"Disgruntled Missionaries:" The Friendship of and Mary Neal and Emmeline Pethick Lawrence at the West London Mission”
Ellen Ross, Ramapo College of N.J., Mahwah, N.J. 07430
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Mary Neal is best known today as a folklorist and music and dance educator but her first career was as a missionary. Having been a discontent young woman at home, in her late twenties Neal found her identity—her talent for working with children, her love of folk song, and her socialism—through her association with the West London Mission (WLM), based in Soho, and through friendship with another of the missionaries, Emmeline Pethick. Clara Sophia, who took the name of Sister Mary, was an early member of the West London Mission (WLM), arriving soon after it opened in the fall of 1887 to join its newly forming deaconess-like “Sisters of the People.” Emmeline Pethick (1867-1954) arrived in 1891. Their attachment was solidified by their similarity of background; and by the frank admiration for each other’s looks, voice, and wit that evokes what Sharon Marcus calls the “classic sentimental friendship” of the mid-Victorian decades. With Mary, seven years older, often as the navigator, the pair reckoned with the severe poverty of their district and began to comprehend the hardships of the teenagers in their evening club for working girls. They also negotiated the churning political and intellectual seas of the wider world of the 1890s. Over just a few years, from 1891 to 1895, when they left the Mission, Neal and Pethick transformed themselves from restless Christian daughters to educators, social thinkers, and founders of an innovative early settlement. Here I will consider the young women’s path within and then away from the structured and homelike environment of the Mission with its attractive “mother” and “father” figures in the form of the Mission’s Superintendent, Hugh Price Hughes, and his still-young wife, Katherine Price Hughes (KPH). Resigning in the late summer of 1895, they established a productive new base in Somers Town, just north of the Mission’s turf. The parts of their lives for which each is better known were still several years in the future.