The women’s antinuclear protest group Women Strike for Peace (WSP) formed a visible part of the US peace movement during the Cold War, recording several successes and receiving a positive historical assessment for its maternal, respectable image. This study provides a revised history of WSP, querying the identity of the group in order to produce a more comprehensive and problematic historical narrative. It is the first study to examine WSP from its founding in 1961 through to the closure of its National Office in 1990. The thesis examines key events in the group’s history and challenges established historical understandings of the group, positing that existing perceptions offer an image of uniformity that overlooks the differing experiences of WSP activists and the complexity of their memories. This study draws on aspects of memory theory to inform its examination of WSP’s historical record. It contends that social influences and personal identity had a significant impact on the way in which former members recalled their experiences, while assessing the relationship between collective and individual identity within WSP. By placing the group into the changing cultural and societal environment of Cold War America, this thesis is the first to demonstrate the importance of contextual background to understanding the development of WSP activists’ memory and identity. Whereas existing examinations of Women Strike for Peace apply its maternal image to the entirety of its history, this study finds such interpretations of identity and historical understanding to be static and argues that the transformation in activist identities informed changing perceptions of the group’s past successes. The thesis makes extensive use of branch records and the recollections of individuals recorded through oral interviews and memoirs to query established understandings of WSP. It finds that the desire of leading figures to project a moderate, maternal image resulted in the establishment of a framework within which WSP activists understood their identity and activism. This framework resulted in an historical narrative that overlooks the diversity within the group, the tensions between members that emerged over issues such as hierarchical structure, civil disobedience, and feminist activism, and the regional disparity of the national organisation. The perspectives of leading figures have often been consulted to the detriment of grassroots voices that can offer a more complex, contentious depiction of WSP’s history. Accounting for the construction of WSP’s history, memory, and identity, this thesis challenges our view of the experience of peace activism in the 20th century United States.
|Publication status||In preparation - Dec 2015|