Over the next few months, interns and volunteers on the Reflections project will write a few blog posts to discuss their experience working on the project and some of the research materials they have uncovered. This time volunteer Sarah Hellawell discusses her research into the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and in particular Ethel Williams
My PhD research focuses on the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, a transnational women’s organisation formed in 1915 that combined the goals of women’s rights with securing permanent peace. This research has led me to uncover the work of Dr Ethel Williams, a suffragist and pacifist who lived in Newcastle upon Tyne.
Williams was born 1863 in Cromer, attended Norwich High School for Girls and Newnham College, Cambridge. She graduated in 1891 from the London School of Medicine for Women, having gained medical experience in Paris and Vienna. She moved to Newcastle in 1896, where she set up a general medical practice in Ellison Place with Ethel Bentham, before moving to 3 Osborne Terrace in 1910. Both women became active in the North East Society for Women’s Suffrage, which was affiliated to the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), the constitutional branch of the women’s suffrage campaign, led by Millicent Garrett Fawcett. Williams took part in the Mud March of 1907, the first large-scale procession organised by the NUWSS in London, and was involved with similar processions in Newcastle, many of which culminated with speeches and rallies on the Town Moor or included processions down Northumberland Street with suffrage banners. As the first woman to drive in Newcastle, Williams’ car played a crucial role in the organisation of the suffrage movement in the area. Williams was also secretary of the Newcastle Women’s Liberal Association, a member of the Literary and Philosophical Society, and served as a Justice of the Peace. Nevertheless, she became increasingly frustrated with the Liberals, as they failed to support the women’s cause, and she became aligned more closely to the Labour party.
Williams’ medical work with the disadvantaged of Newcastle and Gateshead, demonstrates a level of cross-class solidarity. This experience fuelled her motivation for social reform and women’s suffrage in order to alleviate the deprivation of the working classes. In 1917 she founded the Northern Women’s Hospital in Jesmond, which is now the Nuffield Health Clinic on Osborne Road. During the war, Williams made contact with the Belgian refugee community at the Elizabethville settlement in Birtley. In the immediate aftermath of the war, she travelled to Austria, where she used her medical expertise to report on the starvation and malnutrition in Central Europe due to the Allied Naval Blockade, which remained in place even after the armistice in 1918.
In 1914, Williams opposed the war. She joined the Union of Democratic Control, an organisation founded in 1914 by Charles P. Trevelyn, Ramsay MacDonald, Norman Angell and E.D. Morel, to oppose Government wartime restrictions and to highlight the lack of transparency and democracy in foreign relations. Williams also joined the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, a transnational feminist-peace organisation formed at the International Congress of Women held at The Hague in April 1915.