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The white missionary couple is an assumed presence in mission history; its mid-nineteenth-century ubiquity read back into the formation of evangelical mission. This article questions that assumption by creating a chronological and conceptual framework for the professional trajectory of missionary women, and demonstrates that it was on the issue of female mission engagement that complex debates about the nature of mission were negotiated and defined. The rise of the missionary wife shaped mission history, through both the complementary rise of the civilizing mission and through active female spiritual agency. By the mid-nineteenth century, however, it was clear that missionary wives had created a space they could not fill in the evermore institutionalized and secularized world of mission building. The rise of single female religious engagement in Britain meanwhile provided a timely alternative to wifely activism, and missionary wives were increasingly institutionally marginalized by the very single female missionaries who had come to “assist” them.