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The rebel women of the First World War

The sacrifices of ‘real rebel’ women from Manchester and East Lancashire who took part in the Women’s Peace Crusades during the First World War are being recognised in a new book.
The Women’s Peace Crusade 1917-1918: Crusading Women in Manchester and East Lancashire by Dr Alison Ronan, a Visiting Research Fellow in the Manchester Centre for Regional History at Manchester Metropolitan University, is the culmination of a research project that aimed to uncover the stories of ordinary crusaders in the cotton spinning and weaving towns of the region.
Dr Ali Ronan worked with volunteers in archives across Manchester, Oldham, Bolton, Blackburn, Rochdale, Burnley and Nelson to discover local responses to the Crusade and to uncover some of the local women, often weavers and spinners, who were involved.
She said: “The antimilitarist, socialist and internationalist Women’s Peace Crusade ran like wildfire across the country in 1917 and 1918 and it was especially strong in the textile towns of East Lancashire. Anti-war women across the North West worked together, demanding that the Government should negotiate a peace ‘that would not have in it the seeds of future wars’.
“There were spontaneous women-led demonstrations against the war with thousands of women dressed in blue, the colour of peace, taking to the streets, wearing peace ‘buttons’ and carrying banners.
“These demonstrations didn’t always end peacefully. There were riots in Oldham and uproar in Nelson. Bolton had a news blackout and a Crusade in Manchester was stopped. Numerous women were imprisoned for handing out anti-war leaflets and teachers were sacked for ‘pacifist activities’.
“I found that although the project focussed on the First World War there were clear links with campaigns for peace and social justice that are taking place today.”
The research and the stories it uncovered, formed the basis for a film on the Women’s Peace Crusade

The film and book have been received enthusiastically by the public at recent showings at Manchester Central Library and other regional venues, with many praising the project for revealing previously unknown stories of local women campaigners and the relevance of the project today.

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