What happened in Britain after the vote was won? How did those who had been at the vanguard of the movement respond in 1918 and in the immediate period after the Representation of the People Act (partial women’s suffrage)? With so much emphasis in the historiography and now during this centenary year here in Britain on the sensational suffragettes, too little attention has been paid to the moments of anti-climax and to the messier narratives of suffrage afterlives. After providing a more general introduction, this paper will look at the life, the activism, and the death of Dame Helena Swanwick. Swanwick was a suffragist, a pacifist and anti-war activist, a pioneer in the field of IR (and even more so as a woman), a substitute delegate to the League of Nations, and, by the last 1930s, increasingly an apologist for Hitler insofar as she supported a position of ‘peace at any price’. Further, she committed suicide in November 1939, and it was clear that this fateful decision was motivated by the recurrence of world war. This paper will look at her life as a prism for women’s political activism in the national and international sphere, and as a vivid example of a post-suffrage contribution (although she was an active and outspoken suffragist, this was only the beginning of her career, whereas too often the suffrage movement is seem as the climax of a political career). It will use biography to illuminate many of the questions being explored in this workshop about about democratization, peace building, the parameters of women’s citizenship, and, as an added element, how biography (and a grave to cradle rather than cradle to grave reading ̶ how does Swanwick’s suicide make us see her life differently?) remains essential in the study of gendered post-war transitions.
Julie Gottlieb is a Reader in Modern History at the University of Sheffield. She has written extensively on women in politics in modern Britain, with an emphasis on the aftermath of suffrage. Her most recent monograph is “Guilty Women“, Foreign Policy and Appeasement in Inter-War Britain (Palgrave, 2015). Her current project considers the emotional, psychological and psychiatric fallout of the Munich Crisis and the coming of war, and she has received a Wellcome Trust Seed Award for the study of “’Suicide, Society and Crisis“. To find out more about Julie’s work, see https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/history/staff/julie-gottlieb