What’s in a name? A historian might answer ‘a
very great deal’. Names of organisations can be extraordinary
signifiers of period, place, performance and personalities. The
‘Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire’ speaks volumes
in its four principal words. It is redolent of an era, symbolising as it
does not just a complete ideology but also a notable iconography.
Cartoonists in the nineteenth century rejoiced in depicting Britannia as the
imperial mother surrounded by her colonial daughters. The founders of the
IODE (as it later became in an apparent acknowledgement of significant
changes in resonance) must have been well aware of this as they chose to
flag their patriotism through a title which has a formidable ring of
defiance about it.
Patriotism and defiance were both characteristics of the
age in which the IODE was founded, namely the era of the Anglo-Boer War,
1899–1902. It was also a time when women became more self-conscious
and active politically. The suffragist movement was in full swing, though it
divided women’s movements and societies as much as it united them.
Although in the past women had been deeply involved in pressure groups like
the Anti-Slavery Society, in philanthropic activities, and in some
scholarly/political organisations like the provincial geographical societies
of the 1880s, they were now placing themselves in a much more central
position in relation to the war. Many, like Mary Kingsley, became nurses and
died of fevers along with the men. Others provided comforts and indulged in
fundraising. But figures like Flora Shaw, Emily Hobhouse and Millicent
Fawcett, in their very different ways, played key instrumental roles. It was
in this atmosphere that the IODE was founded in Canada just as, shortly
afterwards, the Victoria League appeared in London.
Although the IODE was primarily a Canadian organisation,
it offers insights far beyond the confines of that dominion. Its history
reflects important issues of national identity in respect of the
all-too-adjacent United States, of Britain, and other dominions and imperial
territories. It also illustrates the efforts of middle-class British women
to dominate dominion developments and the manner in which Canadian women (as
well as their counterparts in Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere) resisted
the somewhat patronising and snobbish approaches that they encountered. But
above all, the history of the IODE carries important messages not just for
women’s history at the so-called imperial periphery, but also for
wider gender relations. Its importance in illuminating a whole range of
diplomatic, social, cultural and political issues is clear.
This is the first full-length study of the IODE. It
covers a broad period in the twentieth century. It illuminates the manifold
web of significance that was spun by this women’s organisation. It
demonstrates the many issues and methods that the IODE adopted to achieve
its goals and promote aspects of the imperial relationship. And above all it
sets its findings into the context of the rich modern historiography of
gender, identities, patriotism and imperial organisations. What emerges is
that the members of the IODE were, in the end, wholly unsatisfied with the
notion of Britannia’s daughters. They sought to escape from the
familial patterns and establish an autonomy that would ultimately transcend
that slightly glib nineteenth-century iconography. Although many of its
members saw the shift towards initials as anodyne, that move was actually
initiated by many new and complex emotions. Katie Pickles succeeds in
exploring all these multiple layers and inter-relationships in considerable
depth. She also brings both a sympathetic understanding and a highly
developed critical awareness to bear upon a women’s society which has
a significance far beyond the very considerable boundaries of Canada.
This chapter auto-critiques the editors early work (Crozier, Practising Colonial Medicine, 2007) for studying the Colonial Medical Service as a distinct entity, founded and run on shared principles, staffed by Europeans and micro-managed from Whitehall. The collection of chapters is introduced, particularly emphasising how each essay originally contributes to revising this flawed interpretation. The Colonial Medical Service is argued as being flexibly responsive to local demands, open to negotiation and cooperation with non-governmental partners, and very much different in reality to the unified image that is often assumed. Theoretically this dramatically pushes forward understandings of the history of government medicine in Africa, not least showing scholars that history is always on the move and can be rarely compartmentalised, despite the active public relations agenda of the British colonial government.