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  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: April 2011

11 - Bringing the Empire home: women activists in imperial Britain, 1790s–1930s


This chapter focuses on women's metropolitan-based activism on imperial issues in the period between the 1790s and the outbreak of the Second World War. The women concerned are mainly British-born, white and middle or upper class as it was from this sector of the population that the leadership for most empire-focused campaigns came. However, there is also some consideration of white working-class women's relationship to these campaigns, and of both white colonial women and black and Asian women who were active within or without these movements, and often challenged hegemonic discourses. Discussion concentrates on women's activism within organisations with a specifically imperial focus, rather than imperial activism within the organised feminist movement or the relationship between feminism and imperialism, aspects of which are covered in chapters by Jane Rendall and Keith McClelland and Sonya Rose.

The chapter covers a long time-span, which saw major developments both in the politics of empire and in women's relationship to public life and politics. It explores the interconnecting dynamics of these two arenas of change through discussing women's involvement in movements aiming to reform the Empire and the colonised, in organisations promoting support for imperialism, and in anti-imperial and anti-racist activism. Chronologically, these campaigns overlapped with each other, but they peaked in succeeding periods: the nineteenth century, the Edwardian period and the interwar period respectively.