When a trio of pioneering Anglican women missionaries opened St Agnes’ Industrial School for Native Girls in Rosettenville, Johannesburg, in March 1909, the African church community seems to have warmly welcomed the venture. The trio’s leader, Deaconess Julia Gilpin, wrote to mission headquarters of children ‘clamouring’ to come to the ‘much desired’ school. 1 Letters from as far away as Lourenço Marques in Mozambique lamented that there was no such girls’ boarding school nearer than Zululand (a good few hundred miles away). Africans ‘crave[d] ’ education for their children and were ‘generally both able & willing to pay for it’, in Julia’s view. 2 Indeed, the black deacon at Potchefstroom, west of the gold-mining Reef around Johannesburg, assured her that the enthusiasm there was such that, if she went and met the congregation, ‘the women were only waiting to pour all their money at [her] feet’. 3 At the school’s high-profi le offi cial opening by Lady Maud Selborne, wife of the British High Commissioner, and dedication by the Archbishop of Cape Town, with 140 visitors in support, it was delightful, wrote Julia, to see the pride and joy of the additional large crowd of African parents and well-wishers. 4

So, what were Africans hoping for from St Agnes’? Very soon after her arrival, in November 1907, its need had been pressed on her, said Julia,

by Christian parents who were most anxious to obtain for their girls the advantage of a better training than could be gained in the little dayschools, where the teachers being always men there was little opportunity for the girls to learn such things as should fi t them either for domestic service or to improve their own homes in the future. 5

The Native Conference, representing black male church leaders, had echoed this strong feeling. This dual goal – educating girls for domestic service and/ or marriage – was certainly endorsed by the mission women. On leaving St Agnes’, an article in the mission journal asserted, girls were ‘better fi tted for domestic duties, should they go to work’ but should they marry, as commonly happened at twenty, it was hoped they would ‘take their sound

Christian teaching back to their own people and be of good assistance in helping on the work of Christ among them as wives and mothers’. 6

Christian missions fi rst began evangelizing the Indigenous population in South Africa back in the eighteenth century in the Cape, but Anglicans moved inland to the Transvaal only after the 1870s. The female trio had been invited to Johannesburg by the Community of the Resurrection (CR), ‘an active missionary order’ rather than ‘a reclusive community’, 7 which was pioneering Christian outreach among African migrant workers on the gold mines after the British victory in the South African War. As celibate men, the CR needed the complementary assistance of female missionaries (sent out under the auspices of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel) to expand the Church among black women and girls, in both Johannesburg and the string of mining towns to east and west along the Witwatersrand. Most black girls on the Rand, the SPG women noted, were beyond the ‘raw heathen’ stage; they wore European dress and had attended some school, learned to speak a little English and been taught the elements of Christianity. Having ‘mixed to a certain extent with civilised life’, they could ‘use sewing machines, and even play lawn tennis fairly well’. 8 St Agnes’ aimed to recruit from among such girls, as well as further afi eld.