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Smith [née Whitall], Hannah [known as Mrs Pearsall Smith] (1832–1911), evangelist and religious writer, was born on 7 February 1832 at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, the daughter of John M. Whitall (1800–1877) and Mary Whitall, née Tatum (1803–1880). Both parents came of established Philadelphia Quaker families of an eighteenth-century quietist tradition. On 25 June 1851 she married Robert Pearsall Smith (1827–1898), who came of another old Philadelphia Quaker family. He was drawn into the prospering Whitall–Tatum glass business and in 1865 became general manager of its plant at South Milville, New Jersey. It was among Methodist workers there that the Pearsall Smiths (from 1858 convinced of the centrality of the doctrine of justification by faith) became exponents of immediate sanctification as described in W. E. Boardman's The Higher Christian Life (1859).

In autumn 1872 Robert joined Boardman in a visit to Britain in furtherance of the doctrine of the higher life: Hannah followed the next year. Their eldest son, Franklin, had died in the summer of 1872 and Hannah's commemorative book The Record of a Happy Life (1873, subsequently entitled Frank) was to herald an impressive literary output. The couple moved in aristocratic and intellectual circles in Britain, and Hannah braved accusations of heresy by denying, at first in private but then in public, the doctrine of eternal punishment. She was supported in this by Georgiana Cowper-Temple (later Lady Mount-Temple) and rapidly established a reputation for her scriptural expositions. As well as holding numerous drawing-room occasions in London and elsewhere, they were leading spirits in the conferences at Broadlands (the Cowper-Temple home near Romsey, Hampshire; 17–23 July 1874), Oxford (29 August – 7 September 1874), and Brighton (29 May – 7 June 1875); Robert Pearsall Smith presided at all three, the attendances being estimated at 100, 1000, and 8000 respectively. The Keswick Convention for the Promotion of Practical Holiness (28 June – 2 July 1875) arose out of these gatherings. The Pearsall Smiths were due to take a large share in it, Robert again presiding, but after accusations that he had at Brighton uttered unsound doctrine and committed a moral indiscretion those responsible asked him ‘to abstain at once from all public work’ (Barabas, 26–7) and in 1876 they both returned to America.

But 1875, the year of disgrace, was also the year of triumph, for Hannah's The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life, published that year, ran to over 100 editions and was translated into many languages. Subsequent books included The Veil Uplifted, or, The Bible its Own Interpreter (1886); Everyday Religion, or, The Common-Sense Teaching of the Bible (1894); and her spiritual autobiography The Unselfishness of God (1903). It was in 1888 that the Pearsall Smiths returned to settle permanently in England.

Hannah's robust common sense was allied to an irrepressible sense of humour, a zest for life, a questioning intellect, and, as she got older, an increasing conviction that the young know best. She felt that the art of being a grandmother was not sufficiently attended to: she did so herself to the delight of her grandchildren. Of her six children Mary (1864–1945) married Frank Costelloe (1855–1899) and Bernard Berenson (1865–1959); Alys (1867–1951) was the first wife of Bertrand Russell; , the writer, was unmarried; the remaining three died in infancy or young manhood. After her daughter Mary's elopement with Bernard Berenson in 1891 Hannah took responsibility for the upbringing of her grandchildren, Ray [see ] and Karin [see Karin Elizabeth Conn Costelloe under Gwyneth Bebb]. In 1906 she moved to Court Place, Iffley, Oxford, sharing a home with her son. After a short illness she died there on 1 May 1911.

Edward H. Milligan


L. P. Smith, ed., A religious rebel: the letters of ‘HWS’ (1949) [repr. in USA as Philadelphia Quaker: the letters of Hannah Whitall Smith (1950)] · R. A. Parker, A family of Friends: the story of the transatlantic Smiths (1960) · H. W. Smith, The unselfishness of God (1903) · R. Strachey, A Quaker grandmother (1914) · C. H. Harford, ed., The Keswick Convention (1907) · S. Barabas, So great salvation: the history and message of the Keswick Convention (1952) · The Friend, new ser., 51 (1911), 311–40 · Annual Monitor (1912), 162–6


photograph, c.1878, RS Friends, Lond.; Whitall album