In spite of recent literature that examines late nineteenth and early twentieth century transnational movements in innovative ways, the largest transnational movement of that period, the women's movement, remains lodged in academic and popular memory as the "suffrage movement," a single-issue campaign waged by privileged Victorian women, a foregone development in the march of electoral progress that ended in victory with postwar enfranchisement. A fresh approach to the suffrage archive reveals instead a far more radical movement than conventional history suggests, one that explicitly linked its cause with both the revolutionary democratic tradition and with anti-colonial activism. Like the non-Western nationalists with whom they were often allied, suffragists employed an unavoidably paradoxical discourse as they alternately embraced and rejected the political order that excluded them. To a greater extent than the other radical movements of the period, the suffrage activists developed creative and provocative tactics that forced the state to use violence against them, thus revealing the violence underlying the façade of liberal consent and further tying their cause to that of the "subject races." At the same time, suffragists were devoting enormous energy and resources to the first institutions of public international law and imagining an alternative concept of global citizenship that would empower them as well as their anti-colonial allies. The same themes of radical economic and political decentralization, social equality and human rights that mark women's political tradition on the national level were re-articulated for a new global order in the pre-war years. From the perspective of this radical tradition, the postwar bestowal of a limited franchise as a reward for cooperation in war-making was no victory, and a postwar international legal regime that re-inscribed the liberal priorities and exclusions of the nation-state was not a story of progress.
The Global "Parliament of Mothers": History, the Revolutionary Tradition, and International Law in the Pre-War Women's Movement,
Chi.-Kent L. Rev.
Available at: https://scholarship.kentlaw.iit.edu/cklawreview/vol87/iss2/8