An examination of the role of women in interwar British fascist and racist organizations suggests a more complex and complicated role for them than that of “breeders of race and nation.” The history of this special relationship between women, British fascism, and antisemitism began in 1923, when the ultrapatriotic ex-servicewoman Rotha Lintorn-Orman (1895-1935) founded the first British fascist movement, the British Fascisti (BF). Nesta Webster, conspiracy theorist and antisemite, sat on the BF’s Grand Council in the mid-1920s. In Fascist Children’s Clubs, organized by the women of the movement, children were taught lessons about patriotism, the limits of imperial citizenship, and xenophobia with texts such as A. H. Lane’s The Alien Menace (1928). Always wary of “foreigners,” the BF adopted a policy of overt antisemitism only in the 1930s, when anti-Jewish attitudes generally began to harden on the Right.
Oswald Mosley, the founder of the British Union of Fascists (BUF), proclaimed that “we want men who are men, and women who are women” in the BUF, but women came to play far more activist roles than he had envisioned. They represented 25 percent of the membership, joined male Blackshirts on marches, served as stewards at meetings, sold fascist newspapers, and canvassed for new members. They fully participated in the activities of the organization and its branches. The Women’s Section was established in London in March 1933, first under the leadership of Mosley’s mother, Maud Mosley (1874-1948); it functioned as a parallel paramilitary hierarchy and offered classes in speech making and fascist policy, as well as training in physical fitness and self-defense.
Full participation in the BUF also entailed active Jew-baiting on the part of women. They could, for example, be heard chanting: “The Yids, the Yids, we gotta get rid of the Yids.” Women’s antisemitism was clearly articulated in their contributions to the BUF’s newspapers and journals and in their propaganda at election time. Anne Brock-Griggs, the candidate for Limehouse in the London County Council elections, denounced Jews as slumlords, evil financiers, pornographers, and polluters of the Christian blood line. The pitch of women’s antisemitism became shriller still with the launch in February 1940 of their own Women’s Peace Campaign against the “Jew’s War.”
Women were also well represented in other extreme Right and “Jew-Wise” organizations: Unity Mitford (1914—1948), who proudly proclaimed herself “a Jew-hater” in Julius Streicher’s Der Sturmer in 1935, was a member of the BUF and the Anglo-German Fellowship, as well as Mosley’s sister-in-law; women joined Arnold Leese’s Imperial Fascist League; and the leading protagonist in Captain Archibald Ramsay’s Right Club was Anna Wolkoff, who exhibited a degree of hysteria in her antisemitic outpourings. British women’s antisemitism was often premised on antivivisectionist grounds and opposition to kosher slaughtering, as laid out by Mrs. Dudley Ward of the Nordic League and the British People’s Party, in her vituperative booklet Jewish “Kosher” (1944).
The conflation of maternalist concerns with aggressive racism resulted in an ideology of “motherly hate.” Judging from their actions in the first part of the twentieth century, women— and more than just a few of them—could become deeply complicit in British fascist and racist movements.
—Julie V. Gottlieb
See also Britain; Dietary Laws; Kosher
Slaughtering; Mosley, Oswald; Sturmer, Der;
Durham, Martin. Women and Fascism (New York: Routledge, 1998).
Gottlieb, Julie V. Feminine Fascism: Women in Britain’s Fascist Movement, 1923—1945 (London: I. B. Tauris, 2000).
-. “‘Motherly Hate’: Gendering Anti-Semitism in the British Union of Fascists,” Gender & History, 14/2 (August 2002): 294—320.