Oldham Historical Research Group

'What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
- Only the monstrous anger of the guns.'
from 'Anthem for Doomed Youth' by Wilfred Owen

1914 - 1918


With hindsight and a time lapse of 100 years we look back on the events of 1914 - 1918 with a different eye and emotions from those of the men and women caught up at the time.

Broadly speaking, we can imagine that there were those who thought a war against the Central Powers (Germany, Austria and their allies) was the only answer and those that thought that Britain should not be involved in this war. However, there were still further differences splitting both the anti and pro-war stances. Nowhere did this seem more obvious than amongst women, and particularly those who were politically or socially active.

There was a general desire for peace ... but not 'at any price'. Peace campaigners wanted a negotiated peace from which, basically, both sides of the conflict would emerge with their self respect and territorial rights intact. This was an unacceptable concept for the many who had sacrficed so much and for those who faced those who now faced those same sacrifices. Broadly speaking, their philosophy was that Germany and the Central Powers should be defeated by force and then punished economically and territorially.

When War was declared, Mrs. Pankhurst and her daughter Christabel declared that the WSPU (the Women's Social & Political Union, ie., the Suffragettes) would suspend campaigning for women's suffrage and support recruitment for the armed forces. Many suffragettes disagreed and some, like Sylvia Pankhurst, devoted their energies to working on the 'Home Front' or abroad, supporting and caring for those in need of aid.

The NUWSS (the non-militant Suffragists) were also split. There were those who believed that their efforts should be in supporting the government by working on the Home Front; taking the place of men in the workplace and freeing them for war; nursing and voluntary work in all sectors; raising money for hospitals, ambulances convalescents etc. . On the other hand there were those suffragists who believed that it was totally wrong to support the war in any way at all, including manufacturing armaments, aid work, or any work facillitating the war effort. They devoted their efforts to campaigning for a negotiated peace and, after the introduction of conscription in early 1916, in supporting conscientious objectors.

As months and years passed, the divisions became more bitter and, when conscription was introduced in early 1916, opinions hardened.

Prominent amongst the anti-war groups were the Quakers, the No-conscription Fellowship, the Independent Labour Party, the United Suffragists, The Women's International League and the Women's Peace Crusade.

Rewind to early 1915 and women from around the world, many of whom had already met before the war, as members of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance (in order to discuss issues of suffrage and women's rights), decided to convene a meeting to discuss how Peace could be achieved without winners or losers; victors or vanquished. Neutral Netherlands was chosen and women around the world were invited to send delegates to a Congress, in The Hague, from the 28th April to the 1st May.

In Britain, 180 women were selected as delegates but, when they applied for their passports, all but 24 were refused. The government granted passports only to those they considered 'sensible women'. On the appointed day they set off by train to catch a ferry from Tilbury but, when they arrived, Winston Churchill, as Minister of War, had given orders that the North Sea and the Channel, were to be closed to commercial shipping ... and the embargo remained in place for 2 weeks. The British delegates could not get to the Congress. Russian and French delegates were also refused permission, by their own governments, to attend. However, three British women did reach the Hague in time to attend the Congress. They were, Mrs. Pethwick Lawrence who had been in America and travelled with the American delegates, Katherine Courtney and Chrystal MacMillan who were already in the Netherlands organising the Congress.

1000 women attended for the 3 days of intense discussion and resolutions passed. It was at this Congress that the Women's International League was created. It was suggested that just passing resolutions about how war could be avoided was not enough and that some direct action should be taken. Consequently, a small number of women were elected to visit and speak to the leaders of both belligerent and neutral nations and urge acceptance of a negotiated peace. The 2 small groups visited 14 countries and spoke to 24 political leaders all of whom declared their interest and sympathy for the suggestions ... but no-one would take that first step.

The League met again in 1919 when their suggestions for inclusion in the terms of the Treaty, after the Central Powers surrendered, were rejected and the foundations of the Women's Interational League for Peace and Freedom were laid.

'These Dangerous Women'- link
'These Dangerous Women'
Pub. 2015
"A community heritage project ... to celebrate the women who tried to stop WW1 and founded the organisation, the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)"
64 pages.
Free Download of .pdf file

Link to the short film on YouTube
'These Dangerous Women'

Link to the short film on YouTube
which accompanied the publication.
Made by Charlotte Bill
and the Clapham Film Unit.



'The Women's Peace Crusade, 1917-1918 :
Crusading Women in Manchester & East Lancashire

Following on from 'These Dangerous Women', Dr. Alison Ronan, who had worked on that publication and also taken part in the film, turned her attention to the Women's Peace Crusade which swept across the country through 1917 and 1918, motivated by various anti-war groups including, the No-conscription Fellowship, Quakers, The Women's International League and the Independent Labour Party.



'The Women's Peace Crusade, 1917-1918 :
Project Publication :
'The Women's Peace Crusade, 1917-1918 :
Crusading Women in Manchester & East Lancashire

Pub 2017

'The Women's Peace Crusade, 1917-1918 : film
'The Women's Peace Crusade, 1917-1918'

Link to the short film on YouTube
which accompanied the publication.
Made by Charlotte Bill
and the Clapham Film Unit.


The Peace Crusade in Oldham - from the Project
Through Newspaper Editorials & Letters.
The Peace Crusade in Oldham- link

Read more about the Women's International League & Campaign for Peace in 1915 ...
Below, Free Download of Books, as .pdf files, from the Internet Archive

Women at the Hague - link
"Women at the Hague"
Pub. 1915
"... an account of the International congress of Women, convened at The Hague in April, 1915, and of the journeys undertaken by two delegations from that Congress ..."
171 pages

nternational Congress of Women report - link
"International Congress of Women

Pub. 1915
325 pages

Report of the International Congress of Women - link
"Report of the
International Congress of
Pub. 1915
20 pages


Northern Friends (Quakers) Peace Board - Extracts from 1916 - 1918 'Tribunal' published by the No-conscription Fellowship.

Northern Friends (Quakers)
Peace Board
- Extracts from 1916 - 1918 'Tribunal' published by the No-conscription Fellowship.

Working Class Movement Library -

Working Class Movement Library - No-conscription Fellowship

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in the Conscientious Objection Pages

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