Hannah More (1745-1833) was a poet, playwright, anti-slavery campaigner and one of the most influential female philanthropists of the Age of Revolution. Seen by some as an early feminist, and others as an anti-feminist, she remains a controversial figure today.
More was born in Bristol. As a young woman she was lucky enough to receive a formal education – initially from her father, who was a schoolmaster. She went on to run a successful school for young women in Bristol, along with her four sisters. Here she wrote plays for school performances, which brought her to the attention of influential members of the literary and theatre worlds such as Samuel Johnson and David Garrick. She then pursued her own very successful literary career in London, where she joined the Bluestockings, a pioneering intellectual society founded by women.
Towards the end of the 1700s, More became an important contributor to the British movement to abolish the Transatlantic Slave Trade, using her writing ability to help influence public opinion. In 1788, she wrote ‘Slavery, a poem’ in support of the parliamentary campaign to abolish the Slave Trade, led by her close friend William Wilberforce. By the 1790s, she had become deeply involved in the Abolition campaign with a group known as the Clapham Sect. She helped to give the movement a voice and to garner support among influential members of society, producing pamphlets and organising sugar boycotts against sugar produced by enslaved workers
More’s activism also included campaigns for the education and welfare of the poor, funded with her own money, earned through her writing. Encouraged by Wilberforce, she established 12 schools across Somerset and set up friendly societies for women’s welfare.
Despite this activity in support of revolutionary social reform, More also supported the reaction against the radical ideas of the French Revolution. She wrote about this in her very successful publication ‘Village Politics’, and in a further fifty texts which sold millions of copies. And, while her later writings advocated female education, she was in favour of only limited public roles for women in society – despite her own status and activism. These opinions became highly unfashionable as the campaign for women’s rights developed in the future.
More continued to support the cause for Abolition and lived just long enough to see an end to British involvement in Transatlantic Slavery, in 1833. Often depicted in her old age, this painting by Frances Reynolds (sister of Joshua Reynolds) portrays the younger, Bluestocking Hannah More.
Did you know?
Hannah More nearly died in 1818 when flames from her fireplace set her clothes alight. She was saved by the quick thinking of a house guest who rolled her on the floor until the flames were put out. The accident was featured in many newspapers, who highlighted the importance of fireguards to protect against accidents with long skirts.
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Information written by Jo Edwards
Sources & acknowledgements
This object description and its related educational resources were researched and written by our team of historians and education specialists. For further information see the item’s home museum, gallery or archive, listed above.