Aphorisms



5. “The March of the women”, King Albert’s Book. Ethel Smyth (England/International, 1914)

Ethel Smyth—British composer and suffragette—donated this arrangement of her “March of the Women” to King Albert's Book: A Tribute to the Belgian King and People from Representative Men and Women Throughout the World. King Albert's Book was a collection of works compiled by Hall Caine as a fundraising effort published by the Daily Telegraph to aid Belgian refugees after the German invasion. It effected a strong political influence thanks to the support of internationally renowned intellectuals who stood against the German occupation of Belgium. The title and design of the book are remarkable for an early 20th century publication: it values the contribution of women to the cause while presenting their work with no gender bias or segregation—the works are compiled in strict alphabetical order by authors’ surname.

Smyth’s score gives us an opportunity to reflect upon three radically diverse viewpoints held by women’s collectives during the war. Indeed, the suffragettes split into pro and anti-war camps as they failed to agree on the position they should publicly maintain. Those who were anti-war helped found the apolitical Women's International League for Peace during the Peace Congress of The Hague in 1915. Meanwhile, the German Spartacus League and women socialists such as Clara Zetkin and Rosa Luxemburg boldly defended a pacifist stance by arguing that the war was a consequence of capitalism and colonialism, and therefore contrary to the interests of an international coalition of workers. They openly opposed other national socialist groups who eventually complied with their countries’ participation in the war. Under constant severe persecution, these socialist women risked their lives when they decided to celebrate the Third International Socialist Women Conference (1915) in Bern where an anti-war manifesto was published as part of the closing ceremony.