifested itself in the debates on what constituted acceptable moral norms, femininity, family and work across colonial populations.

This chapter focuses on the female missionaries of the London Missionary Society and their educational endeavours during the nineteenth and early twentieth century in Travancore, south-west India, amongst the women of poor, lower caste groups. It begs the question as to what degree did the  LMS adhere to their missionary ideas in educational activities for colonized women.

Did they simply seek to implement their particular Christian agenda of  producing ‘better wives and mothers’ or aim at provoking their pupils into breaking away from traditional customs completely?  And if a break from tradition was indeed sought, can their work be evaluated for conceptualising feminist thought and action? In what ways were their attempts appropriated, resisted and influenced by indigenous populations? By raising these questions, the paper attempts to delineate the complexities of missionary women’s educational work, its relationship to social change and the limits to the missionary project itself.

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Reposted from Kerala Scholars eGroup