Formation of the Women’s Peace Army: Queensland, 1915

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One hundred women were waiting at the Central station in Brisbane to welcome two leading peace women, Adela Pankhurst and Cecilia John from the Women’s Peace Army of Victoria and the Australian Peace Alliance. It was hot. The guests arrived by train from Melbourne on November 1915 to be met and hosted by the Women’s Franchise League.

An afternoon tea in their honour was held at Finney’s roof garden cafe, ‘tastefully arrayed and decorated with flowers’. Let’s list here who attended, as these women are mostly left out of history books: Emma Miller, Helen Huxham, Mesdames Sampson, Carter, Wallace, Wyatt, Mabel Lane, Collings, Beard, McCarthy, Brazier, Powers, Calleghan, Free, Green, Hewitt, Muse, Margaret Thorp, Dixon, Evans, Rowlands, Carter, and Fraser.[1]

11 November, 1915

Adela Pankhurst’s public lecture ‘Down with Germany’, at the Centennial Hall, was reported in the Truth,[2] as ‘Expert Analysis of the Armageddon/And its Aftermath/Monster Meeting’s Message to Mothers of Men’. She was billed as ‘the younger daughter of the notable English family’… ‘telling deeper truths and pointing our a nobler, saner, braver way out of international hatred, destruction, and slaughter’ than her mother who embraced the ‘fight to the finish’. Civilisation and war were contradictory, argued Adela. The women, children and working classes were those who suffered during war, even as they had less part in the war. She described international warfare as a periodic event, spoke of shifting allegiances and the interdependence of nations through trade and the deprivations of even neutral countries during war. She called for an International Court of Arbitration. The audience of 1400 people was rapt. They were ‘stirred to their heart’s core’ when Adela detailed the deplorable conditions of women and children, especially given the rises in food prices, and coal up by 300 percent. Glorification of immorality and illegitimacy to improve the birthrate destroyed the morality of women. The audience wanted more.

A second lecture by Adela Pankhurst ‘The Price of Empire’ was billed for the following Monday to be held in Centennial Hall. At a further meeting of concerned citizens, Cecilia John spoke about the aims and work of the Australian Peace Alliance in Victoria, where she was an organiser. The group unanimously resolved to form a branch of the Australian Peace Alliance in Queensland and provisional officers were elected. It was hoped unions, especially metropolitan unions, would affiliate. John and Pankhurst also spoke to a big meeting in the Trades Hall through the auspices of the Anti-conscription Council.

16 November, 1915

A meeting to form a branch of the Women’s Peace Army was held in the Modernist Hall. John spoke about the aims of the Victorian Women’s Peace Army, and similar organisations in America and Europe. She advocated an international court, general disarmament, international federation of workers, and ‘government of tropical countries by international commissions’.[3] She talked of the harassment of the censor in their publication The Woman Voter, and the terror instilled when organisations faced surveillance and prosecution. Adela Pankhurst urged that women be included in the peace negotiations, that at least 20 women from the Commonwealth be delegates when the warring parties arranged peace terms. Brisbane women were ready. They passed the motion to form a peace army almost unanimously, and then invited Margaret Thorp to be secretary. Margaret Thorp was ready and outlined the two types of membership available. Members were asked to commit. They were to undertake to pledge themselves to the cause of peace. Associate members were expected to help in any way they could.

[1] ‘Social and Personal’, Telegraph 12 November, 1915, p. 8.

[2] ‘Adela Pankhurt’s Passionate Plea’, Truth, 14 November 1915, p. 2.

[3] ‘Women’s Peace Army’, Daily Standard, 17 November 1915, p. 5.

 

 

 

 

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