The nineteenth century witnessed a flurry of evangelical and missionary activity in Europe and North America. This was an era of renewed piety and intense zeal spanning denominations and countries. One area of Protestant flourishing in this period has received scant attention in Anglophone sources, however: the French Réveil. Born of a rich Huguenot heritage but aimed at recovering the religion of the heart, this awakening gave birth to a dynamic missionary movement—and some of its chief agents were women.
In Birthing Revival, Michèle Sigg sheds light on the seminal role French Protestant women played in launching and sustaining this movement of revival and mission. Out of the concerted efforts of these women arose a holistic mission strategy encompassing the home front and the foreign field. Parisian women, led by Émilie Mallet, established schools to provide infants with food, safety, and religious education. Mallet and her friend Albertine de Broglie led the women’s auxiliary of the Paris Bible Society to design and carry out a strategy for large-scale Bible distribution and fundraising. In 1825 de Broglie pioneered the women’s committee of the Paris Evangelical Mission Society, which used the Bible Society model to promote international missions across their many networks. In meetings, publications, and reports to the annual General Assembly, the women reflected on their calling in the work of mission and fully embraced their identity as "true missionaries."
The success of women teachers and their presence as wives and mothers in the Lesotho Mission—exemplified by pioneering missionary wife Elizabeth Lyndall Rolland—proved that married couples serving together as models of Christian living were essential in opening the doors to missionary work in Africa. The story, and these women’s legacies, does not end in the field, however. Sigg demonstrates how the educational work of the missionary wives and their publications that shared good news of growing faith in Lesotho sparked local revivals in France. When the enthusiasm of the Réveil waned in the metropole and divisions mounted among Protestants, a movement of deaconesses emerged to renew the faith of French Protestants.
Introduction: A Story of Beginnings 1 Keeping the Faith: Persecution and Revival in Huguenot History 2 French Prophets, Moravians, Methodists: Women and Early Mission 3 Biblewomen and Teachers: Educating for Mission in the Oberlin Revival 4 Saving Gavroche: Parisian Women and Infant Schools 5 Mission before the Missionary Movement: Women and Bible Societies 6 A Distinctively Female Network: Launching the Mission Society 7 Divine Calling au féminin: Seeking Identity in Mission 8 Out in the Field: Women Arrive at the Lesotho Mission 9 For Better, for Worse: Marriage, Education, and Renewal in Mission and Metropole 10 Reviving the Réveil: French Reformed Deaconesses Conclusion: A Legacy beyond Mere Influence
Michèle Miller Sigg is Executive Director of the Dictionary of African Christian Biography (DACB.org) and Editor of the Journal of African Christian Biography (https://dacb.org/journal/) at the Center for Global Christianity and Mission at Boston University School of Theology.
Uncovering the lives of women and their contributions to society is frequently complicated by lack of sources and by the hidden, private nature of women’s work. This is particularly true of women of faith who often work behind the scenes to assist their communities, leaving men as public representatives of the faith. Michele Sigg’s study of French Protestant women during a period of revival in nineteenth-century France makes an admirable attempt to uncover the central role women played in spreading their faith and assisting the poorest members of French society. Her work sheds light on women’s engagement as Bible women, missionaries, and philanthropists who engaged with women across religious lines to both encourage faith and facilitate needed reforms in France.
~Emily Machen, author of Women of Faith and Religious Identity in Fin-de-Siècle France and Professor of History, University of Northern Iowa
By tracing the spiritual leadership of Huguenot women across several centuries and national boundaries, Michèle Sigg boldly demonstrates the importance of the French Réveil to transnational history. She shows that putting French Protestant women into the center of historical narrative produces fresh insights into the development of nineteenth-century global evangelicalism, female philanthropy, children’s education, and francophone missions. This book is a superb example of why recovering the voices of women is essential to the study of world Christianity. I recommend it very highly.
~Dana L. Robert, William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor and Director of the Center for Global Christianity and Mission at Boston University and author of Christian Mission: How Christianity Became a World Religion and American Women in Missio
Michèle Sigg’s book binds together several streams of scholarship in this study of revival, mission, and female piety in France. The deeper roots of French Protestant resilience and courage are traced through the hagiographies of both named and anonymous French women going back to the early modern period. Protestant French women of faith stand at the center of this ambitious study that takes us from the beginnings of French Protestantism to the founding of the successful Paris Mission Society mission at Beersheba in today’s Lesotho, in the 1830s.
~Wendy Urban-Mead, Associate Professor of History, Bard College and author of The Gender of Piety: Family, Faith, and Colonial Rule in Matabeleland, Zimbabwe
With erudition and sensitivity it fills an important gap in the history of mission, evangelicalism and women’s studies.