Hannah More

1745-1833. English writer and philanthropist. She was born near Bristol and spent the early part of her life in the city, where she and her sisters had a successful school. An unexpected settlement gave her financial independence and enabled her to exploit a remarkable range of literary and artistic gifts, which were combined with marked administrative ability. The abilities were exploited differently in two phases of her life. In the first phase she was part of the London literary scene, in which she was much admired, and an associate of Samuel Johnson, Horace Walpole, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and above all of David Garrick, who aided the production of her plays. In the second phase of her life, from the 1780s, John Newton* became a strong influence and she was brought into close contact with the entire evangelical community centered on Clapham.*

Though her later philanthropic and evangelistic activities were centered on the Mendip hills, her influence was widespread. She was much inspired by W. Wilberforce,* who together with Henry Thornton financed many of her activities. The local action was based on a Sunday school at Cheddar, to which was attached a school of industry, with training first of all in spinning and later in domestic service. The effort was extended throughout the Mendips. Hannah More's wider influence came through the use of her literary gifts in producing religious tracts, notably from about 1788 when she aimed at producing cheap tracts for a wide range of readers. The result, financed by Thornton, was the series of Cheap Repository Tracts. Though the connection is not clear, some of the inspiration of the Religious Tract Society can be traced to the success of Hannah More's work.

It is not surprising that a woman of Hannah More's ability encountered controversy. Partly her troubles arose from personal determination, for she was not easily thwarted once she embarked on a course of action. Hence the significance of William Cobbett's description of her as the “Old Bishop in Petticoats.” Subsequent commentators have been as critical, especially because she failed to denounce many injustices and in particular assumed that the existing social structure was divinely ordained. She held that, though the condition of the poor should be relieved as far as possible, they had to accept their position and be comforted with the thought of future recompense. But that was an attitude shown by many, especially as fears of revolution became widespread at the end of the eighteenth century.

Hannah More never married but, following the custom of the time, assumed the designation of “Mrs.”

See W. Roberts (ed.), Memoirs of the Life and Correspondence of Mrs. Hannah More (1834); and biographies by C.M. Yonge (1888) and M.G. Jones (1952).