Mary Slessor

Missionary, Health & Education provider, opposed ritual rape and sacrifice.


Mary Mitchell Slessor was a Scottish missionary to Nigeria. Her work and strong personality allowed her to be trusted and accepted by the locals while spreading Christianity and promoting women's rights.

Mary Slessor developed an interest in religion at a young age and joined the United Presbyterian Church's Foreign Mission Board and at the age of 28, after training in Edinburgh, she set sail in the S.S. Ethiopia on 5 August 1876. Mary worked in the missionary compound in the Calabar area, West Africa. Mary wanted to stay in West Africa to continue her work but three years into the mission she contracted malaria and was forced to return to Dundee to recover.

After 16 months recovering in Scotland, Mary returned to Africa to continue her missionary work. The issues Mary confronted in Africa included widespread human sacrifice, a lack of education or any status for women and the birth of twins being considered as an evil curse, with twin babies often left abandoned in the bush. Mary adopted every child that she found abandoned and established ‘twins missioners’ who would go out to find, protect and care for abandoned twins at the Mission House. Mary took one of the abandoned twin girls as her daughter and called her Janie.

After three more years in Africa, Mary was forced to return to Scotland for health reasons. This time, she took Janie with her and during the next 3 years looked after her mother and sister (who had also fallen ill), raised Janie, and spoke at churches all over, sharing her experiences from Africa.

In August 1888, Mary again returned to Africa and travelled north to Okoyong, an area where male missionaries had been killed.  Believing the people of Okoyong and Efik found her less threatening because she was a woman Mary lived among the people of Okoyong and Efik people for fifteen years.

In all her time in Africa Mary did not focus on evangelism, but worked on settling disputes, encouraging trade, establishing social changes and introducing Western education. She also campaigned against injustices against women and sought to raise their status with in communities.  With her success integrating into the community Mary became vice-consul in Okoyong, presiding over the native court in 1892 and in 1905 was named vice-president of Ikot Obong native court.  In 1913 she was awarded the Order of St John of Jerusalem a royal order of chivalry established in 1831  to celebrate those who work "to prevent and relieve sickness and injury, and to act to enhance the health and well-being of people anywhere in the world.

In her later years Mary suffered failing health but remained in Africa, where she died in 1915.


Interesting Fact:
Mary Slessor features on the Clydesdale bank £10 note - The only non-royal female to do so.


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