Hannah More was an English educator, writer and social reformer. She was known for her writings on abolition and for encouraging women to join the anti-slavery movement.
More was born in 1745 in Fishponds, Bristol. She was the fourth of five daughters of Jacob More, a schoolmaster from Harleston, Norfolk and Mary Grace More. More’s father brought all of his daughter up to become teachers, he was surprised at how intelligent Hannah was and she was the acknowledged genius of the family with an obvious passion for learning. In 1758 More’s three older sisters opened a boarding school for ‘young ladies’ at 6 Trinity Street, College Green, Bristol. More became first a pupil at 12 and later a teacher at the school. The school was successful due to the sisters’ ability to making and develop contacts and friendships.
At the age of 17 More wrote her first literary work, the play ‘The Search after Happiness’ which the girls at the school performed. More also became involved with the Theatre Royal Bristol. At 22 More was engaged to William Turner, the owner of a house called Belmont which is now part of the Tyntesfield estate. The couple were engaged for 6 years but Turner refused to set a date for the wedding and More broke the relationship off at the end of 1773. As compensation, Turner paid her an annuity of £200 which enabled her to leave teaching and follow her ambition to write.
In 1775 More’s first play The Inflexible Captive, was staged at Bath. After this she spent the majority of her time in London where she met many important political and society figures, including Samuel Johnson and Edmund Burke. She became one of the foremost members of the Bluestocking group of women engaged in polite conversation and literary and intellectual pursuits, she became friends with fellow members Frances Boscawen, Elizabeth Carter, Elizabeth Vesey and Hester Chapone. In 1784 she published the poem The Bas Bleu, or, Conversation in which she celebrated these women. More continued to write and her play ‘Percy’ was produced by David Garrick and two years later ‘Fatal Falsehood’ was staged but More had fallen out of love with the theatre and thought it morally wrong following the death of Garrick and Johnson.
More began to lose interest in her London social life and she became vulnerable to the influence of evangelical men and women of the Clapham Sect and other progressive religious groups. The ‘Clapham Sect’ were evangelical Christians, many of whom were involved in the campaign for the abolition of slavery. The group included William Wilberforce, James Stephen, and Zachary Macaulay, among others. More’s poem Slavery, was published in 1788 to coincide with the first parliamentary debate on the slave trade.
In 1789 Wilberforce suggested to More that something needed to be done in Cheddar, Somerset and together with her younger sister Martha she opened a sunday school, throughout the next ten years they would set up more than a dozen sunday schools. Three of these schools survived into the twentieth century. In addition to the schools, the More sisters encouraged community schemes including building a village oven for baking bread and puddings. They also developed their own pedagogy and in 1834 she published Hints on how to run a Sunday School which stated that learning had to be planned and suited to the level of the students, varied in method and entertaining. She also said that to get the best out of children they must be treated with kindness.
In 1793 More published Village Politics, a short popular tract designed to counter the arguments of Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man. Later that year she wrote Thoughts on the Speech of M. Dupont, an attack on the anti-clericalism of the French Revolution which was
designed to raise funds for the French ŽmigrŽ clergy. She then wrote the The Cheap Repository Tracts, a series of tracts with the most famous being The Shepherd of Salisbury Plain, describing a family of phenomenal frugality and contentment. After she finished her writing, the Religious Tract Society was founded to continue her work.
More also produced a series of conduct books, of which the most famous was Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education (1799). It presented the idea that women had been given an unsatisfactory education designed to prepare them for nothing more than marriage and motherhood and was compared with Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). On the whole, More’s writing did show a confusing opinion on the role of women but it did show that her view of women’s education was more progressive than many others within the middle classes at the time.
More continued to write into retirement, writing best-selling works of Evangelical piety. She was also keen patron of the British and Foreign Bible Society and continued her interest in the anti-slavery movement. She lived just long enough to see the abolition of slavery in most of the British Empire with the Slavery Abolition Act 1833. She was one of the most successful writers, and perhaps the most influential woman, of her day. On her death in 1833 she left more than £30,000 to charities and religious societies (equivalent to around £2,000,000 or $3,000,000). Several local Bristol schools and the Hannah More Academy at Reisterstown, Maryland are named in her honour and an image of her was used in 2012 on the Bristol Pound local currency.