Feminism and Anti-fascism in Britain: Militancy Revived?

  • Julie V. Gottlieb

Abstract

British resistance to fascism at home and abroad gained the support of the vast majority of politicised women, perhaps like no other cause since suffrage. Women’s opposition to fascism had the potential to transcend party political sectionalism, heal the rift between ‘Old’ and ‘New’ Feminism, and revitalise the women’s movement in staunch opposition to the male supremacy, misogyny and terror characteristic of fascist regimes and movements. The rise of fascism posed the greatest challenge yet imaginable to the political and social gains achieved by women after the First World War. Certainly the continuity between women’s suffrage militancy and anti-fascist mobilisation was not lost on contemporaries. Ethel Mannin explained how ‘all that the long-drawn-out fight of the Suffrage Movement achieved for women, all that the Great War made possible for them, at its own bitter price, will be swept away in a few months if Fascism comes to this country, and women will have no say in the matter, and be allowed no protest’.1 In November 1936 the Morning Post reported as follows: ‘About 30 Fascist interrupters were ejected by the police last night at Bow Baths, where Mr. George Lansbury and Mr. Herbert Morrison were addressing a meeting … One woman who was incensed at the attacks on Mr. Lansbury by a youth swung her bag and hit him across the face, shouting: “You would have been thrown out long before this in the old Suffragette days.”’2

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Ethel Mannin, Women and the Revolution (London: Secker & Warburg, 1938), pp. 201–2.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Nigel Copsey, Anti-Fascism in Britain (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000), p. 4.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    See also Dan Stone, Responses to Nazism in Britain, 1933–1939 (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2003).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 6.
    J. Alberti, ‘British Feminists and Anti-Fascism in the 1930s’, in Sybil Oldfield (ed.), This Working-Day World: Women’s Lives and Culture(s) in Britain 1914–1945 (London: Taylor & Francis, 1994), pp. 111–22. Alberti also suggests that ‘generational difference may in subtle ways have undermined the resistance that feminists undoubtedly offered to Fascism’.Google Scholar
  5. 10.
    Pamela Brookes, Women at Westminster (London: Peter Davies, 1967), p. 118.Google Scholar
  6. 11.
    Organised opposition to a Mosley Rally at Albert Hall on 22 March 1936: ‘the campaign for a counter-demonstration to the Mosley Rally is going ahead with increasing speed. No less than 23 prominent personalities have given their names in support of the appeal made by John Strachey for organising all the anti-Fascist forces in London against Mosley’s poisonous propaganda. These names represent people of different shades of political opinion, including:- … Victor Gollancz, Sylvia Pankhurst, Ethel Mannin, Storm Jameson. …’ ‘Mosley Causes Tide of Protest: Strong Opposition by Well-Known People’, (Daily Worker, 11 March 1938). There are a number of studies in literary criticism/literary history that deal with British women writers and fascism. See Phyllis Lassner, British Women Writers of World War II: Battlegrounds of their own (London: Macmillan, 1998);CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Marlou Joannou, ‘Ladies Please Don’t Smash These Windows’: Women’s Writing, Feminist Consciousness and Social Change 1918–38 (Oxford: Berg, 1998);Google Scholar
  8. Daphne Patai, The Orwell Mystique: A Study in Male Ideology (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1984).Google Scholar
  9. For women’s literary response and resistance to fascism on the Continent, see R. Pickering-Iazzi (ed.), Mothers of Invention: Women, Italian Fascism and Culture (Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 1995).Google Scholar
  10. 12.
    Helen Jones, Women in British Public Life (Harlow: Longman, 2000), p. 113. While Jones provides enlightening evidence about the range of women’s anti-fascist activities, I do not feel that she has gone far enough in her evidentiary base, thus leading to what I feel is an unfair conclusion about the nature and the scope of women’s anti-fascist activities.Google Scholar
  11. 13.
    Nigel Todd, In Excited Times (Whitley Bay: Bewick Press, 1995), p. 42.Google Scholar
  12. 14.
    Susan Pedersen, ‘The Future of Feminist History’, Perspectives: American Historical Association Newsletter, 38, 7, October 2000, pp. 1, 20–5.Google Scholar
  13. 16.
    See Martin Durham, Women and Fascism (London: Routledge, 1998);Google Scholar
  14. Julie V. Gottlieb, Feminine Fascism: Women in Britain’s Fascist Movement, 1923–1945 (London: I.B. Tauris, 2000);Google Scholar
  15. Dave Renton, This Rough Game: Fascism and Anti-Fascism (Stroud: Sutton, 2001), pp. 38–50.Google Scholar
  16. 17.
    (Sunday, 6 January 1935) in Anne Oliver Bell (ed.), The Diary of Virginia Woolf: Vol. IV: 1931–1935 (London: Hogarth Press, 1982), p. 273.Google Scholar
  17. 18.
    Ethel Mannin, Women and the Revolution (London: Secker & Warburg, 1938), pp. 201–2.Google Scholar
  18. 24.
    Robert C. Brooks, Deliver Us from Dictators (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1935), p. 114.Google Scholar
  19. 25.
    Ray Strachey, ‘Changes in Employment’, in Ray Strachey (ed.), Our Freedom and its Results (London: Hogarth Press, 1936), p. 153.Google Scholar
  20. 31.
    Naomi Mitchison, Home and a Changing Civilization (London: John Lane the Bodley Head, 1934), p. 104–5.Google Scholar
  21. 32.
    Winifred Holtby, Women and a Changing Civilization (London, 1934), p. 152.Google Scholar
  22. 38.
    John Strachey, The Menace of Fascism (London: Gollancz, 1933), p. 9.Google Scholar
  23. 40.
    Ethel Mannin, Women and the Revolution (London: Secker & Warburg, 1938), p. 200.Google Scholar
  24. 41.
    Vera Brittain, Testament of Experience: An Autobiographical Story of the Years 1925–1950 (London: Gollancz, 1957), p. 93.Google Scholar
  25. 42.
    Betty D. Vernon, Ellen Wilkinson (London: Croom Helm, 1982), p. 157.Google Scholar
  26. 43.
    Katherine Thomas, Women and Nazi Germany (London: Gollancz, 1943), pp. 11–12.Google Scholar
  27. 47.
    See, for example, Rosita Forbes, Women of All Lands (in 18 weekly parts, c.1939) — a politically ambivalent look at the condition of women in countries around the world, based on the observations of a world traveller with amateur anthropological interests;Google Scholar
  28. Cicely Hamilton, Modern Italy: As Seen by an Englishwoman (London: J.M. Dent, 1932) — while critical of Italian Fascism, somewhat less so than one would imagine;Google Scholar
  29. Muriel Currey A Woman at the Abyssinian War (London: Hutchinson, 1936) — although she was pro-Fascist, her book still fits into this genre.Google Scholar
  30. 50.
    Stephen Spender, World Within: The Autobiography of Stephen Spender (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1953), p. 164.Google Scholar
  31. 51.
    Spender’s characterization is all the more incongruous when set beside the following entry in Woolf’s diary: ‘There are incessant conversations -Mussolini, Hitler, MacDonald. All these people incessantly arriving at Croydon, arriving at Berlin, Moscow, Rome; flying off again — while Stephen [Spender] and I think how to improve the world.’ (Saturday, 20 April 1935), in Anne Oliver Bell (ed.), The Diary of Virginia Woolf: Vol. IV: 1931–1935 (London: Hogarth Press, 1982), p. 303.Google Scholar
  32. 52.
    Quoted in Virigina Woolf, Three Guineas (London: Chatto & Windus, 1984), p. 155.Google Scholar
  33. 53.
    Carol Miller, ‘ “Geneva—the Key to Equality”: Inter-war Feminists and the League of Nations’, Women’s History Review, 3, 2, 1994, pp. 219–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. 54.
    Jill Liddington, The Life and Times of a Respectable Rebel: Selina Cooper, 1864–1946 (London: Virago, 1984), p. 411. and air force, and Sir John Gilmour, the Home Secretary, had evaded the issue when he was challenged on the point. In addition, the Fascists were trying to worm their way into the trade unions and Labour and co-operative movements, and, at the other end of the scale, money was being found to finance the movements by leading industrialists.’ (‘The Growth of Fascism: A Spreading Evil’, Manchester Guardian, 4 March 1935)Google Scholar
  35. 66.
    Irene Clephane, Towards Sex Freedom (London: John Lane the Bodley Head, 1935), p. 228.Google Scholar
  36. 67.
    Cicely Hamilton, Modern England as seen by an Englishwoman (London: J. M. Dent, 1938), pp. 73–4.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Julie V. Gottlieb

There are no affiliations available

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