Feminist Consciousness and the First World War

TitleFeminist Consciousness and the First World War
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication1987
AuthorsVellacott, Jo
EditorPierson, Ruth Roach
Book TitleWomen and Peace: Theoretical, Historical and Practical Perspectives
PublisherCroom Helm

This paper will deal with the impact of the First World War on the thinking of some British women who were already feminists - or at least suffragists. The suffrage movement in Britain has been quite extensively written about, yet the story and analysis are both far from complete. A look at its historiography is enlightening, and also sobering. Not only has it been affected by the attention of sensation-seeking media at the time, and the neglect or bias of male historians, it has also been markedly distorted by the partiality of the accounts left by women who themselves played various roles in the movement. The most obvious distortions, now at last being corrected, are the excessive attention given to the so-called 'militants' - the suffragettes - at the expense of the work of the 'constitutional suffragists', and the (related) neglect of the working class component in favour of a view of the movement as having been entirely middle class, a characteristic for which it is then often belittled. This chapter focuses on a group of women who became the dissident wing of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) in 1914-15. The author begins a few years earlier in order to show that their sophisticated feminist view of the war was the continuation of their theoretical and practical development in the forcing-house of a beleaguered suffrage campaign. She focuses also on the emergence of a new consciousness and a new theory rather than on the details of suffrage activity.

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