Women’s Peace Crusade Poster Image: Emily Johns Courtesy of http://www.theworldismycountry.info/
Many Nelson women were at the forefront of the campaign for a negotiated peace during World War 1. This national movement became known as the Women's Peace Crusade. Nelson had strong links with the Independent Labour Party; a party which promoted socialist values and pacifism . By the summer of 1917 there was considerable discontent amongst women in particular, not just in Nelson but in communities all over the country. Rising food prices due to difficulties obtaining food supplies from abroad, queueing for basic foodstuffs, the introduction of conscription the previous year and the increasing death toll all contributed to the Crusade's support in Nelson.
In August 1917 Selina Cooper, one of the founder members of the ILP and Nelson resident, together with pacifist Gertrude Ingham, led a 1,200 strong group of women and girls through the town's streets towards the Recreation Ground where they were to hold a peace rally. A hostile 15,000 strong patriotic crowd had assembled there to show support for the war and it was only the strong police presence which prevented casualties.
'Traitors! Murderers!' someone shouted and women in the crowd tried to grab at the clothes of girls holding the banners. The booing and jeering grew louder and scuffling broke out. It was, as the nervous reporter covering the proceedings admitted, 'pandemonium let loose'.
Liddington, Jill (1984). The Life and Times of a Respectable Rebel: Selina Cooper (1864-1946) Virago
The scene at Carr Road Recreation Ground Nelson in August 1917 when a counter demonstration to the peace crusade took place.
Clearly, the Great War created divisions in a community which had previously been a harmonious one. The huge toll of death and injury and resulting hardship both increased the support for those in the town who urged the government to pursue a negotiated peace but equally heightened the resolve of others who felt the war was just , their losses should not have been in vain and that the job should be finished off.
Selina Cooper will be remembered as a suffragist, pacifist and passionate campaigner for women's rights. She worked on several committees organising relief work during WW1 including the setting up of Nelson's first ever maternity centre. In later years she was elected to the town council and became a local magistrate.
Selina Cooper's House at number 59 St Mary's Street is marked now with a blue plaque in her memory.