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Ada Nield Chew and the First World War

John Simkin

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On 4th August 1914, Millicent Fawcett, the leader of the NUWSS, declared that it was suspending all political activity until the First World War was over. Despite pressure from members of the NUWSS, Fawcett refused to argue against the war. Her biographer, Ray Strachey, argued: "She stood like a rock in their path, opposing herself with all the great weight of her personal popularity and prestige to their use of the machinery and name of the union." At a Council meeting of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies held in February 1915, Fawcett attacked the peace efforts of people like Mary Sheepshanks. Fawcett argued that until the German armies had been driven out of France and Belgium: "I believe it is akin to treason to talk of peace."

Ada Nield Chew was completely against this policy: "The militant section of the movement... would without doubt place itself in the trenches quite cheerfully, if allowed. It is now ... demanding, with all its usual pomp and circumstance of banner and procession, its share in the war. This is an entirely logical attitude and strictly in line with its attitude before the war. It always glorified the power of the primitive knock on the nose in preference to the more humane appeal to reason.... What of the others? The non-militants - so-called - though bitterly repudiating militancy for women, are as ardent in their support of militancy for men as their more consistent and logical militant sisters."


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