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Recruits for the Great War

November 30, 1914 — Kingsway Hall, London UK


We women are the weaker sex. We have been told that our hands are full with our domestic concerns and our maternal duties. In times of peace we have a good deal to say on that, but in times of war we are impelled to take men at their word. Men say to us, “Leave the fighting to us. It does not become women to fight. We protect women. We fight for you. We shine you from the difficulties and ills of life.” Well, this is a testing time for men and women, too. We take you, gentlemen, at your word. We say it is the duty of men to do their best to redeem their pledges to women. We have not been allowed to prepare ourselves for self-defense because we are women.

During the last few days I have ben thanking God I was not a superior person, and that I had not a facile pen or a great sense of saturnine humor so that I must indulge in something parallel to Nero’s fiddling while Rome burned. I cannot find words strong enough to condemn the people who at this moment are haggling with imperfect knowledge over diplomacy and what led to the war, and who is to blame for it. I will tel you who is to blame if things are not as they ought to be. It is you enfranchised men. It is the Bernard Shaws and all the rest of them. They say the science of government is only suited to the male sex. Then when you face a great national peril and your very existence as a nation is at stake, they begin to argue in newspaper columns in order that our enemy may quote them on the walls of Belgium. If we have rulers who are wrongdoers, it is the fault of the people who made them rulers. When the war is over will be the time to settle these questions of diplomacy. Here we are in war. Our honor, our reputation, our very existence are at stake. It is a time for people either to criticize helpfully or to hold their tongues. If we women, with our grievances against men, can hold our tongues, I think other people might do so … If there are mistakes, the right and proper thing to do if you love your country is to try to get things put right quietly by influence . . . 

The views I have always held I still hold. Nothing is more horrible than wars of aggression. But I believe that, whatever faults we have had in the past, now we are engaged in a righteous war. Much as I love peace, I believe there are times when it is right to fight. And I say to young men: There are women today who never thought to envy men their manhood, but who would, at least for this purpose, be glad to be men. 



Source: Women at the Podium: Memorable Speeches in History. ed. S. Michele Nix (New York: Harper Resource), 2000, pp. 23-25.