Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Kees Boterbloem, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Darcie S. Fontaine, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Julia Irwin, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Bidisha Mallik, Ph.D.


British Imperialism, Women, Gender, Twentieth Century, Global History


Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is lauded for his work in helping to bring independence to India. Historians and authors are correct in asserting Gandhi’s importance to the independence movement of India, but he did not do it alone. Gandhi was helped by followers, foreign and domestic, who believed in his vision of an independent India. One of these disciples was Madeleine Slade, or as she would later be known, Mira Behn. Behn was born into an upper-class British family: her father an Admiral in the Royal Navy and her mother a housewife. Behn came upon a copy of French philosopher, Romain Rolland’s biography of Mahatma Gandhi in the early 1920s. Upon reading that biography, Behn, unmarried and in her thirties, decided to leave behind her life of privilege in England and become a follower of Gandhi. She arrived at Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram on November 7, 1925 and worked with Gandhi, his movement, and in India until 1959. Behn appears sporadically throughout scholarship on Indian independence but is never given the attention her work towards independence deserves; most scholars tend to focus on Behn’s emotional attachment to Gandhi.

Inspiration for this project began through a research paper, which is now published in the Proceedings of the South Carolina Historical Association 2020. In this paper, I examined Behn’s role in the movement through the lenses of gender, race, and class. This dissertation is an expansion of this paper where I incorporate Behn’s publications, her international speeches, and her role both inside and outside of India as Gandhi’s assistant and grassroots activist and teacher. I argue that through her open defiance to traditional British gender and societal norms, grassroots work and tours throughout India, international travels, and news correspondence, Mira Behn was vital to the Indian independence movement’s success.

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