Hannah More may not be a name recognized by many, but it should be, because she was a woman who truly changed the world. Of humble origins, Hannah was born in 1745, the fourth of five daughters. Following in her father’s footsteps, she became a teacher and with her sisters, all educated by their father, opened a boarding school for girls. The More sisters believed that girls could learn just as much and just as quickly as boys, and that the educational opportunities they offered at their school would reflect that. They did all they could to ensure their students reached their full educational potential.
A prodigious writer, Hannah eventually left teaching to pursue a career as a poet and a playwright and soon, through a series of providential connections, was mixing it up with London’s elite. Hannah’s Christian faith was woven into the fabric of her life, but she saw great opportunity in not isolating herself from the social circles in which she moved. Her acceptance of those who did not share her faith was somewhat unprecedented for the time and would later afford her a powerful platform from which to preach the gospel, both with words and without.
Hannah eventually became disillusioned with the world of London’s elite. She dropped out of the limelight, seeking a quiet life in the country where she could garden. Intrigued by the story of John Newton, the former slave ship captain and author of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” she soon became a great admirer of the man’s story. Not long after she began attending dinner parties where the abolitionist movement was being discussed and debated. Soon she met William Wilberforce, the man essentially credited with shutting down the African slave trade in Great Britain. A prominent politician and voice in Parliament, Wilberforce became a great friend of Hannah’s, and as he refined his mission to battle the slave trade on the political front, it became clear that the fight would inevitably be fought in the public square as well. The call to abolish slavery needed a champion in both politics and culture. Politics needed to change; culture had to change too.
Due to her history in the world of London’s elite as a successful poet and playwright, Hannah was the one Wilberforce needed within the cultural world of Britain to educate the people about the evils of the slave trade. Through her writing, Hannah More played a key role in bringing the horrors of slavery not just to the streets, but into the posh drawing rooms of London society. Her poems inspired other poets and writers to address the issue as well, and soon the popular tide was turning against slavery. Putting pen to paper, she exposed the average citizen not only to the suffering of the African slave but also to their humanity. Though the color of their skin was different, in all other ways she insisted they were fathers, mothers, and children made in the image of God with an inherent value bestowed upon them by their Creator. Her words challenged the accepted notion that the slave trade was just an economic necessity that existed somewhat in the abstract, somewhere far away, as someone else’s problem. The result? After a long and bitter fight, hundreds of thousands of ordinary British citizens signed petitions declaring their disapproval of the African slave trade. Wilberforce presented to members of Parliament this evidence that the people were clearly against it, and the slave trade within the British empire, on which the sun never set, was abolished with the passing of Slave Trade Act of 1807.
Could William Wilberforce have done it without Hannah More? We don’t think so. But he didn't have to because Hannah stepped up and God used her to change the world. And we think that's worth celebrating!
Photo credit: www.national trust.org.uk.