Dora Marsden on World War One, Suffrage and Nationalism

1845-1945, Freewoman, Historical Work, The Egoist 1914, Trevor Blake / Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017

Under the heading “Cassandra and the War,” the Evening Public Ledger (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) for January 6 1915 quotes Dora Marsden from The Egoist Volume I Number 19 (October 1 1914) speaking about World War I. At the start of this War to End All Wars, the Women’s Political Suffrage Union had stopped publishing their newspaper The Suffragette, announced a pause in their campaign to obtain the vote for women, and begun publishing of a nationalist newspaper called Britannia. Dora was by this time supportive neither of voting nor of nations, but of the powerful, self-responsible individual. – Trevor Blake

It is quite a different phase of the war that Dora Marsden presents in a gloomy and foreboding prophecy. Miss Marsden, once prominent in settlement and suffrage work, “advanced” out of that stage to founding a very radical weekly, The Freewoman. Current opinion quotes the following from a recent article of hers in The Egoist, another radical English weekly:

The war – still the war – has brought the wordy contest about women’s rights to an abrupt finish, and only a few sympathetic words remain to be spoken over the feminist corpse.

Every form of self-responsible power demands – not the last, the first – capable physical self-defense. One might venture to say it would be impossible to find these islands in any “advanced” woman who has not felt herself made into something of a fool buy the unequivocal evidence as to the position of women presented by the war, not merely in the countries actually devastated by the war, here in England. They find that they may busy themselves with efforts to protect their less “protected” sisters; they may have the honor of being allowed to share in their country’s defense by dint of knitting socks; or serve, as one ungalant soldier put it, by providing one of the “horrors of war” as a Red Cross nurse. In the war area itself they form part, along with the rest of the property, of the spoils of the conquered. One cannot easily refrain from the inference that, though they have weakened the pull of the old-womanly competence, the “advanced women” have done very little in the way of furnishing the necessary foundations for its successor.

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