Rochester’s Pioneering Feminist goes to Canada

Monica Melanie Storrs (February 12, 1888 – December 14, 1967)

Monica Storrs
Monica Storrs before going to Canada

This is the story of an amazing woman who “lived her life in a wonderful way”. Crippled and bed-bound by TB of the spine until she was 12, Monica Storrs, with her mother Lucy Storrs, the wife of the Dean of Rochester, went on to play an active role in supporting women on Medway’s ‘homefront’ during the Great War. At the age of 41 Monica left the closeted life of the Precincts of Rochester to work as a missionary / social worker amongst the settlers of Peace River, British Columbia, Canada.

Although Monica’s intention was to only go to Canada for a year, Monica spent 21 years helping to mitigate the many deprivations – particularly those experienced by women and children – that the emigrant settlers faced – loneliness, isolation, severe winters, poverty and illnesses to name a few.

Monica’s story and that of other women who moved to Canada, provides a glimpse of the valuable contribution women made to making the Canada of today. It was not just their skills or tenacity that counted. Based on my wide reading the way that the women were able to collaborate, and physically & emotionally support each other, was as vital to their success. Some relationships became so special that they were regarded as intimate and lasted a lifetime – like that which developed between Monica and Adeline Harmer – the daughter of John Harmer, who was the Bishop of Rochester between1905-1930.

Orange text = source. Green text = contextual info. Pink = link to another of my blogs. Mauve = updates since first posting.

To set the scene – The Plight of Emigrants

In the late 19th century many people with the support of the likes of the Salvation Army sought to escape the poverty of England through seeking a new life in the dominions – mainly Canada and South Africa. Politically this was regarded ‘good’ as it removed the ‘problem’ of there being a ‘great surplus’ of women, and reinforced Britain’s efforts to maintain an Empire, and it was ‘good’ as far as the Church was concerned as it helped spread Christianity. Particular efforts were made to support the emigration of women. The majority of the single women who emigrated probably obtained work in domestic service – as there was a well publicised “acute” shortage of servants in Canada, and a “regrettable” even “tragic”, shortage of women to work as domestics in Canadian homes. (Telling Tales, Ed. Catherine Cavanaugh, 2000. Pg.204.)

Women were clearly key to the ‘reproductive future’ of any new colony, but it was also hoped they would have a civilising effect on largely male settler communities. Whether it was good for the indigenous people, or the emigrants, is another matter. Life in Britain may have held few prospects for the poor – but that did not necessarily mean they had the skills or the means to take on the life of a frontier settler.

Women Emigrants

Towards the end of the Great War (WW1) the likes of the YWCA and the Salvation Army held meetings across Medway encouraging single women and widows to seek a new life for themselves in the dominions. Those advocating the emigration of women pointed out that after the war they could find themselves without work or the opportunity to marry. Although not referred to in the press reports I suspect it was pointed out that men far outnumbered women in the dominions and therefore highlighted the prospects of making a marriage.

The seeking of a husband is unlikely to have been the only or indeed the main motivation for women emigrating. No doubt a rosy description of life in the dominions was given, but by the late 19th century, and certainly after WW1, many women were resenting the ‘constraints’ placed on their gender. Many therefore, like Monica Storrs, could have been attracted by the prospect of being able to pursue a meaningful independent life free of the societal constraints of ‘home’.

How many women took up the ‘offer’ for assisted emigration is not known for certain. The records of the Salvation Army, that championed the emigration of women to the dominions, were destroyed when their HQ in London was bombed during WW2. It is however estimated that 20,000 women emigrated from England between 1884 and 1914.  Click for Reference.

A newspaper report of 1907 (London Daily News, 20 Sept 1907) highlights the issue of the large number of single women emigrating to North West Canada – long before the shortage of men following WW1. It reported that of 5,000 passengers who embarked on three Atlantic liners upwards of 1,000 were single women.

After the Great War many women emigrated to Canada as the wife or intended wife of a Canadian solider who they had met during the war. In total it is estimated that 54,000 relatives / dependents accompanied troops that returned to Canada following their demobilisation. (Click for Reference.) Of these it is estimated that 1,100 women left Folkestone as war-brides. (Dover and Folkestone During the Great War, Michael George, 2008.)

One has to suspect that the women who moved to Canada at this time did not have the background or experiences that immediately equipped them to cope with the hardships that the pioneering homesteaders would have faced. Those who succeeded must therefore have been courageous and incredibly adaptable. {Based on reminiscences of women’s groups, groups such as the WI did provide support and training in essential skills.}

The Church was well aware of the hardships faced by the emigrants – particularly those living at the frontier. To address these needs and presumably to promote Christianity they set up missions – most significantly ‘staffed’ by women. It was one of these missions that Monica joined in 1929 – but we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Monica Storrs’s Childhood.

Monica was born in 1888 to Lucy Storrs [(Lady) Lucy Anna Maria Cokayne-Cust] and the

John Storrs
Rev. John Storrs – when Vicar of Eaton Square

 Rev. John Storrs. Her paternal grandfather – also a John Storrs – had been a priest in Halifax, Canada, and her father had been born in Nova Scotia.

At the age of two Monica developed tuberculous (TB) of the spine and was unable to walk. The 1891 census shows her, aged three, and four of her siblings living in Carlton House, Westgate-on- Sea, but not with her parents. The reason has not been found but Westgate-on-Sea was not far from the Sea-Bathing Hospital at Margate that pioneered the use of open-air treatment for people with non-pulmonary tuberculosis – which is what Monica had. In the same household lived Sarah Frankland whose occupation was recorded as being a nurse. Could it be that Carlton House was used to accommodate patients of the hospital? {The Annual Biography and Obituary of 1823 shows that a member of the Butler family – a member of which was a founder of the sea-bathing-hospital – had lived at Charlton House.}

By the age of 12 Monica had recovered sufficiently to be able to walk, and had returned to live with her parents at Eaton Square, London, where her father was the vicar until he was appointed as the Dean of Rochester Cathedral in 1913.

The Storrs arrive at Rochester

In 1913, at the age of 25, Monica moved into the Deanery at Rochester when her father was appointed as Dean of Rochester Cathedral.

Rochester Deanery 1912

A close friendship developed between the Storrs and Bishop John Harmer and his family. A particularly close lifelong friendship developed between Monica and the bishop’s 18-year-old daughter Adeline.

Adeline Harmer
Adeline Harmer – daughter of the Bishop of Rochester and very close and supportive friend of Monica

Bishop Harmer

The outbreak of war in 1914 required, because of their position in the community, Lucy and Monica to support a wide range of services on the Homefront. What with the Towns having barracks and the dockyard, the war ‘made’ many widows across Medway. There were also concerns for the many women who came into Medway to work in the munition industries. Many would have been away from home for the first time, and could enjoy the freedom that came with having their own money and being away from parental oversight – but with that also came the risk of pregnancy and ‘exploitation’.

Not for detailing here but Monica and her mother did their bit during the war – and after – to support & promote the wellbeing of women and girls. Monica became a scoutmaster – although there was a strong guiding movement in Medway at the time – and worked part-time, along with a sister and other female friends, in the munitions factory at Erith to enable the regular workers to have a Sunday off; this though appears to have been done on Monica’s terms! The fact Sunday was the sabbath Monica organised for a local vicar to come in and conduct a service during the lunchtime.

The New Post War Era

In February 1918 legislation was passed that gave the vote to some women. There were those in the local community, such as Lucy Storrs, Monica’s mother, and Lady Darnley, who were concerned that women could be coerced to vote as directed by the men in their lives. A local education programme was therefore set up – ‘Women’s Citizens’ Association for Rochester, Strood and District’ of which Lucy Storrs was its president. At its inaugural meeting Mrs Storrs gave advice which I think is as relevant today to us all, as it was 100 years ago. She stressed to the women who were present that they should not be afraid to ask questions or to give opinions, and they should conduct their discussions in a non-party and non-sectarian manner. (6 July 1918, Chatham, Rochester & Gillingham Observer.)

Post-War Monica became the champion of many causes and a popular public speaker. She became the District Commissioner for Guides (cf 13 Mar 1926, Thanet Advertiser.) {The Guiding Movement was seen to have an important role in Medway in helping girls who as a consequence of the war had or needed to take on responsibilities beyond their years. 28 Sept. 1918, Chatham, Rochester & Gillingham News.}

It appears that Monica’s presentational skills were exceptional and engaging. She gave talks on the importance of missionary work which she felt was “at the heart of Church work and not the side-line it was often considered to be” (6 Dec 1924, Worthing Herald) and “Our Trusteeship for other Races” (28 Aug 1925, Vote) {Probably addressed issues in Palestine where her brother Reginald was the Governor.} She also gave a spirited defence of the modern girl to the Tonbridge Branch of the Rochester Diocesan Society for Befriending Women and Girls. The report of this talk stated that “Miss Storrs has much of her father’s directness of speech and humorous treatment of a subject.” (Kent & Sussex Courier – 25 Feb. 1927) {Sadly the reports of these addresses did not record the content.}

Monica would have witnessed first-hand the horrors of war. Wounded soldiers, devastated families with probably no street in Medway without a widow or more (eg. 4 Jan 1915, Birmingham Gazette).  It is therefore unsurprising that she led on the setting up

Pubic notice
Monica – Top of the Bill

of a local Chapter of the League of Nations. Monica was a lively and combative supporter of this initiative as she felt there were many who felt nothing could change. In a lively and seeming amusing address she gave to the Rainham Branch of the League of Nations Union she said people could change – or a “‘Rainhamitelooking for his wife would still capture her by seizing her by the hair and dragging her to his hut”. Having engaged her audience with humour she made the case for the League of Nations at two levels. The first was for a ‘negative’ – the prevention of war, and the second, a positive, the promotion of international cooperation. (19 Dec 1925, East Kent Gazette). I’ve provided a transcription of the news report of Monica Storrs’s address at the end as I feel it has some relevance todayOn 11 November 1925 – Armistice Day – the whole of The Kings School Rochester assembled in the School House to hear a talk on the League of Nations given by Mr Sherman, the Secretary of the Education Department of the League of Nations, and Monica Storrs the Secretary of the Rochester Branch of the League.The boys were told of the League’s work to avoid war as a means to resolve differences, and Leagues other activities in respect of suppressing epidemics & famine, the restriction of the sale of harmful drugs, and the welfare of women and children. (Michaelmas 1925 edition of the King’s School magazine, The Roffensian.)

Eve Dunbar
A school-aged Evelyn Dunbar

The local artist Evelyn Dunbar whilst still at Rochester Grammar School for Girls, may well have also also known Monica through her involvement with the League of Nations Union. Evelyn was the secretary of a local branch in 1922, and was probably one of the first of the League’s supporters at school. (Evelyn Dunbar, War & Country, Gill Clarke, 2006). See my Evelyn Dunbar blog for more information of her life. 

Ministry by Women to Women

Despite the phenomenal contribution made by women to sustain the Church during the war the Kent Central District of the English Church Union, that met at Rochester in 1916, resolved that it was contrary to Holy Scripture and the tradition of the Church to allow women to receive Holly Orders. (31 Aug 1916, Portsmouth Evening News).

It’s not known how Monica may have felt about this resolution but it did not deter her from following her own pastoral mission. She became the General Secretary of the “United Kingdom of the Girls’ Diocesan Association” and supported a range of other organisations that supplemented the work of the Church. As will be seen, I also suspect she had more freedom to adapt her ministry to better meet the needs of those she wished to serve than she would have had had she become a member of the ‘club of clergy’ or the wife of a clergyman.

In a way not too dissimilar to how women took control of ‘swimming’ – see Swimming blog – some women made a strong case for women being best placed to Minster to Women. {I’ve found no suggestion that men could not do this, or women could not provide ministry to men – but it seems to have been a way in the late 19th century for women to carve out a distinctive role for themselves that men would have found hard to challenge.}

St. Christopher’s College, Blackheath, London, was set up in 1909 to train women to organise and provide in their dioceses or parishes, religious training for schoolchildren outside of school hours. The certificated course was originally for one year but extended to two years. (Changing Roles of Women within the Christian Church in Canada, Elizabeth Gillan, 1995.) The curriculum included providing a sound grounding in religious studies, and creative ways to deliver memorable sermons and lessons. The success of the college was such it soon became a recruiting ground for women to work as missionaries in the British dominions. {It would appear based on various readings that the emphasis of the college’s teaching was less on religious preaching / instruction, and more on moulding and guiding of future generations.}

St Christophers
St. Christopher’s College – Blackheath

St Christopher lounge

 Time for new challenge

In 1923 following the death of her mother, Monica took on the role of hostess for her father, and then for his care when he became frailer. When he died in 1928 she decided it was time for a new challenge in her life – one shaped by herself, not the expectations of others built around the life of her parents.

To further her ambitions Monica enrolled onto a programme ran at St. Christopher’s College at Blackheath. It was whilst there she met Eva Hasell who was described as an “indomitable British spinster” who when she took on a job “was like a bulldog and would never let go”. (Click for Reference). In 1920 Hasell had set up a ‘Sunday School Caravan Mission’ in Northwest Canada. It involved pairs of women living and travelling in a horse-drawn caravan to remote settlements to run Sunday Schools.

Eva Hasell was steadfast in the view that her ministry was started by a woman, for the benefit of women and that it would be maintained exclusively by women. She was so firm in this view that she turned down all male applicants to join her mission – no matter how well qualified they were for the role. (Companions of the Peace, 1999.)

Eva Hasell was clearly saw something of herself in Monica who recalled the approach Eva made to ‘recruit’ to her mission in Peace River to visit settlers who lived off the beaten track and who could only be reached on horseback.

“Can you ride? Go to the Peace River in British Columbia – fine country; lots of fine people going in; NO CHURCH; lots of children; lots of mosquitoes – just the place for you, Storrs”. (God’s Galloping Girl: The Peace River Diaries of Monica Storrs, 1929-1931, xli, 1979.)

Perhaps because of her family connections with Canada – her paternal grandfather was a clergyman in Canada, and her father was born in Nova Scotia – or because she wanted to make her own way in life, based on her own merits, Monica accepted the challenge. Her original intention was to go for one year but ended up spending 21 years. She was sponsored by the  Maple Leaf Fellowship (Click for more information.) that provided her with a small stipend of $75/month. This though was insufficient to meet her needs and the requirements of her mission, so Monica was largely dependent on her own resourcefulness.

Arrival at Fort St. John, Peace River

It took three weeks for Monica to reach her posting – arriving at the start of the winter of 1929 and the start of the Great Depression. The area was possibly the furthest one could imagine from the refined environment of Rochester’s precincts. Her ‘patch’ was 4,000 square miles of wooded countryside with a few clearings. The area was poorly served by roads and the railway was yet to arrive. The families that she was there to support could live up to 25 miles apart. (19 May 1939 , Kent & Sussex Courier.) The only way to reach these families was by horse in summer, and sleigh in winter. In the winter theSleigh temperature could drop to 60f (-15c) and snow could be up to 5ft deep. In the summer water could be so scarce that cups and anything else that could catch water were put outside when it rained.

During her first year Monica lived with Miss May Birley who had served as a nurse in France during WW1 – service for which she was decorated with the Croix de Guerre. Based in Fort St. John May Birley was the ‘health service’ as the nearest doctor was at least 60 miles away. She was described as a slim, kindly English woman, aged about 35, who had a good sense of humour, and who was not overly concerned about house-keeping. {There were at least two male Birley’s mentioned in the dairies. As May was not married perhaps these were brothers who were amongst the young men who sought ‘Peace’ after WW1?}

May Birley as WW1 nurse
Miss / Nurse May Birley

To Work

The directive that Monica received from Bishop George Alexander Rix, the Anglican Bishop of Caledonia in Canada, was to conduct Sunday schools, to foster contact with women, and to conduct services and funerals in the absence of clergy. True to her nature Monica pushed the boundaries of her assignment and certainly laid the foundations for an organised church in Peace River.

She arranged Guide and Scout groups, and for those living in very remote areas she championed ‘Sunday School by Post’; those on the scheme received lessons, pictures and books delivered via the post. She arranged summer events, lent money for seed – even providing seed – set up libraries, provided accommodation for children attending school from distant places, distributed clothing donated from England, financed emergency medical assistance and organised cultural events such plays and poetry readings. On top of this I suspect the Bishop and the churches supporting her work would have been pleased to hear that she was also an excellent preacher and that she prayed beautifully! {It is clear from the range of services Monica provided that she was delivering on the aspirations of Christian teaching – as she said when she was promoting the League of Nations to the ‘Rainhamites’, one needs the means to deliver aspirations.} 

The setting up of Guide and Scout groups seems very ‘English’ and Monica quickly recognised the irony of teaching bushcraft skills to young people living in the bush. However, she recognised the social benefits of young people coming together, and showed considerable flexibility in how she led these groups. She included young people from the indigenous population but rather than require them to adapt to a British way of doing things she encouraged them to develop and practice their traditional skills. One incident described by Monica though did show a ‘cultural disparity’ between her and the young people – and that was over how often a bed needed to be changed. I suspect that this really wasn’t an issue of high priority for the settlers who found it extremely amusing when Monica suggested beds should be changed everyday – a compromise appears to have been reached – they settled on twice a week! (Can the Girl Guide Speak? The Perils and Pleasures of Looking for Children’s Voices in Archival Research. Kristine Alexander. Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures 4.1, 2012.  Monica was also not overly troubled by mixing of the Scouts and Guides into groups she called Tribes. Not surprisingly this helped ‘retain’ the interest of the older teenagers!

Whilst residing with May Birley, Monica had an 18 x 24ft log house constructed:

A new log house built by Miss Storrs for herself and her fellow workers (Miss Haslam, Miss Cecilia Goodenough and Miss Adeline Harmer who is paying a six months’ visit) was completed just in time to be blessed by the Bishop. It is on a site commanding a beautiful view of the Peace River and is centrally situated for its purpose”. (Excerpt from the North BC News, October 1931.)

Monica had rather hoped it would be called ‘Peace Cottage’ but it became known as ‘The Abbey’ – but that didn’t stop her from referring to it as ‘Peace Cottage’ in her diary. The cabin was not only her home. It could accommodate up to six other church missionaries, it provided a dormitory for students from remote farms – enabling them to attend school during the week, it was a meeting place for women groups, and had a room that was used as a community chapel. {A photo of boarders at the Abbey dated 1936 suggests the Abbey could accommodate at least eight young people. In the photo there were three girls and five boys.}

The Abbey
The Abbey – or as Monica called it – Peace Cottage

In 1934 Monica had a separate chapel built – the Chapel of the Holy Cross. A service was held in this chapel every evening.

Holy Cross Chapel
The relocated Chapel of the Holy Cross – 1999

After Monica retired, The Abbey was destroyed by fire, and chapel was vandalised. The chapel was later restored and relocated to The Fort St. John – North Peace Museum.  (Click for more information.)


In order to raise funds to support her mission – and indeed her social work – Monica made occasional trips back to England to undertake fund-raising speaking tours. She drew heavily on her diaries to inform her talks – dairies that were less about recording feelings, emotions or experiences, and more about recording events and stories that she could use to make her presentations more engaging.

Not only did Monica draw upon her diaries she also had a collection of magic lantern slides to illustrate her work. On 31 March 1939 Monica talk to the pupils of Kings School Rochester, in the King’s School Hall, kindly lent to her by the headmaster. Monica used colour slides that had been taken by herself, to illustrate the account of her work on the Peace River, British Columbia. It was reported that the slides were “some of the finest slides that have ever been shown locally” (Chatham News – 24 March and 7 April 1939. {It would be great if anyone knew what happened to these slides.}

Adeline Harmer also played her part in raising money to support Monica’s work. Probably taking advantage of her position as the daughter of the Bishop of Rochester, she managed to ‘persuade’ some churches, including from Rochester Cathedral, to donate some of their Sunday collections to support Monica’s work. Adeline would also accompany Monica to fundraising events – probably contributing with her own experiences of life and work in Peace River.

A new freedom – to define her femininity

On arriving at Peace River Monica would have quickly discovered that she needed to be free from the fashion constraints of England. This was probably not an act of ‘liberation’ but one of necessity as the clothes she probably brought from England would not have been suitable for life at the Canadian frontier, or horse-riding. She clearly learnt from the indigenous people and settlers that she needed to dress like them! She recorded in her diary that “One doesn’t have to worry about fashion up here …. We look more like Cossacks than holy spinsters”. (Women and the White Man’s God: Gender and Race in the Canadian Mission Field, 2003, page 87.)

Monica's jacket
The jacket worn by Monica – see picture of her on horseback below.

However, there was a still an emotional connection with the ‘old ways’. When her friend Adeline Harmer visited she wrote that on their Sabbath (Monday) that she and Adeline would discard their dark blue overalls and become “perfect ladies in cotton dresses”. Later Monica’s customary attire was described as “blue jeans and faded plaid shirt”. (Click for Reference.)

The overall - not to be worn outside the Abbey
The wearing of blue overalls was restricted to The Abbey

The relationship between Monica and Adeline was also far more than a friendship – it was more of a partnership and probably contributed significantly in supporting Monica in her life’s work. Friends and family described their relationship as “deeply nurturing and loving” (Companions of the Peace, 1999). This closeness continued after their deaths as they now share a grave.

 In the late 19th / early 20th century it was not uncommon for two women to have what was termed a ‘Boston Marriage’. The term apparently came from Henry James’s novel ‘The Bostonians’ (1886). These close relationships were not necessarily sexual, but could have an intimacy and tenderness beyond that most would expect from a ‘friendship’. Something More Tender Still than Friendship”: Romantic Friendship in Early-Nineteenth-Century England. Feminist Studies, 18(3), 499-520. Moore, L. (1992).   (Click for link to source.) 

God’s Galloping Girl

Monica Storrs older on horseback (1)

The terrain and lack of roads meant that Monica could only reach her ‘parishioners’ on horseback in the summer, and by sleigh in the winter. Some of the homesteads she visited could be 25 mile or more apart and not necessarily Christian – they could be agnostic or of various faiths, but all with similar needs.

Monica’s visits were not just social – they provided a lifeline. It is hard to imagine the challenges faced by the settlers – particularly the women who probably experienced more isolation than men. When the men ‘went to town’ women tended to stay at home with the children and keep the homestead functioning. This could have been even more challenging for the women who may have been expecting a better life when they emigrated from Britain.

Without close neighbours many would have faced loneliness and isolation, and would have had no one with whom to share joys and troubles – and worse perhaps no refuge from abuse as we’ve noticed, during the recent pandemic, that can come with isolation. In Companions of Peace there is an account of a woman who had not seen another woman for 17 years. She became mentally unwell and committed suicide.

Camping settlers
I do not know from where this couple originated. The text states that they were ‘camping’ with a four month old baby in the Spring of 1930. Fortunately they managed to get a cabin built before winter set in.

When Monica visited homesteads she carried with her much needed clothes, medicine and seed grain that had been provided from donations she received from England – see above sketch of her travelling with a packhorse. It is therefore of little wonder that the initial resentment of the missionaries were quickly overcome. Monica apparently became known as “The Angel” because of her “utterly Christian like approach, her unbolted charity, her appealing devotion”. (24 February 1950, Western Mail.)

Sketch Monica on horseback


In 1950 Monica retired at the age of 62. Bearing in mind the hardships she would have faced, and it’s difficult to not imagine that TB of the spine had not left its own legacy, this was a good age. Back in England Monica and her lifelong friend Adeline purchased a log-house set in woodland near Liss in Hampshire. They named their home ‘Peacewood’. Monica continued with church work and visited Canada twice more in 1958 and 1963.  Her sight and health slowly failed and she died on 14 December 1967.

Adeline Harmer died in April 1973 and was buried in the same grave as Monica at Petersfield, Hampshire.


It is difficult to assess the impact that Monica and the other women missionaries had on shaping the Canada of today. However the ‘service’ Monica provided to the settlers was valued. On 25 June 1947 her contribution to the support provided to the settlers was recognised with an audience with the Queen – for which she had to borrow suitable outfit. Monica reported: 

I had the honor of being commanded to visit Queen Elizabeth, who wished to hear about the Peace River country. She showed the deepest interest in the people, in the country as a whole, and the work being carried on. It was most gratifying.” (Click for Source.) The meeting was also recorded in the Court Circular published in The Times. (The Times, June 26, 1947.)

When she returned to visit Peace River in 1958, the Alaska Highway News reported her visit under the headline “The Great Old Pioneer Miss Monica Storrs is in the Country Again”. On her death a memorial service was held for her at Fort St. John at which she was referred to as “the revered Monica Melanie Storrs”.

In 2018 the local authority for the Peace River district asked the public to suggest a name for a new school that was to be opened. One nomination was for the school to be named “Monica Storrs”. The nominator justified her nomination as Monica was instrumental in starting the Girl Guides and Boy Scouts in the area. (Click for Source.) 

A Life Lived in a Wonderful Way

If Monica’s motivation in accepting the challenge of missionary work was to earn ‘deserved’ respect and recognition in her own right – then she achieved this as she succeeded in leading the life that she wanted. On top of this she made a positive and lasting difference to the lives of many.

The above summary of a remarkable life clearly shows that Monica Storrs was a woman of great determination and resolve. Drawing from various sources it is clear why Vera Fast who got to know Monica through editing her diaries and letters, observed that despite her faults and idiosyncrasies Monica “lived her life in a wonderful way” – and probably infuriated many.

There can be little doubt that Monica had a determination about her which helped her overcome the physical adversity of her childhood. She also seems not to have overly concerned herself with what she couldn’t change, or to allow people to frustrate what she wanted to do!

Monica’s brother Christopher recalled an incident when she was about 17, when she lost a gold watch given to her for a birthday. He reported that “father was in fits, mother mad, and everyone upset but for Monica who was quite calm”. (God’s Galloping Girl, page xxxii, 1979.)

In another incident Adeline Harmer described her exasperation when she challenged Monica about planning to leave the Deanery, that was full of valuable things, unattended; [I will] “simply turn the key in the door – the Angels will look after it.” “No Monica” [replied Adeline] “they WON’T, they’ve got more important things to do.” “Oh no” [replied Monica], “in AUGUST they’ll be glad of it!” (Companions of Peace – Diaries and Letters of Monica Storrs, 1931-39, 1999.)

Although it appears that Monica could be so laid back to be infuriating, her brother Christopher described her as “a delightful companion, with a wide interest in music, art, astronomy and books of all kind. She had a genius for friendship and later on for making friends of an audience”. Bishop R F Brown who knew her said – “There was in this small, smiling woman, with an innate wit and incisive intellect, a rare faculty – an uncommon gift of spiritual perception. To know her was to know God better”. (God’s Galloping Girl, page xxxii, 1979. Page XXV.)

Others who knew both Monica and her father, observed that she had inherited the ‘directness’ and humour of her father. She also had a strong sense of service and social justice that she shared with her mother, Lucy. As the wife of the vicar of Eaton Place, Lucy Storrs campaigned for ‘good food centres’ to be set up to provide for the thousands of parents, who lived near her wealthy parish, that had no regular food and who had to watch their babies die, daily, for want of it. (Pall Mall Gazette, 15 December 1892.)

In a letter to a friend, just before she embarked for Canada in 1929, Monica wrote, “In dear, safe old England, one was welcomed and recognised, even respected, far above one’s worth”. (Companions of the Peace, 1999, p6.) Monica could have felt that her ‘authority’ came from her parentage and cathedral connections, but she was also strongly of the view that one had to live their faith – with their actions supporting their words. In her address to the Rainham branch of the League of Nations – the report of which is reproduced at the end of this blog – she said – “it was not enough, … just to have an aspiration, there must be a method to carry it out”.


In a fundraising address given by Monica she described the settlers as a “grand mixture, with no nonsense about race priority – British French, Dutch, Polish, Scandinavian, German, Russian, Ukrainian and one Chinaman! But we are trying to grow into a new Canadian community, and the children are growing up as one race – pure Canadian.” (7 June, 1939, Express and Echo.)

As all embracing Monica’s description was of the community of settlers she made no reference to the indigenous peoples – although it is clear that she included them in her youth activities.

The services provided by the ‘missionaries’ such as Monica and her peers that were funded by the Church, provided a life-line to many settlers. But the Church was also complicit in setting up ‘residential schools’ to ‘civilise’ the indigenous people who were regarded as savages. Children were forcibly taken from their families and subjected to an abusive regime in these schools to break the connections the children had with their language, culture and traditions. These residential schools were run from 1863 to 1998. In 2008 the Canadian Government apologised for abuse its policies perpetrated on the indigenous peoples.

{The schools that Monica provided / supported were not part of this ‘subjugation’ policy, but they were part of the strategy to ensure the ‘British Way’ prevailed over the other immigrant populations}.

It is also perhaps worthy of recording that no comment was made of the nature of the relationships that developed between some of the women – some of which were very tender, romantic, and in all probability intimate – like that between Monica and Adeline that was described by friends and family as “deeply nurturing and loving”. (Companions of the Peace, 1999.)

Perhaps the challenge of survival meant that a ‘grand mix of people’ (in the widest sense) were accepted for who they were, what they did, and what they needed? It seems though somewhat ironic, in what should be more liberal and enlightened times, we work so hard to categorise people and relationships.

Geoff Ettridge aka Geoff Rambler

26 July 2020


Cited newspaper articles

Companions of the Peace – Diaries and Letter of Monica Storrs, 1931-39. Ed. Vera K Fast. 1998

God’s Galloping Girl. The Peace River Diaries of Monica Storrs, 1929-31. Ed. W L Morton. 1979

Peace River Chronicles. Ed. Gordon E Bowes. 1952

Surpassing the Love of Men. Lillian Faderman. 1994

Telling Tales, Essays in Western Women’s History. Ed. Catherine Cavanaugh / Randi Warne, 2000.

Women and the White Man’s God: Gender and Race in the Canadian Mission Field. Myra Rutherdale 2003

Internet Sources


League of Nations: The League of Nations was set up in 1920 with the expectation that it would prevent future wars. The participating nations – that did not include the USA – were reluctant to enforce economic or military sanctions if one of its member country’s failed to comply with one of its resolutions. The outbreak of WW2 in 1939 showed the League had failed its primary purpose. The League was replaced with the United Nations after WW2 and took on a number of agencies that had been set up by the League.

In the current climate of fragmenting international partnerships, the following report of a talk given by Monica Storrs making the case for nations needing to unite, could be a timely reminder of why the United Nations was set up, and what it was expected to deliver. Monica may well have been driven by religious motives – but she had also witnessed in the Medway Towns the consequences of war on the visibly and invisibly wounded, and families who lost a loved one, or all their loved ones.}

Report of the talk given by Monica Storrs to Rainham Branch of the League of Nations Union at the United Methodist Church, Station Road, Rainham. (19 Dec 1925, East Kent Gazette.)

Miss Storrs said “that any ideal worth supporting and any causes worth working for must have two sides. It must have the ideal side, because we are all spiritual beings, and it must have practical side, because we are all human beings, living on the solid material earth. God, working through them, had to work through flesh and blood, and that was why she and many other people were burning keen about the great cause of the League of Nations, because they believed it had both an ideal and practical side. What appealed to her was the ideal side. She lived in a Service {military} town and was proud of the fact, and she knew it had contributed to the safety of our Empire and the homes of the people of the world. But that did not make her any less keen about either the ideal of the practical side of the League.

 If anything it made those who lived in Service towns more keen, because they could not help knowing something real and close about what war really meant. They met people who had all sorts of objections and reasons why they did not want to support the League of Nations, and the chief objection was that it was very nice, lovely, and beautiful, but quite impracticable. They told her she knew nothing about human nature. Yet if they studied history at all and lived amongst human beings, they all knew something about human nature. It had been said that man was a fighting animal, and that human nature could not be changed, and could never emerge from the barbarism of war. They could imagine the first Rainhamite looking for his wife and capturing her by seizing her by the hair and drawing her to his hut. If he saw something belonging to someone else that he wanted, he would not have hesitated to use a big club on the other man and taking what he wanted. That, in those days, was human nature, but to-day we called it barbarism. Then they carried on a few hundred years until they came to the time when cities were divided against cities, when Rainham, Sittingbourne, and Chatham enjoyed nothing so much as making raids upon each other. Gradually our country became wonderfully united, first under several kings and then under one king. Less than two centuries ago, however, there were two extraordinary barbarisms in this world—slavery and duelling. So the world had progressed, and human nature had shown that it could change in ways that matter, and gradually develop along lines of law and order. Therefore the League of Nations was not impracticable, and she believed it was moving human nature to higher and higher levels. Their thousands and thousands of men and boys who went out, willing to lay down their lives for us, did so because they believed that the war was going to end war, and it was a fight of right against might. They had a wonderful faith that, out of all the slaughter something new would come, so that right should be set up, and the hideous thing should never come again. People believed it then and they believed it still, and their dream was not in vain. The people who objected to the League always said. “What has it done?” They would not go to meetings or read books to see what the League actually had done. In 1920, when the great Peace was signed, there was incorporated in it the Covenant of the League of Nations, the opening words of which the speaker read. But it was not enough, she said, just to have an aspiration, there must be a method to carry it out. The method adopted was the same as that used in every civilised country to achieve law and order. In England we had the Law Courts, and they all believed English law and justice were the best in the world. They had come to know that something like that must happen between nations, and the Court of International Justice was set up in which were gathered twelve of the greatest judges in the world. Disputes between nations were sublated to their decision the same as in the Court of Justice in England, but whereas English lawyers had the English Law to deal with, at present there was very little international law. It had to be built up step by step, and the first thing to be undertaken was the making of the Treaties between the nations, so that when a dispute arose the Judge could see what had been promised and undertaken. There was also a Parliament of all the Nations, the Assembly, which met in Geneva for a month once a year. Its work was not to interfere with the internal management of countries, but to discuss the great and common problems which concerned the whole world. Then there was the Council of the League, which answered to the Cabinet in England, a small body of chosen men, representing the great Powers and some smaller Powers, which met when necessary to deal with any problem that arose. Then there was the Civil Service in the League, called the Secretariat, a body of civil people who lived in Geneva, and did what might be called the donkey work. Continuing, Miss Storrs said the answer to those who asked what the League had done, it had very great deal. Its work fell under two great headings the negative heading – the prevention of war – and the positive heading – promotion of international cooperation. They believed that the human race was a great family, and somehow they had to achieve the relations of family life in International affairs. Family life involved mutual help and service, looking after the weak and suffering, helping those in trouble. Speaking of what the League had done, Miss Storrs said she would take human welfare side first, because it was that side of the League’s work which went further towards the prevention of war than the so-called preventive methods. She touched on the work done by the League after the war in returning stranded prisoners of war, a work which Dr Nansen accomplished so successfully; the assistance given by the League to refugees from Asia Minor; the Medical side of the League, which had dealt with all the diseases and ravages resulting from the war; and the reconstruction of the finances of Austria. None of these things could have been accomplished, she said, by one nation, but it was through the united force of all the countries being brought to bear on these problems that success had been achieved. Then there was the Labour side, which had been working quietly ever since the League began. Every Government was represented on the International Labour Organisation, the aim of which was to level up the conditions of life and service in all parts of the world that there should be no possibility, even in the Eastern lands, of the crossing of human life by intolerable conditions, and no more of that cut-throat completion, so than because the Chinaman was sweated out of all knowledge, the Englishman was bound to be out of work. Some people said the League would never stop war; but it had already stopped several wars, notably between Bulgaria and Greece. Therefore, she contended that the League was practical, and had done and was doing wonderfully great things. They wanted their country to be the best of friend of all nations, to be the noblest and the leader in all that was highest and Christian, and that was what English people had to put their backs into by supporting the League of Nations.”