a multitude of previous authors, I would like to thank Clare Midgley
for a generous and insightful review. I feel that she has summarised
the general content and purpose of my book very accurately. Her
summary makes it clear enough that my research does in fact address
the "big issues" surrounding gender and Empire and the
varied politics of the British women's movement. My approach is
indeed mainly empirical, but for me this was a positive choice
influenced by what I have felt to be some anachronistic and over-generalised
conclusions drawn by fellow-historians in these two contentious,
well-populated fields. Without wishing to labour the point, I must
say that "deep contextualisation" seems to me the essence
of scholarly historical research. Whilst historians may benefit,
especially in the areas of post-colonial studies and women's studies,
from an acquaintance with theoretical approaches "borrowed"
from adjacent disciplines, many of us are less overawed by such
approaches than we were even five years ago. Historicism without
rigorous historical research, and a patient sifting of detailed
evidence, remains merely a noble aspiration (at worst, a delusion).
Clare Midgley gives a thoughtful summary of the
"new insights" presented through my book. I was particularly
pleased with her commentary upon the chapter on Imperialism,
the Women's Movement and the Vote. From my perspective, this
chapter is the real climax and conclusion of the book. It sets
forth my general views on the upper class female imperialists'
relationship with the British women's movement, and in so doing
raises important question marks over widely used explanatory categories
in recent women's history. Should the category of "feminist"
be largely confined to middle class liberal women who supported
the suffrage cause? Should it be extended to all women who chose
to work collectively, and along gendered lines, in support of social
reforms benefiting their own sex? After researching organised female
imperialism in Edwardian Britain, I have found it impossible to
assent wholeheartedly to either of these propositions. The female
imperialists saw themselves as imperialists and (in most cases)
as part of the non-confrontational mainstream of women's collective
social action. Only a minority deserve Antoinette Burton's labelling
as "imperial feminists". Suffragists and anti-suffragists
co-existed with surprising ease within women's imperialist associations
dedicated to a higher political and social purpose than mere reform
of the British constitution. This conclusion should prompt us to
join with increasing numbers of American historians in a fundamental
re-evaluation of neglected conservative (and sometimes explicitly
anti-feminist) women's organisations on both sides of the Atlantic.
Their refusal to fit comfortably within the established paradigms
of modern feminist history is a challenge to those paradigms themselves.
Have I been over-cautious in expressing the more
polemical aspects of my conclusions? Clare Midgley's review seems
to suggest as much. This is a criticism I can quite happily live
with when it is allied to such a perceptive appreciation of my
efforts to delve into obscure historical detail, and to let these
women speak through their deeds, their personal life choices, their
often fragmentary public and private writings. I have attempted
to demonstrate that imperialist ladies formed a distinctive and
closely inter-related political subgroup in the Edwardian era;
and that this grouping rested in turn upon established, gendered
social hierarchy and existing networks of women's social action.
A unified and theoretically coherent female imperialism was never
on offer. But its tendencies, its theoretical leanings and its
preferred modes of action are sufficiently well-evidenced to prompt
historical investigation. I have been as concerned to avoid unwarranted
over-generalisation as to reach clear-cut conclusions, and make
no apology for emphasising complexity and contradiction.
The field of imperial education was more fraught
with contradictions than most for the lady imperialists. As Clare
Midgley points out, educational and propaganda activities inevitably
brought these women fact to face with the dilemmas of social hierarchy
as well as those of gender division. Effective propaganda was predicated
upon a commitment to spreading the imperialist message: to forming
widespread and effective local groups, and to reaching a "broader
constituency of membership". In an era of burgeoning male
propaganda societies, and a male-dominated educational establishment,
it was also predicated upon successful male/female collaboration,
even if this led to a loss of autonomy for female-led imperialist
associations. Mass propaganda proved uncongenial for the leading
women imperialists, though they made half-hearted attempts to "democratise".
My chapter on educational initiatives is therefore a catalogue
of eventual failures, despite much activity and some apparent successes.
The female imperialists were unable to carry their "specific
feminist focus" through into mass education, except in the
gender-segregated enclaves of the Girls Friendly Society. In state
schools and in public meetings their gendered and socially exclusive
perspectives were sidelined, then crowded out. A connection should
be made between this chapter and the discussion in an earlier chapter
of the women imperialists' wary collaboration with like-minded
male organisations. Friendly association might prove beneficial,
but full amalgamation was correctly judged to be a threat to female
leadership and to the imperialist priorities these women held dear.
The "ordinary members" of the Primrose
League and of the Girls Friendly Society certainly do merit a study
of their own. It would be fascinating to uncover direct or indirect
evidence of alternative perspectives upon upper class female hierarchy.
But to do so would necessitate research beyond the boundaries of
(deferential) organisational records and the papers of women leaders
themselves. For the purposes of the book reviewed here, I have
deliberately focused upon the lady imperialists' own top-down approach
to society, politics and the Empire. Privileged minority though
these women were, and much though they may have over-estimated
their own influence, their efforts on behalf of the Empire lie
within a significant history of conservative womanhood which deserves
far more extensive research. I hope another historian will take
up Clare Midgley's concluding suggestions.