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By Seth Koven

Nellie Dowell was once a fit manufacturing unit woman in Victorian London who spent her early years consigned to orphanages and hospitals. Muriel Lester, the daughter of a filthy rich shipbuilder, longed to be freed from the weight of cash and possessions. jointly, those not going soulmates sought to remake the realm in keeping with their very own utopian imaginative and prescient of Christ’s teachings. The fit lady and the Heiress paints an unforgettable portrait in their late-nineteenth-century girlhoods of wealth and need, and their bold twentieth-century experiments in moral residing in a global torn aside via battle, imperialism, and commercial capitalism.

In this desirable publication, Seth Koven chronicles how each one traveled the globe—Nellie as a spinster proletarian laborer, Muriel as a well-heeled vacationer and respected Christian peacemaker, anticolonial activist, and humanitarian. Koven vividly describes how their lives crossed within the slums of East London, the place they inaugurated a grassroots revolution that took the Sermon at the Mount as a consultant to reaching monetary and social justice for the dispossessed. Koven exhibits how they committed themselves to Kingsley Hall—Gandhi’s London domestic in 1931 and Britain’s first “people’s apartment” based at the Christian ideas of social sharing, pacifism, and reconciliation—and sheds gentle at the intimacies and inequalities in their loving but complex relationship.

The fit woman and the Heiress probes the interior lives of those outstanding girls opposed to the panoramic backdrop of shop-floor exertions politics, international capitalism, counterculture spirituality, and pacifist feminism to show the injuries of poverty and forget that Christian love may possibly by no means heal.

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Seek and ye shall find. Nellie’s and Muriel’s relationship was reciprocal, unequal, and asymmetrical. Muriel had access to wealth, substantial social and cultural capital, and a first-rate education at one of Britain’s leading “public schools” for the intellectually agile daughters of the well-to-do. Like every other woman in turn-of-the-century Britain, she suffered the legal disabilities of her sex. She did, however, enjoy a great deal of personal freedom and power. Nellie was poor, perceived as a social problem (first as a Poor Law “orphan” then as a “match girl” and “pauper lunatic”) and endured an education that even school officials confessed favored discipline and rote memorization over critical thought and creativity.

2. The two sisters, Muriel Lester (left) and Doris Lester (right), shared their lives and labors as daughters and social workers. The similarity in their modest demeanors, hairstyles, and simple dress belied profound differences between charismatic Muriel and shy but strong-minded Doris. (Left) Muriel Lester, portrait by Paul Swann, 1930. , Platten Papers, Loughton Library. ) By the time Muriel Lester died in 1968 in a modest roughcast Loughton cottage, she had become a grande dame of global pacifism and social justice Christianity.

When her father died at sea in 1881, poverty compelled her devoted mother Harriet Dowell—who outlived Nellie by several years—to give her up to Poor Law officials. They classified her as a Poor Law half-orphan and sent her to late-Victorian Britain’s most controversial Poor Law school and orphanage, Forest Gate School. Nellie entered the match industry in the year of the world-famous “Match Girls’ Strike” of 1888. Labor conflicts dogged her everywhere she went. Her arrival in Wellington in June 1900 was fiercely debated in the New Zealand Parliament and sparked a political crisis for the Liberal ministry.

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