Academic journal article Hecate

Margaret Thorp and the Anti-Conscription Campaign in Brisbane 1915-1917

Academic journal article Hecate

Margaret Thorp and the Anti-Conscription Campaign in Brisbane 1915-1917

Article excerpt

History is presented from the ... standpoint of conquest and power, of kings and bloody wars, whereas the emphasis should be laid upon the great struggling movements of the people towards social justice and economic freedom.1 -Margaret Thorp

Margaret Thorp played a significant role in the anti-conscription campaigns of World War One, as a pacifist, feminist and Christian socialist coordinating the various factions in Queensland opposed to conscription. Despite her critical influence during this turbulent period she is a little-known historical figure. She was at the same time actively participating in prison reform, and women's welfare and educational work, but this article will focus upon her antimilitarist and anti-conscription activities in Brisbane in association with the labour movement.2

Thorp was born in Liverpool, England in 1892 to Quaker parents, Dr Herbert and Annie Thorp. Her Quaker background was instrumental in shaping her pacifist philosophy which was fundamental to her subsequent activities in Brisbane. She arrived in Australia with her parents in 1911 (aged nineteen) shortly after the introduction of compulsory military training in Australian Their visit had been prompted by the new legislation that made Australia the first English-speaking nation to introduce compulsory military training in peacetime.4 Thorp gained valuable experience from her involvement in the anti-conscription movement in South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania where she played a leadership role in the formation of the Australian Freedom League (AFL).5

The Thorps returned to England but arrived back in Australia soon after the outbreak of the 'Great War'. They moved to Toowoomba where Dr Thorp took up a position in a medical practice. In October 1915 Margaret embarked on her Brisbane mission where she planned to put into practice her commitment to the Quaker Peace Testimony. However, her reputation as a feisty peace activist with the AFL had preceded her and she was approached by radical feminists Adela Pankhurst and Cecilia John to promote the Women's Peace Army (WPA) in Queensland. The WPA had been established in Melbourne by Vida Goldstein in July 1915 with the assistance of Pankhurst and John. Thorp took up the challenge and was soon to move beyond her supportive Quaker role to assume a prominent part in the political upheaval that gripped the Queensland homefront during the next few years.

The WPA had its origins in the Women's Political Association, a body formed by Goldstein (in 1903) to bring together women's organisations to campaign for adult suffrage, equality in the workforce, legal equality, the lifting of educational standards, the welfare of children and other social reform measures.6 After the commencement of the War, the Women's Political Association adopted a pacifist policy. Its support rapidly declined in the initial public enthusiasm for the War. Many pacifist women were also reluctant to join the Association because of its antagonism towards political parties (Goldstein ran, unsuccessfully, as an independent five times between 1903 and 1917). To accommodate this concern, the WPA was formed with the sole purpose of confining its activities to the causes of peace and anti-militarism.7

Thorp was assisted in the promotion of the WPA by her newfound association with the labour movement. Shortly after her arrival in Brisbane she met Emma Miller - former suffrage activist, champion of the proletariat and anti-war advocate through a Quaker colleague and journalist from Toowoomba, Helen Nowland. Nowland had mentioned Thorp as a young enthusiastic worker for peace to a group of Brisbane labour women with whom Miller was affiliated.8

Thorp had already made a name for herself as an outspoken peace advocate on behalf of the Society of Friends (Quakers). She had gained the support of the Modernist Association in Brisbane, a loose organisation of intellectuals wryly described by its president, Dr A. …

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