Ep 7: Sarah Trimmer

In our second biographical episode, Ashley and Mandy introduce you to a woman whose name you should know, but you have probably never heard of: Sarah Trimmer. We talk about how an eighteenth-century mother of twelve children wrote some of the most popular literature on education. Then we discuss how the term “Sunday School” had a different meaning in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries than it does today. We also consider the complex reality that Sarah might have disagreed with women signing political petitions but how that didn’t stop her from writing abolitionist literature. Also, we consider the possibility that the actor Ryan Reynolds is really an evangelical Quaker from the eighteenth century. Does that sound a bit confusing? Well, you will need to listen to this episode to find out what that was all about. 

Scripture References (ESV) 

Isaiah 6:3; Exodus 15:11; Leviticus 11:45; Luke 1:35; Luke 4:34; Hebrews 7:26; 1 John 2:15-17; 1 Peter 1:14-15

Featured Women of the Church  

Sarah Trimmer (1741-1810): In addition to raising twelve children, she was a celebrated writer and expert on children’s education. While deeply conservative, Sarah believed that women should speak out in favor of abolition and wrote abolitionist literature to further the aims of the movement. 

Countess Spencer (1737-1814): After becoming more pious later in life, she became a generous philanthropist. Like Sarah Trimmer, she advocated for Sunday Schools. One of Sarah’s daughters was the governess to some of the Countess Spencers’ grandchildren. She is also the great-great-great-great-grandmother of Diana, Princess of Wales.

Mrs. Denward: Unfortunately, there is very little surviving historic record regarding this woman. According to the account of Sarah Trimmer’s life, Mrs. Denward was a liberal benefactor, who donated her wealth to many charities. Sarah remarked that Mrs. Denward thought “so justly and so piously upon all occasions” (Accounts 312).

Jane West (1758-1852): A prolific writer of novels, plays, and poems, who was “entirely self-educated” (Lonsdale 379). Jane was friends with Sarah Trimmer, who she commemorated with the poem, “To the Memory of Mrs. Trimmer.” According to at least one scholar, one of her novels influenced Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (1811) (Looser).


Regarding Sarah’s love of educating her children: “From the time of her marriage till she became an author, she was almost constantly occupied with domestic duties; devoting herself to the nursing and educating of her children. She would say, that as soon as she became a mother, her thoughts were turned so entirely to the subject of education, that she scarcely read a book upon any other topic, and believed she almost wearied her friends by making it so frequently the subject of conversation. Happily, Mr. Trimmer was of the same domestic turn, and seconded all her lessons, both by precept and example” (Account 15).

Sarah’s prayer about starting Sunday Schools: “O Lord, I wish to promote thy holy religion which is dreadfully neglected. I am desirous to save young persons from the vices of the age. Accept my services, and enable me to fulfil my fervent wishes” (Accounts 130).

Statement on Slave Trade in 1792: “I am very anxious for the abolition of the slave trade, because I am confident that the continuance of it is totally repugnant to Christianity, and I am persuaded that a blessing would fall upon the nation for preferring piety and justice, to worldly policy” (Account 316).

 “To The Memory Of Mrs. Trimmer” by Jane West (Account 378-379)

MY honoured friend, though o'er thy sacred bier, A Christian's grief, a Christian's hope allays,  Still shall the harp once pleasant to thine ear,  Attempt its late forbidden theme thy praise. 

Yet wast thou ever lib'ral to bestow  That meed on those thy judgment best approv’d;  How large the debt of gratitude I owe,  How was I counsell’d, aided, prais'd, and lov’d.

 Let others tell (for as the words of truth  'Tis told where'er Britannia's name is known)  Thy apostolic ministry to youth,  Thy faithful service to the Church and Throne.

"Tis mine receiv'd within the social hall,  The hidden gems of virtue to record,  A genius pure from envy's tainting gall,  Meek in reproach, and careless of reward. 

'Tis mine to paint humility unfeign'd,  Enlighten’d zeal without fanatic leav'n,  Candour engrafted on a soul unstain'd,  And universal as the care of heav'n. 

Still does my soul amid affliction's void, On memory's curtain those lov'd features paint,  Which spoke the inexpressive peace enjoy'd,  That blissful foretaste of the expectant Saint.

No flaming chariot bore thy parting soul,  Nor was it through the gates of anguish torn,  An angel whisper'd “Thou hast reach'd the goal,”  And darkness brighten’d into endless morn. 

Like Prophets and like Patriarchs fam'd of old,  Didst thou not walk with God and fall asleep  And thus thy offspring grieving yet consol'd,  Like Jacob's sons affection's vigil keep. 

From the pure joys that gild th' Eternal's throne,  The brightest lot of life lies distant far,  For seventy years thy lamp benignly shone,  And thousands hail'd it as a guiding star. 

No hands prophane its lustre shall impair," But o'er thy tomb immortal it will beam,  Blaz'ning to times remote thy virtues rare,  The Christian's model and the Poet's theme. 

A fellow lab’rer in religion's shrine,  Who still in Kedar's tents a pilgrim strays,  Musing on happier moments spent in thine,  Thus on thy grave a Sister's offering lays.

 Dates to Remember 

Petition campaigns of 1788 and 1792: In 1788, Parliament received over 100 petitions, which focused primarily on abolishing on slave trade (Oldfield 49). In 1792, Parliament received 519 petitions and as many as 400,000 people signed them. Women were closely involved in both petition campaigns (Oldfield 1, 139).

Terms to Know

Sunday Schools: Schools created for boys and girls from the working class to receive an education, which focused on literacy and writing. Unlike other contemporary Sunday School teachers, “Trimmer contended that Sunday schools teach their pupils not merely to read the Bible but how to draw the proper theological and political conclusions from it” (Wills 159). 

Charity Schools: Could be the same as Sunday Schools but generally offered additional schooling offered during the week, which involved work-force training for boys or girls.

Fables: As defined by Sarah Trimmer, “intended to convey moral instruction applicable to [children], at the same time that they excite compassion and tenderness for those interesting and delightful creatures, on which such wanton cruelties are frequently inflicted, and recommend universal Benevolence” (Fabulous Histories x).

Scripture Memory

1 Peter 2: 9: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” 

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Ashley’s Sources

Wills, Deborah. "Sarah Trimmer." Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 158. Gale Research Inc., 1995. 340–348.

Trimmer, Sarah. Some Account of the Life and Writings of Mrs. Trimmer, with Original Letters, and Meditations and Prayers, Selected from Her Journal, Vol. I. F.C. and J. Rivington, 1816.

Trimmer, Sarah. Some Account of the Life and Writings of Mrs. Trimmer: With Original Letters, and Meditations and Prayers, Selected from Her Journal. C. & J. Rivington, 1825.

Schnorrenberg, Barbara Brandon. "Trimmer [née Kirby], Sarah (1741–1810), author and educationist." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 23 September 2004. https://www-oxforddnb-com. 

 Fyfe, Aileen. "Reading Children's Books in Late Eighteenth-Century Dissenting Families." The Historical Journal 43.2. 2000. 453–473.

Yarde, D.M. Sarah Trimmer of Brentford and Her Children with Some of Her Early Writings, 1780–1786. Middlesex: Hounslow and District Historical Society, 1990.

Ruwe, Donelle. "Guarding the British Bible from Rousseau: Sarah Trimmer, William Godwin, and the Pedagogical Periodical." Children's Literature 29 (2001). 1–17.

Weir, Heather E. “Helping the Unlearned: Sarah Trimmer’s Commentary on the Bible.” Recovering Nineteenth-Century Women Interpreters of the Bible, edited by Christiana De Groot and Marion Ann Taylor. Society of Biblical Literature, 2007. 19-30.

Wills, Deborah. "Sarah Trimmer's Œconomy of Charity: Politics and Morality in the Sunday School State." Lumen Vol. 12. 1993. 157–66.

Rodgers, Betsy. "Schools of Industry: Mrs. Trimmer." Cloak of Charity: Studies in Eighteenth-Century Philanthropy. Methuen and Co., 1949. 

Trimmer, Sarah. Fabulous Histories: Designed for the Instruction of Children, Respecting Their Treatment of Animals. W. Watson, et al., 1786.

Grenby, Matthew. "Introduction." The Guardian of Education. Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 2002.

Jackson, Mary V. Engines of Instruction, Mischief, and Magic: Children's Literature in England from Its Beginnings to 1839. University of Nebraska Press, 1989.

Rathbone, Hannah Mary. Letters of Richard Reynolds With a Memoir of His Life.Charles Gilpin, 1852. 

Noll, Mark. The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield, and the Wesleys. InterVarsity Press, 2003.

Oldfield, J.R. Popular Politics and British Anti-Slavery: The Mobilisatition of Public Opinion against the Slave Trade, 1787-1807. Frank Cass, 1998.

Ferguson, Moira. Subject to Others: British Women Writers and Colonial Slavery, 1670-1834. Routledge, 1992.

Trimmer, Sarah. The Family Magazine; Or, a Repository of Religious Instruction, and Rational Amusement, vol. 3. John. Marshall and Co., 1788.

 Gill, Charlotte. Persons and Potential: Education and Abolition in Late Eighteenth-Century Britain. Vanderbilt University, 2016. 

 Wilkin, Jen. In His Image: 10 Ways God Calls Us to Reflect His Character. Crossway, 2018.

 Eighteenth-Century Women Poets: An Oxford Anthology. Edited by Roger Lonsdale. 

 Looser, Devoney. “Admiration and Disapprobation: Jane Austen’s Emma (1816) and Jane West’s Ringrove (1827).”  

Sarah Trimmer Portrait, NPG UK 796

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