Laura Stempel Mumford
The Tree of Heaven: The Vortex of Feminism, the Community of War
One of the common beliefs of British suffrage-era feminists was that women's equal participation in politics and government would contribute to the abolition of war. Whether because women were viewed as innately pacific, or as having a special investment in the preservation of human life because of their roles as childbearers, 1 it was widely expected that the enfranchisement of women would herald a major change in the means by which international disputes were decided. Until World War I, the issue of women's relation to war was an important touchstone in debates over the position of women, and arguments against women's enfranchisement often rested on the contention that men's role in warfare justified superior civil and political rights. 2 In general, feminists countered this argument with the fact of women's crucial contributions to culture and civilization, even going so far as to say, as did Olive Schreiner, that the risks women ran in giving birth, providing "the primal munition of war," greatly outweighed the risks men took on the battlefield. 3 This was not, however, a universal feminist assumption, and more conservative members of the suffrage movement even conceded the idea of men's greater contribution. Nor were all feminists united in opposing war as a means of settling international conflicts, although such a prowar stance was much more common among antifeminists like Mrs. Humphry Ward.
All of this altered with World War I, however, for it was, ironically, the war that heralded a change in feminist activity, with suffragists converted into war workers, and even the most militant activists released from prison on condition that they pledge to refrain from violence for the duration. While the majority of feminist organizations disbanded, including the militant Women's So