Original Research

Attaining the correct balance: Exploring the challenges and spirituality of single women missionaries in the Victorian era

J. Kommers
In die Skriflig/In Luce Verbi | Vol 54, No 1 | a2609 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ids.v54i1.2609 | © 2020 J. (Hans) Kommers | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 27 February 2020 | Published: 08 October 2020

About the author(s)

J. Kommers, International Reformed Theological Institute, Faculty of Theology, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, the Netherlands; and Unit for Reformational Theology and the Development of the South African Society, Faculty of Theology, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa


This comprehensive account analyses the issues of the role of single women missionaries in the Victorian era. In mission history, the moreover complex place of these women in the whole spectrum of missionary life has been dominated mostly by male authority. We meet several personalities who, in their own person, promised to follow God’s lead and to give their utmost energies to accomplish God’s highest plans. Recently I saw a leaflet with the names and pictures of all the Africa Inland Mission (AIM) missionaries in Africa and those who are on home assignment. A quick view shows that most of them are single women. This pamphlet affirms the thesis, that of all the missionaries sent to foreign countries, the majority are single women. Having been overlooked for a long time, in the last decades of the 20th century, more attention is being given to their involvement in mission work and the role of single women missionaries is highlighted. Missionary attitude is an essential dimension of the spirituality of these women. This article explores the tensions, the critical issues and direction of single women missionaries in the Victorian era. This serves as a contribution to the continuing research to understand the history of ‘half the church’. Being involved in mission does raise special challenges, and women’s spirituality should reflect these. Today many people are ignorant of their existence, and it is as though they had noiselessly tip-toed out of the pages of history and had been removed to page-less oblivion. Stanley reports that their contribution was rarely acknowledged, and hence has left little historical record. Murray is also very clear when talking about women’s missionary work, namely that their contribution in mission was little recorded, little regarded, and little known. In examining their experiences, I turn to the key theological frames of motivation: call, purpose, vision and suffering in order to make a contribution to the debate about the role of single women in missionary work, and to incorporate their experiences in the debate. These women, for a long time overlooked in the prevailing missionary debate, show a professionalism in missionary issues, which were overlooked for a long time.


single women; women missionaries; Victorian era; women’s spirituality; missionary life; Africa Inland Mission; missionary attitude.


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