"The Truest Form of Patriotism": Pacifist Feminism in Britain, 1870-1902

"The Truest Form of Patriotism": Pacifist Feminism in Britain, 1870-1902

"The Truest Form of Patriotism": Pacifist Feminism in Britain, 1870-1902

"The Truest Form of Patriotism": Pacifist Feminism in Britain, 1870-1902


This book explores the pervasive influence of pacifism on Victorian feminism. Drawing on previously unused source material, it provides an account of Victorian women who campaigned for peace and the many feminists who incorporated pacifist ideas into their writing on women and women's work. It explores feminists' ideas about the role of women within the empire, their eligibility for citizenship and their ability to act as moral guardians in public life. Brown shows that such ideas made use--in varying ways--of gendered understandings of the role of force and the relevance of arbitration and other pacifist strategies. Brown examines the work of a wide range of individuals and organizations, from well-known feminists such as Lydia Becker, Josephine Butler and Millicent Garrett Fawcett, to lesser-known figures such as the Quaker pacifists Ellen Robinson and Priscilla Peckover.


War is an essentially masculine pursuit. Women do not as a rule seek
to quench their differences in blood. Fighting is not natural to them.
(Lydia Becker)

It is the truest form of patriotism to do our utmost to save our coun
try from the crime and shame of an unjust war. (Priscilla Peckover)

In 1870, the outbreak of war between France and Prussia prompted many of the women active in the emergent feminist movement to consider their position on the use of physical force. In doing so, some, such as Lydia Becker in the first quotation above, drew upon essentialist arguments of sexual difference. Many reinforced their construction of women as moral agents who relied upon debate rather than physical force in both individual and collective relations. Some, including Priscilla Peckover, also quoted above, began to re-evaluate concepts of peace to argue that it meant more than simply the absence of war, and to redefine patriotism as a force that was primarily moral, rather than national, in its points of reference. These arguments were founded upon analyses that made pacifist ideas fundamentally useful for feminism. Because both theories could be based upon arguments about the (mis)use of power and the importance of morality, and both could accommodate a wide range of political perspectives, many feminists during the early phase of the movement were attracted to pacifist rhetoric and principles.

As a prominent, but hitherto neglected, aspect of the Victorian women's movement, it is important to understand why many feminists employed peace arguments, often relying upon the construction of femininity as passive and even pacifist, and representing these women/peace connections as located in women's reproductive role. The use of these ideas has significant implications for arguments of sexual difference, individualism versus relationalism, and maternalism in nineteenth-century . . .

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