The Women's Movement During the War
Women’s movements were amongst the earliest and strongest opponents of militarism and conscription in Australia. The anti-conscription campaign was arguably the first time that women entered the public stage in Australia in a significant way in their own right.
Chief amongst these movements were the Women’s Peace Army, led by Vida Goldstein. This was formed in 1915 as an explicitly anti-war offshoot of her political organisation, the Women’s Political Association. Even earlier than this, Vida Goldstein was one of the founders of the Australian Peace Alliance in October 1914, along with trade unionists (including John Curtin), the Victorian Socialist Party and some radical Christians.
Other prominent members of the Women’s Peace Army were Adela Pankhurst and Cecelia John.
The WPA formed branches in other Australian cities as well: Margaret Thorp and Emma Miller in Brisbane were particularly effective. During the war, the WPA had a particular focus on the economic effects of war. They campaigned for price controls on food, ran an unemployment bureau for women at their headquarters, and established a farming cooperative at Mordialloc.
There were also other women’s peace organisations besides the WPA: The Sisterhood of International Peace (which later became WILPF, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom) was formed in 1915 as an offshoot of the socially-conscious Australian Church. Eleanor May Moore was the main organiser for the SIP. Moore was also active in the Australian Peace Alliance.
A number of these groups, and others such as the Victorian Socialist Party, worked together to organise the United Women's No Conscription Demonstration on 21 October, 1916.
Not all women opposed the war. For many mothers, supporting their sons to go to war was the greatest sacrifice they could make for their country, and thus a duty. The stories of such women were featured prominently in many of the major newspapers, all of which supported the war effort and conscription.
Even the anti-war women’s movements included many differences before, during and after the war. Goldstein founded the Women's Peace Army as a separate body from the Women's Political Association because she knew that many more conservative supporters of the latter were in favour of the war effort. Even the SIP had a more middle-class, and non-confrontational outlook than the WPA.
On the other hand, some women activists felt that a focus on women's issues was too narrow. Brunswick teacher and school principal Bella Lavender had been a member of the Women's Political Association and a major worker for Goldstein’s Senate candidacy in 1910. However by 1913, she had left the WPA believing that socialist and labor politics were more important, and that the women’s movement should be just one part of this. Adela Pankhurst herself left the WPA towards the end of the war, for the same reason.
Australia and World War One
Photograph - Send-off to the Brunswick Soldiers
Photograph - Brunswick Town Hall Honour Board
Memorial Plaque - Leonard William Telford
Poster - 'Australia has Promised Britain 50,000 More Men'
Labour Activists of Brunswick and Coburg
Photograph - Frank Anstey
Photograph - John Curtin
Photograph - Frank Hyett
Photograph - Maurice Blackburn
The Trade Unions' Anti-conscription Campaign
Handbill - 'The Blood Vote'
Cartoon - 'The Charge of the Would to God Brigade'
Handbill - Slave Conspiracy
The Women's Movement During the War
Photograph - Vida Goldstein
Photograph - Adela Pankhurst
Handbill - Conscription and Woman's Loyalty
Photograph - 'Women's No Conscription Demonstration'
Bella Lavender - Brunswick Campaigner
Photograph - Bella Lavender
Cartoon - Bella Lavender
Letter - Bella Lavender to Education Department
Photograph - Labor Women's Anti-conscription Committee
Religious Perspectives on Conscription
Handbill - Conscription and Christianity
Handbill - Conscription Questions for Voters
Handbill - How Would Christ Vote?
The Catholic Church and Conscription
Photograph - Daniel Mannix
Article - Cause of the War
Article - Revolt Victims
Cartoon - Australian Workman's Burden
Brunswick and Coburg During the Campaigns
Article - No Anti-conscription Meetings in Brunswick
Handbill - Public Meeting Against Conscription
Advertisement - Recruitment Meeting
Article - Remarkably Quiet Day
The Two Referendums
Handbill - Vote Thus Against Conscription
Article - Military Service Referendum Poll
Article - Conscription. Mr Hughes in Queensland
Article - 'Bourke'
The Soldiers' Votes
Diary - Claude Ewart
Photograph - Jack and Bert Grinton
Handbill - Returned Soldiers' No Conscription League Manifesto
Photograph - Soldiers Voting
Consequences for the Campaigners
Inscription - Police Just Raided
Article - 'Failure to Enrol'
Letter - Adela Pankhurst to Sallie Walsh
Article - 'Serenading Miss Pankhurst'
Story education resources
Education Against the Odds: The Victory over Conscription in WW1 Education Resource
The Against The Odds Education Resource provides a stimulating range of activities for students undertaking the compulsory Victorian History Curriculum Level 9/10 unit Australia at war (1914 – 1945). It helps students reflect on the complexities of the conscription debate through a range of analytical, creative and research tasks.
Education Against the Odds: The Victory over Conscription in WW1 Walking Map
The Against the Odds: The Victory over Conscription in WW1 Walking Map is a map of some of the sites described in the digital story or related to individuals therein. Download the map to use it for a self-guided tour in the area.