1st Edition

An Historiography of Twentieth-Century Women’s Missionary Nursing Through the Lives of Two Sisters Doing the Lord’s Work in Kenya and South India

By Sara Ashencaen Crabtree Copyright 2024
    272 Pages 20 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This volume draws on a trove of unpublished original material from the pre-1940s to the present to offer a unique historiographic study of twentieth century Methodist missionary work and women’s active expression of faith practised at the critical confluence of historical and global changes.

    The study focuses on two English Methodist missionary nursing sisters and siblings, Audrey and Muriel Chalkely, whose words and experiences are captured in detail, foregrounding tumultuous socio-political changes of the end of Empire and post-Independence in twentieth-century Kenya and South India. The work presents a timely revision to prevailing post-colonial critiques in placing the fundamental importance of human relationships centre stage. Offering a detailed (auto)biographical and reflective narrative, this ‘herstory’ pivots on three main thematic strands relating to people, place and passion, where socio-cultural details are vividly explored.

    The book will appeal to a wide range of readers, both the interested public and the academic alike, where a lively, entertaining, literary style introduces readers to the politics of women’s lives, and principle and professional service foreground ethno-class-caste oppression, emancipation, conflict, commitments and religious tensions. It reveals the human, vulnerable qualities of these women, illuminating their stories and courageous choices.

    1. Sketching the sacred: An introduction to a contemporary hagiography

    2. Methodism: People, passion and piety

    3. The foundations of faith: A methodist girlhood

    4. War, mercy, hope and charity

    5. The ‘call’ to India

    6. Medical mission in India and the confluence of worlds

    7. The road to Maua

    8. The Mutani and the Mau Mau

    9. New Jerusalems

    10. Conclusion: An unfolding legacy


    Sara Ashencaen Crabtree is Professor of Social and Cultural Diversity, Bournemouth University, UK, and Professor Emeritus, University of Stavanger, Norway. An internationally renowned social scientist, she publishes prolifically, on faith, gender, diversity, welfare and vulnerability.

    “Sara Ashencaen Crabtree's fascinating exploration of the lives of Muriel and Audrey Chalkley, two sisters whose missionary work took them to India and Kenya, builds on hitherto unpublished manuscripts to create a compelling and surprising narrative. The personal details of each woman 's life unfold against the dramatic backdrop of world events. Both women, born at the end of the Great War, navigate the end of British rule and bear witness to the complicated birth of postcolonialism in their respective postings. The vivid details of their accounts bring this period alive, revealing new aspects of what it was like to be an English woman of faith in the new India and the new Kenya.”


    Professor Charlotte Gordon, Distinguished Professor of Humanities, Endicott College, Beverley, Massachusetts

    “Two Sisters by Sara Ashencaen Crabtree explores the lives and work of Audrey and Muriel Chalkely, sisters who lived out their vocation as `Methodist missionaries in South India and Kenya respectively.  The book is built around interviews and documentary resources (principally letters) which give a rich account of the sisters’ motivations, experiences and daily lives as young women who trained and worked as nurses in the North of England in the immediate post-war years and later, following their calling as medical missionaries… This book will be of great interest both to students of the Methodist Missionary movement, and the development of nursing and midwifery in the commonwealth.  It furthermore offers a uniquely rich insight into the spiritual motivation of two women whose names are still held in high regard in the Indian and African communities in which they served.”


    Revd. Professor Peter Draper, Retired Professor of Nursing Education at the University of Hull


    “Born a century ago in Cheshire, at a time when there were few expectations that girls would grow up to be anything but wives and mothers, the lives of Muriel and Audrey Chalkley took unexpected turns. As Methodist missionaries, Audrey made a significant contributions to the development of nursing in India while Muriel did likewise in Kenya. As Sara Ashencaen Crabtree rightly notes, had they been male, the sisters’ professional achievements would have been recognised in England, where they returned somewhat anonymous and impoverished on retirement. At a time when criticism of missionary activity is widespread and often simplistic, this volume makes an important contribution in exploring the oft-ignored intersections between gender, religion and poverty in the lived experiences of two English women whose stories deserve to be finally told.”


    Professor Beth Crisp, Professor of Social Work, Deakin University, Australia