Women's Peace Crusade

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Women's Peace Crusade June 1916

The Launch

Because ant-war feelings were running high in Glasgow it was only natural that Glasgow became the militant centre of the anti-war movement, with John MacLean at its core. A giant of the anti-war movement as he was, of course John MacLean did not stand alone in this battle against the war, it is said that pro-war meetings in the city were more than likely to turn into anti-war demonstrations. However, it was the women activists including Helen Crawfurd, Agnes Dollan and Mary Barbour who in June 1916 organised a peace conference in the city which gave birth to The Women’s Peace Crusade which became a dominant force in the anti-war movement. There is some variation on the actual date but June 10th 1916 is generally accepted as the birth of the Women’s Peace Crusade. A year later, June 1917 saw the Women’s Peace Crusade go national with the launch of the National Women’s Peace Crusade with Helen Crawfurd as its Honorary Secretary The Women’s Peace Crusade split the suffragette movement with the majority, in Glasgow at least, turning their activities to the anti-war movement and the rump taking a pro-war stance. Many of the women activists in the Women’s Peace Crusade were not new to this type of struggle as many of them were active in the suffragettes, the Glasgow rent strikes and also the No Conscription Fellowship. However the Women’s Peace Crusade was a concerted attempt to get working-class women organised against the war and made a major contribution to the anti-war movement.

Mass Demonstration and Spread

Sunday June 8th. 1917 saw Glasgow Green become a technicolour kaleidoscope as Women’s Peace Crusade processions from all corners of the City converged on the Green, the usual focal point for demonstrations and struggle in the city, turning the Green into a sea of colourful banners and filling the air with lively music. Estimates put the number of men and women assembled on that occasion as 12,000-14,000. All there in defiance of the avalanche of patriotic jingoism from the media and official circles, and with one desire, to stop the war.

Resolutions were put forward congratulating the Russian revolution of that year and called for immediate peace negotiations. After this event the Women’s Peace Crusade rapidly spread to cities of northern England and the Midlands including Birmingham.

George Square Protest

At the beginning of December 1917 the Women’s Peace Crusade had asked the Corporation of the City of Glasgow to receive a peace deputation, the request was refused. However, the members of the Women’s Peace Crusade were determined that their voice should be heard. So on December 13th 1917 a number of women assembled in George Square opposite the City Chambers to let the Corporation hear their voices raised in opposition to the war. Among those present were Helen Crawfurd, and Agnes Dollan, their banners were held high and peace leaflets were distributed to those passing by and other on-lookers.

The Brolly Battle

During this anti-war display in George Square the Patriot League arrived and started harassing the women in the peace demonstration, attempting to destroy their leaflets and tearing their banners. Fights ensued and the women of the Women’s Peace Crusade defended themselves by brandishing their umbrellas. George Square which had been the site of many a political struggle now saw a mini war.

Entry to the City Chambers

At this point Helen Crawfurd and Agnes Dollan managed, by fair means or foul, to gain entry to the City Chambers and as the meeting of the City Corporation got under way, trying to ignore the demonstration outside, Helen and Agnes showered the councillors with anti-war leaflets.


Although the Women’s Peace Crusade can be said to have had religious under currents it was still an attempt to build a broad working class anti-war movement and many, if not most, of its leading activists were socialists. It was essentially a housewives movement with men and women marching in different sections. It gained support from housewives who had lost husbands and sons in the war, or whose husbands and sons were on the battle fields.

Posted by John Couzin

The book Radical Glasgow

Radical Glasgow website