Citizens of the world: Birmingham Quaker women, transnational voluntary service, and the meaning of citizenship

Sian Roberts (University of Birmingham)
12 June 2017

This seminar will focus on the voluntary action of a group of Quaker women based in the city of Birmingham in the first half of the twentieth century. In addition to their participation in the activities of the Religious Society of Friends at a local and national level, they engaged in a broad range of voluntary activities at home and abroad, motivated by a faith-inspired witness for peace. Locally their activism encompassed penal reform, housing, education and youth work, and was performed through women’s organisations including the Birmingham Women’s Settlement and the Women’s Citizens Club. Transnationally, they were particularly active in humanitarian relief, beginning in the First World War and continuing through the interwar period to the Spanish Civil War and their work in support of refugees from Europe in the 1930s and 1940s. The paper will explore the intersection of the local and the global in the voluntary action of this group of women. It will consider how mapping their activism across a spectrum of transnational issues and contexts illuminates our understanding of their particular model of citizenship. Increasingly informed by interwar Quaker discussions on the development of a new social outlook, it was a model which recognised no geographical constraints and extended well beyond their own local urban context.

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