War and Women: Manifesto of the Women’s Group of the Ethical Movement

Anti-war image by Walter Crane, 1899, protesting against the Boer War.
Image by Walter Crane, 1899.

‘In this dark hour we – a group of women in the ethical movement  … are compelled to speak a word of protest and of hope.’ Speaking out against World War I,  the Manifesto calls for the inclusion of women in attempts to bring about peace.

Published in The Ethical World, an organ of the Ethical  movement, June 1, 1915, p.88.  This paper, edited by Stanton Coit, was one of many  produced in the early twentieth century by secularists, humanists and freethinkers . Stanton Coit and his wife Adela were both involved with suffrage and feminist campaigns; Adela was the treasurer of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance (IWSA), and The Manifesto was subsequently  published in  the IWSA’s monthly paper, Jus Suffragii, in August 1915. It seems likely that she was one of its authors.

The  Manifesto  shows that feminist and antiwar responses to the First World War were more diverse and complicated than often depicted. It also indicates the  diversity of the freethought movement in this period.

Key Words: antiwar, ethical movement, feminism, fin de siecle, First World War
humanism, peace, religion, World War I




War and Women

Manifesto of the Women’s Group of the Ethical Movement

Whether the voice of women has been heard in previous wars or not, it cannot be denied that in this War her demand to be heard is being made in no uncertain manner. In all the countries involved women are suffering untold agonies: are losing their loved ones, their homes, the power to protect their womanhood, all that is most precious to them, as a result of a struggle in which they have no part, and for which they are in no sense responsible.

In this dark hour we – a group of women in the ethical movement – outside the churches, but nonetheless religious, are compelled to speak a word of protest and of hope.

We protest against the infamy of war, and we proclaim our unquenchable faith in the power of human spirit and reason to discover new methods of dealing with international difficulties, so that this curse may gradually be swept away from the face of the earth.

The Christian Churches throughout history have failed to exercise their influence to promote any settlement between nations other than by the sword. “The Lord is a man of war,” “I came not to bring peace, but a sword,” seem to justify the awful uses to which the word God is being put today, and make possible the glorification of war by the Churches; and, while the cry goes up that this War shall end all war, we still await that message from the Churches which shall demonstrate to mankind the iniquity of war as a method of settling international disputes.

WE THINK THAT THIS FAILURE OF THE CHURCHES IS LARGELY DUE TO THE FACT THAT CHRISTIANITY APPEALS TO SUPERNATURAL AIDS FOR THAT GUIDANCE AND SUPPORT WHICH WE BELIEVE TO BE INHERENT IN MAN’S OWN NATURE.

We believe that a faith which teaches man to look within himself for spiritual help and to the history of humanity for guidance will carry the human race to heights yet undreamed of. For too long has the word “spiritual ” been understood to imply something supernatural. We maintain that the human spirit is the outcome of human reason and emotions.

Our principles teach us to work for the good of mankind from the knowledge of man’s nature and activities, as it has come down to us through the ages; and we believe that such principles have more a ennobling influence than those which merely emphasize individual growth and progress.

WE ARE CONVINCED THAT ONLY BY A FULL UNDERSTANDING OF HUMAN NATURE AND A GREATER LEVEL OF HUMANITY CAN THAT FORCE BE GENERATED WHICH WILL ULTIMATELY BRING OUT THE HIGHEST SPIRITUAL QUALITIES OF MAN.

We believe that in the ideal human being the spiritual, the mental, and the physical form a perfect whole; hence war, which to a great extent ignores two of these essential elements, disturbs the human harmony, and delays the attainment of that lofty goal towards which the race is striving. We hold that the final standard of right and wrong must be derived from human experience. Warfare cannot provide such a criterion and in no circumstances can settle the justice of any cause. On the contrary, war sets back civilization and progress towards the moral ideal. If only for this reason, immediate reconstruction must be attempted whereby warfare may be eliminated from our midst.

Knowledge teaches us that perfection comes through struggle; but the struggle required is spiritual, not physical. While fully recognizing the heroism and self-sacrifice of countless men and women in defence of what they believe to be right and just, we still maintain that warfare fosters some of the worst defects of human nature, whether in combatants or non-combatants; it retards the evolution of the race, and in its blind struggle reduces man to the level of the mere physical forces of nature above which his reason has raised him.

We believe that the path of social reconstruction lies largely in the direction of a saner system of education, which shall teach a deeper knowledge of humanity, thus tending to break down existing racial and national antagonisms. Such education – which should be lifelong – would help man to develop his highest potentialities, and would involve that all historical and geographical studies should be undertaken from the standpoint of the people and their social life, rather than from the point of view of their Government and their political boundaries, making not merely a survey of one country or one period, but tracing the records of humanity as influenced by social and climatic conditions.

WE FURTHER BELIEVE THAT THE CULTIVATION OF THE MORAL QUALITIES AND OF THE IMAGINATION IS ESSENTIAL TO SUCH A SOUND EDUCATION AS WOULD CREATE IN THE PEOPLE THE EARNEST DESIRE FOR PEACE AND GOODWILL, AND ENGENDER THE DETERMINATION TO PROMOTE THEM.

We give our firm allegiance to any such measures as can be devised, after mature deliberation, to promote arbitration between nations to establish international courts of law; to reduce or abolish armaments; to reform our present diplomatic methods; and to give greater power to men and women who form the democracies of the world, and who are the greatest sufferers in these terrible conflicts.

WE DECLARE, HOWEVER, THAT BEFORE THESE REFORMS CAN BE SUCCESSFULLY ACHIEVED THERE MUST BE, DEEP DOWN IN THE HEARTS OF THE PEOPLES OF THE WORLD, THE WILL THAT THEY SHALL BE DONE. BEFORE PERMANENT PEACE CAN BE ARRIVED AT, IT MUST BE PASSIONATELY DESIRED, NOT AS AT PRESENT BY THE FEW, BUT BY THE MANY.

To foster this desire, and to purge the world from the abomination of war, is essentially the work and duty of woman. On every side she is now demanding the opportunity to fulfil her obligations; and, this being so, we affirm that no negotiations for peace can truly serve the interests of civilization unless the particular genius of woman has its share in the councils.

To work for these aims as a special task of the women in the Ethical Movement; and, believing that there are large numbers of women outside the Movement ready to respond, we call upon them to cooperate with us in working for the realization of our ideals.
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