Harriet Monsell was the first leader of the religious community formed in the parish of Clewer to respond to the huge local issue of sex slavery. She lived from 1811 – 25 March 1883 and is remembered in the Church of England’s calendar of saints on 26 March.
In the mid-1800s, the parish of Clewer contained large numbers of military, and labourers engaged in railway construction and building projects. A huge industry developed to provide sexual services. The parish priest, Thomas T Carter, and some of his congregation recognised the suffering and desperate plight of many of these women and girls. They began to offer pastoral care and comfort, and subsequently set up a house to provide a home for rescued victims. The demand soon threatened to overwhelm these typically local and ad hoc efforts of Christian concern. This was when Harriet arrived, newly widowed, to stay with some relatives in the parish.
She became drawn into the work, and helped establish the structures, and systems to make it secure and viable for the future. Other women were recruited and formed into a religious order. Harriet’s longing was to empower the women and girls who came seeking help, by teaching them skills so that they would no longer be dependent on others, especially on men and their resources.