Pacifism and feminism in Victorian Britain
in ‘The truest form of patriotism’

This chapter identifies the diverse strands of feminist thought that began, by the turn of the century, to make use of pacifist discourses. In 1870, the outbreak of war between France and Prussia prompted many of the women active in the emergent feminist movement to consider their position on the use of physical force. Many reinforced their construction of women as moral agents who relied upon debate rather than physical force in both individual and collective relations. Some, including Priscilla Peckover, began to re-evaluate concepts of peace to argue that it meant more than simply the absence of war, and to redefine patriotism as a force which was primarily moral, rather than national, in its points of reference. These arguments were founded upon analyses that made pacifist ideas fundamentally useful for feminism. The chapter explains that the term which is perhaps most important in this work is ‘pacifist feminism’. An examination of the secondary literature shows that the earliest application of the terms ‘feminist pacifism’ or ‘pacifist feminism’ to feminist thought is in relation to the First World War.

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‘The truest form of patriotism’

Pacifist feminism in Britain, 1870–1902


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