William Wilberforce vs. Pandita Ramabai

Yesterday, on the first day of the Elate Eight, Martha of Bethany left Photini high and dry 58% to 42% to become the first saint to reach the elusive and exclusive Faithful Four.

Today William Wilberforce meets Pandita Ramabai. To reach the Elate Eight, Wilberforce bested Agatha Lin Zhao and Richard Allen, while Ramabai defeated Damien of Molokai and Marguerite d'Youville. For all the previous rounds' highlights, click the Bracket tab.

William Wilberforce
William Wilberforce, as you will kindly recall, led the abolitionist movement in the British Empire, first ending the trading of enslaved people, and then holding people in slavery entirely before his death in 1833. You would expect, for such a one as the great WW, relics and swag would abound, and you would be correct—however, like the man himself, his kitsch is of a singular nature.

First off, I would be undeserving of my Celebrity Blogger title if I did not address the low-hanging fruit, and mention the movie about him—“Amazing Grace.” It appeared a number of years ago, and was greatly beloved by many, despite the fact that the hymn was not about him. (Details, details.)

However, we can do better! Did you know that Wilberforce actually has a city, nay—a country to his name? Wilberforce, along with his abolitionist compadres, founded the Sierra Leone Company in 1787, in order to establish the colony of Freetown, in Sierra Leone, and resettle the black poor of London there. His goal was to spread Christianity through Africa and in so doing, stop the slave trade.

It….was not the best-thought through plan, but to be fair, American abolitionists had similarly paternalistic schemes at the time (Hi, Monrovia, Liberia!). But, despite his decidedly naive views on things like colonialism, and the power of capitalism to exert positive moral change, Wilberforce did end up establishing a city that is still there and is awesome. So we can safely rank Freetown among Wilberforce’s achievements, despite some 19th century white-dude-obliviousness.

Moving on.

Perhaps you desire a poster of Wilberforce to hang on your wall? Etsy has a lovely poster of Wilberforce modeled after the famous Obama ’08 campaign poster!

Wilberforce also wrote a book himself, entitled “A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious State” (Spoiler: he thought it was bad!). You yourself can own a first edition of this tome by heading over to eBay. You also can purchase the multi-volume biography of Wilberforce that his children wrote following his death. (Fun fact! The biography so irritated folks like Thomas Clarkson, that Clarkson demanded a public apology from the sons.)

Finally, there is also one of the first viral images ever produced to support a political campaign. Josiah Wedgwood (dishes maker!) designed the image of a kneeling person in chains as the emblem of the abolitionist society, and it appeared on pins, china, pamphlets, etc. Like many of Wilberforce’s endeavors, we now are aware that this image also did some damage. By exclusively portraying enslaved people as begging for their freedom, the abolitionists played into the paternalistic idea that black people were incapable of self-determination and autonomy, when, in fact, slave rebellions and resistance were widespread throughout the Caribbean, West Indies, and the Americas.

On a serious note, I do not intend to throw our friend Wilberforce under the carriage, as it were. Indeed, calling attention to the problematic nature of some of his efforts is in line with his call to honestly examine one’s actions, to ensure they align with the Gospel to honor the dignity of all. Wilberforce was ahead of his time in some ways, and a product of it in others, as are we all, but he inspires us all to pay greater attention to the sufferings of others, even as our world appears to take such suffering for granted.

-Megan Castellan

Pandita Ramabai

PanditaCurrently, the New York Times is running obituaries for ground-breaking people, often people of color, whose lives were not honored in the paper at the time of their deaths. The feature is called Overlooked, and in November of last year, it focused on Pandita Ramabai. Indeed, essays and celebrations of her many contributions abound on the Internet these days.

Above, is the title page of her widely selling feminist tome, The High-Caste Hindu Woman.

This biography of Ramabai by Helen S. Dyer was published in 1928.

Also belatedly recognizing the contributions of Ramabai, in October of 1989, the Indian Government issued a stamp in her honor. Behind her is shown Sharada Sadan, the “Home for Learning” she built in Chowpatty, Mumbai for young widows to receive education in security.

Today, the resurgence and celebration of Ramabai’s story is so widespread that online social activists are asking “What would Pandita Ramabai say?” as some of us, in my youth, wore “What Would Jesus Do?” bracelets.


Although I am only an observer of Indian culture, I love the idea of this radical feminist Christian from the nineteenth century resurrected as a cultural critic of the twenty-first.


And in fact, her contributions still live, not only in the realm of ideas, but in the continuing and concrete work of the Mukti Mission, where women still come to seek shelter and learn skills to support themselves independently, without need of a male family member. See these inspiring “then and now” photos:



In this photo, we see the modest grave of Pandita Ramabai, feminist and goddess of learning, at the Mukti Mission. But her legacy is anything but modest.Pandita


Conveniently, if you too would like to celebrate Ramabai, you can order a framed print of her portrait from many online art outlets, shipped directly to your door.



Or perhaps, in Ramabai’s spirit of service and simplicity, instead remember her by following her example of speaking truth to power and creating opportunities for the powerless to lift themselves up and thrive. May her memory live on and inspire us!

-Amber Belldene


William Wilberforce vs. Pandita Ramabai

  • Pandita Ramabai (55%, 3,750 Votes)
  • William Wilberforce (45%, 3,112 Votes)

Total Voters: 6,862

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107 comments on “William Wilberforce vs. Pandita Ramabai”

  1. Called from privilege to Christian submission,
    William Wilberforce stuck to his mission.
    He both shattered the chain
    And made man more humane
    So I’ll stand by him, with your permission.

  2. Today’s tribute to William Wilberforce and Pandita Ramabai takes us back to the 1920s. This jaunty ditty can be sung to the tune of the titular song of Thoroughly Modern Millie. 23 Skidoo!

    There are some (There are some)
    Who succumb (Who succumb)
    Become Lent (Become Lent)
    Madness bums (Madness bums, Madness bums)
    Their brackets now in shambles and ruin.

    When it’s hard to choose who’ll lose and don’t know what to do,
    We all declare “Unfair! Let’s cut the babe in two.”

    But the fact is…
    Our match-up today is in Mostly Modern
    (Wilberforce and Ramabai).
    This quadrant today is gonna be closed
    (Once the counts are verified).
    In votes, most certainly modernity clears.
    Five of nine winners died in the last one hundred years.

    Saying that, it’s looking great for Pandita.
    (She a modern feminist.)
    William’s works could place that ring on his brow.
    (He’s an abolitionist.)
    Today’s a crucial day, if trends we avow.
    Your vote is cast. Here’s the last of Mostly Modern’s quadrant now.

    Does the Saintly Kitsch enrich this Lent devotional?
    Or can we bank Kitsch Kranks will get emotional?

    But the fact is…
    Everything today’s ‘bout Will and Pandita.
    (Breaking down the barriers)
    Their lives’ works alike in so many ways.
    (Social justice warriors)
    Made slav’ry criminal. Help women learn, too.
    Fight for the “Other” – equality is what they knew.

    (Charleston dance break)

    Pandita/Wilberforce made changes and how!
    Made changes and how!
    Built Mukti Mission and schools for women.
    SPCA, Triangle Trade ended.
    Cast your vote. Let’s finish the Mostly Modern Quadrant now!

    1. Cuh-lever one, Michael! I love how you are able to use just enough of the original words to be hilarious. “Mostly modern quandrant” is pure genius!

      1. Thank you! This song jumped out at me early on and has had a few revisions. I was fortunate to see the fabulous Sutton Foster in the Broadway production. What a fun show!

        1. You saw her? Very cool! Did you hear they signed her up for the new “Music Man” with Hugh Jackman?

  3. Today our two choices cause heart ache
    Between these two saints there’s no right way
    To choose “most deserving”;
    It’s torment unswerving!
    For their sacrifice, caring, was true grace.

    When William discovered enslavement
    Of humans for others’ enrichment,
    He fought for the truth
    All God’s children, forsooth,
    Are worth freedom and kindness, not torment.

    In a world where most men despised women
    A young girl fought back with her learnin’.
    She studied and taught,
    Met Christ! Spirit-caught,
    Pandita unleashed holy fem’nine.

    So who shall we vote for this round?
    SEC, could two haloes be found?
    For they both saw the light,
    And urge us to the fight.
    May truth, kindness and justice abound.

    1. "She was the rare woman who had learned Sanskrit, the ancient Hindu liturgical language reserved for Brahmin men; the rare Brahmin to marry out of caste; the rare widow who remained in public view, defying customs; and the rare Indian woman to decide, on her own, to convert to Christianity."

      1. And the bridge from Hinduism and Christianity is short. All believe in the Mother/Father/God (whatever you want to call it) and in her studies she would have heard of Jesus as he is known spiritually in many areas of India. She followed the energy and guidance of her maker.

    2. Thank you. I found it interesting that she met Harriet Tubman when she was in America. There was lots of other good information there, too.

    3. Thank you, Leslie, for the link to Pandita's "Overlooked" obituary. Pandita for the Golden Halo!

  4. Goddess of learning.
    Smash Twitterical patriarchy!
    I had thought to vote for Wilberforce, but I think Thomas Clarkson more deserves the vote for abolition. Wilberforce was unsupportive of women's political efforts to end slavery.
    What would Pandita Ramabai do? I think she'd tell me to vote my conscience.

    1. When I logged on to cast my vote, Wilberforce was ahead, 51/49%. Now having cast my vote, I see that the relative positions have reversed.

  5. A really difficult choice for me in this round. In fact, between voting and commenting I changed my mind as to how I voted! I’ll just say that at bottom I’ll be happy with whoever wins, as both saints put the leaven of change into a world that sorely needs it.

    1. Amen! I thought at first I would vote for Wilberforce but when I got to the voting buttons, my conscience said Ramabai so there it is. Hope the final vote doesn't end up Martha vs. Pandita because I'll be in a real pickle!

  6. After the last time we voted on William Wilberforce, I wrote something about my concerns to the way he was praised for advocating the dissection of executed criminals. It was too late to affect that vote, but if you haven't voted yet (and even if you have), you might want to check it out.


    Lent Madness is a lot of fun, but obviously it's also an opportunity to reflect on what we think about sanctity. I understand the reasons people love him for his role in the abolition movement, and I share that admiration. Nevertheless, I think we should all reflect a little bit on what it says about us and our own attitudes to capital punishment, incarceration, and the ways in which, perhaps unwittingly, we get sucked into the dehumanization of criminals.

    1. Michael, I must have missed your earlier comment. I did not know that about Wilberforce. Thanks for posting and giving me something else to think about. From what little I know about his period, the "vivisectionists" were the ones who gave some doctors of the time the opportunity to learn more about the workings of the human body. It was a huge controversy if I remember right. I'm not justifying the practice on the bodies of those who had no opportunity to consent - as we have now with organ and tissue donation or the donation of our bodies to medical schools. I wonder how many at that time questioned the morality of executions. That's something I haven't yet studied and would like to discover. Was it just accepted as necessary and just or were there those who recognized the inherent evil in such practices?

    2. You raise a provocative and important question as to how we as Christians love the criminal element of our population. I have a relative who is incarcerated, and I just don’t know how to deal with that. It’s a struggle.

      1. Susan, I am so sorry. It's painful to live with the reality of an incarcerated relative or friend from so many different angles. If you can use an ear, I imagine the SEC could connect us.

      2. Susan, this may not be squarely on point, but it may be beneficial. The late John O' Donohue included a blessing "for the parents of one who has committed a crime" in his book "To Bless the Space Between Us." Peace to you and your relative.

  7. What might we do, friends,
    with Wilbeforce’s faith?
    Yes - what might we do?

    * In truth, I find both of today’s saints compelling - as we’d expect at this stage! But something the amazing Ms. Megan wrote in round 1 has rattled on my brain ever since: That Wilbeforce’s work with abolition was akin in our day to undoing dependence on oil. Wow.

    But both saints exemplify doing their little work with great love, with astounding results, thanks to the Spirit.

  8. I just finished reading Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, by Balli Kaur Jaswal last night. Poignantly, a novel about patriarch practices of Sikh traditions in modern London. The oppressive aspects of these traditions as exercised in arranged marriages is the vehicle that supports the protagonist through her hero's journey. Women remain the most enslaved, indentured, and restricted of any class of humankind throughout the world. As much as I love Wilberforce, it is Pandita's time.

    1. Except possibly, children. Thank you for the book recommendation. Did you read it because of Lent Madness, or is that a happy coincidence?

  9. Initially, I thought I’d vote for Wilberforce, especially since he’s being criticized (in the 21st century) for his white, male approach (18th century) to ending the slave trade. We will all be criticized by future generations for our contemporary attitudes! He was already going up against Big Business, so, I thought, give the guy a break.
    However, reading about Pandita again inspired me in a way that WW did not, so I voted for her instead. Both are to be venerated for their work, and both went up against the established norms of their day, yet Wilberforce was functioning from a position of power, while Pandita was functioning from a position of powerlessness, so her achievements seem more worthy of the Golden Halo.

  10. Two Saints who faced both good and evil, rich and poor but choose the path to God. This chose is difficult, abolition of slavery or woman's rights. I am going with Wilberforce. Slavery effects both men and women.

  11. Women did not realize they were slaves until they fought slavery. So, as much as I love the proto-feminism of Pandita, I'm going with Wilberforce for setting all our minds free.

  12. Both amazing but Pandita hasn’t already had the recognition that Wilberforce has. It is Pandita all the way today !

  13. The slogan on that “first” viral image, “Am I not a man and a brother?” brought to mind the sign “I AM A MAN” seen in some photos of Civil Rights marches during the 1960s.

    I thought I might vote for William due to the SPCA, but feel called to cast my vote for Pandita instead.

  14. I am impressed by all the material Amber has collected regarding Pandita. It appears she is enjoying a well-deserved resurgence as a role model. However, it is Mr. Wilberforce who gets my vote, which I fear may have subjected him to the Richardian Curse, as I have yet to vote for a winner in quite some time.

    1. I feel your pain. We should consider a Society for the Dismal Friends of Mal-supported Saints!

      1. Where do I sign up? But take heart. Our lamented ones are allowed to re-enter the Lentdome a few seasons hence. (And it works. Ask Dietrich Bonhoeffer.)

    2. “Richardian Curse”— so funny! This is the first year that I haven’t voted for the losers every. Single. Time. I’m not sure what that signifies....

  15. From my 21st century viewpoint, even executed criminals should have the ability to withhold consent for their bodies to be used for vivisection. However it was a different time, and appeared to be better than the grave robbing in the middle of the night that was occurring at the time, with its attendant short supply of cadavers. Wilberforce was thus part of the enlightened group, a force for scientific study, with what one could consider no harm to people who were, after all, dead after an evil life. In view of his amazing advocacy of the abolition of slavery, I voted for him throughout the Madness.
    That said, my heart and vote is with Pandita and all the barriers she overcame to do what she did..

    1. Vivisection is the dissection of living animals. I believe humans were dead before being autopsied for medical students. I am not sure "vivisection" is the right term for Wilberforce's position. The question of consent for procedures on one's body is a separate issue and an important civil rights issue for convicted felons along with (re-)enfranchisement.

  16. William Wilberforce is one of my personal heroes. His persistence in the face of massive economic support of slavery and society's approval of that unholy trade is one of the great triumphs in human rights by a single person. One person can change the world. My vote goes to William!

    1. Tell us more, Linda! What about them doesn’t fit the bill for you? I’d really like to know.

      1. So would I. I am distressed by the continuing insistence to judge people of the past by today’s standards. Do we agree or approve of their every action? Of course not. We could say the same of many Biblical characters. Perhaps Peter Enns book, “ How the Bible Actually Works,” would be a helpful lens into our judgmentalism. I have found it very helpful in remembering and learning to put past people and events in context.

    2. Yes, it’s funny that Wilberforce’s capitalism is criticized yet we’ve had heated debates over the merits of the Angel Gabriel in last year’s Madness.
      I am reminded that as humans, as Christians, it is our call to pick up the rope God sets in front of us and run with it. Loving God above all, living our neighbor as ourselves, and always verify.

  17. It's a little weird to see a celebrity blogger actively campaign *against* the saint to which they are assigned (whether said blogger admits to this or not). If this is precedent I'm not sure the exercise is worth it anymore.

    1. I'm not campaigning against him--I greatly admire Wilberforce for his courage, his willingness to take on the entire British economy, and his unflinching struggle to hold himself morally accountable.
      I just think we need to be truthful about how mixed some of his efforts were, even as he did achieve amazing things. Wilberforce would expect no less of us.

      1. Megan, you just can’t catch a break! Neglect to mention a saint’s flaws, and you’re flayed alive. Note them, and you’re boiled in oil! Have a cocktail on me!

      2. Megan, it was your esteemed colleague and fellow celebrity Anna Fitch Courie who told us in 2016:
        If you are as stressed out as I, you may need to arm yourself with a “Yellow Fever” cocktail before voting:

        1 1/2 oz vodka
        1/4 oz Galliano herbal liqueur
        1/4 oz lemon juice
        2 oz pineapple juice

        Now that you have armed yourself with liquid courage, remember as you vote, #WilberforceWouldGo. (She maybe didn't say exactly that.)
        And remember that Wilberforce, like Constance, is in the heavenly choir. Plus he can come back in a few years. Thank you for your service. The Russian trolls are everywhere now.

      3. Notwithstanding your protestations to the contrary, Megan, I think you did throw your client under the bus today, and it’s too bad.

          1. Of course; but reading the comments below shows that quite a few folks agree that this round’s writeup was unfair to WW. Still, I have no problem with Pandita and wish her well in the Final Four.

    2. I agree! I actually felt the same way. Lent Madness is inspiring - but today was weirdly a downer. The Wilberforce write-up made it very hard for one to Vote for him. I also had second thoughts about the value of the Madness practice this morning.
      So bummed!

  18. Both are worthy of the halo. But it is William for me. There is a Wilberforce, Ohio with a Wilberforce University. It was founded by the Methodists and Richard Allen's A.M.E. Wilberforce, Ohio was a haven for free Blacks and an important station on the Underground Railroad. The college educated students from South Africa in the 19th century. It is not just what William did, but how he insoired so many others around the world.

  19. Wilberforce gets my vote today. I first heard his name in a silly song sung in "sing-alongs" when I was in college. One line ran, "Wilberforce, get off your horse, and bring him in for lunch!" I can't remember any more of the song, but in more recent years I've learned of his importance in British politics and the anti-slavery movement, dear to the hearts of my Quaker ancestors.

  20. My vote goes to Pandita, “the most controversial Indian woman of her times,” for her courage to step beyond the boundaries of education, caste and faith, for the contribution she continues to make, and in the hope that her story will become better known. Surely it's time for a film of her life.

  21. PANDITA IS A QUEEN! She did so much for women's rights in India. She has and deserves the vote!

  22. So. Freaking. Hard! Two astounding social warriors. Both empowered by their faith. Both people of deep love and sterling integrity in their private as well as public lives. Under all the blinkers of their own times and cultures (Megan did a great job of tackling head-on that WW had the nerve to be a man of his own time instead of a 21st-century progressive!), they are kindred spirits. I imagine the two of them now swopping stories at a heavenly tea-table.

    These two exemplify what I love about Lent Madness. I’m afraid I had been only vaguely aware of WW, but ever since his first appearance in the bracket I have been driven to learn about him, and my admiration continues to grow. I had *never* heard of Pandita Ramabai. Which is why, after painfully going back and forth, I’m voting for her. That’s not in the least against him! I wish they could share the Golden Halo.

  23. A woman's ability to support herself opens the door to economic freedom, her potential, and a view of the world. Pandita understood this by using her voice and by actively opening that door. Mary Jane C. Ingalls addressed the plight of women very well.

  24. Both of today's choices are worthy of the Golden Halo, but I voted for William because in the great scheme of things, his was the greater contribution to the well-being of humans and animals.