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1847-1981 :

A thesis presented to the London School of Economics, University of London,
for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, by Julia Twigg
©AUTUMN 1981 - Thesis Index

The author is now Professor of Social Policy and Sociology at Kent University, England, and has given permission for this previously unpublished thesis to be published on the IVU website. The ownership and copyright remain hers and no part of this thesis may be used elsewhere without her express permission.


[Numerical links are to the author's footnotes, use your back button to return to the same point in the text. Text links are to relevant items on the IVU website, all open in new windows]


Vegetarian food, as we have noted, represents female food in the grammar of conventional eating, and certain of vegetarianism's concerns might lead one to suppose that it would attract more women than men. Enrolment figures for the Vegetarian Society during the 1880's, however, show a clear majority of men (the ratio is roughly 4:1), and many vegetarians bemoaned the reluctance of women to adopt the diet, seeing this as a serious obstacle to their advance. (1) These figures may just reflect the greater tendency of men to join societies and be active publicly; and these vegetarian perceptions of imbalance may in part reflect the effects of female control over food; and the issue of sex ratios throughout the periods studied remains unresolved.

In certain contexts, however, it is clear that vegetarianism did attract women differentially. There are a small number of titled women associated with the diet, (2) whereas there appear to be no titled men - they being too emphatically 'of the centre'.

Vegetarianism also attracted a number of feminists and suffragettes. The revival of the feminist cause in the eighties and the advent of the New Woman took place in the same broadly liberal and progressivist circles in which vegetarianism was found, and it drew also on the concern with the politics, of private life. Slightly later, among the suffragettes, there was a strong vegetarian connection. 'She [Miss Wallace Dunlop] and Miss Haig (like so many of them)', recorded Mrs Blathway in her diary, 'never eat meat and not much animal food at all'. (3) Among that many was Lady Constance Lytton, who endured imprisonment and forced feeding for the suffrage cause. She had become a vegetarian initially for health reasons, though she became converted to the humanitarian aspect. (4) Mrs Leonora Cohen, a suffragette with the Pankhursts and also a militant – she smashed a jewel case in the Tower of London and went on hunger strike - had been a vegetarian since the age of five. (5) Eva Gore Booth was the leader of the North of England Society for Woman's Suffrage. She had come to Salford from County Sligo in the late nineties and remained there until 1913, working with Esther Roper among the women textile workers in the union and suffrage causes. She was a vegetarian from about 1906 onwards. (6) Mrs Charlotte Despard, again from an upper-class background, had become a socialist and women's trade-union worker, and then, increasingly from 1900, was involved in the suffrage cause. She led the Woman's Freedom League which bad broken away from the Pankhurst dominated WSPU. She had come to vegetarianism initially through a love of Shelley, though contact with Gandhi in 1909 reinforced her commitment. (7)

Part of the association lay through the influence of theosophy which had explicitly vegetarian links. A number of feminists and suffragettes were attracted to the spiritual freedom of theosophy or of the related occultic tradition. (8) Many feminists were not just concerned with freeing women from male domination and expanding their roles, but also with the revaluation of the feminine qualities within civilisation. (This was something that Carpenter and Maitland also urged). Theosophy had been concerned to reverse society's traditional valuation and to place the 'feminine' qualities of intuition and spiritual knowledge above the 'masculine' ones of intellect and rational knowledge. It was, furthermore, free from the patriarchal symbolism of Christianity and receptive to feminist theories concerning the matriarchal foundation of society and the role of the Great Goddess.

Many feminists believed in the inherent superiority of women, and, taking up the traditional Victorian concept of their greater spirituality, argued that they were further evolved than men from the material plane. A vegetarian diet was the natural concomitant of such ideas. But feminism and vegetarianism were also related through the common theme of sexual purity. Feminism in the late nineteenth century had a puritanical note that derived from more than tactical caution; many feminists regarded sex as something to be transcended, rather than to be indulged in, and from the Contagious Diseases Agitation onwards, feminism is associated with social purity movements that attempt to force men to abandon the values of the double standard through the imposition of chastity upon them too: 'Votes for Women and Chastity for Men'. Writers like the vegetarian and theosophist. Mrs Swiney were virulent in attacking male lust, and: for many, sex itself represented the focus of the humiliating subjugation of women and this seems to have been part of the experience of both Annie Besant and Anna Kingsford. In an obscure way, it is present also in some of the intense identification with. The suffering animal found in the anti-vivisection literature.

  1. 171. See, for example, VM, July 1894, p246.
  2. 172. Including Lady Paget, Lady Florence Dixie, daughter of the Marquess of Queensbury, Lady Gwendoline Herbert, Lady Constance Lytton, Lady Emily Lutyens, Lady Clare Annesley and the Duchess of Hamilton.
  3. 173. Quoted in A Nest of Suffragettes, B.M. Wilimot Dobbie, Bath, 1979, p41 and p46.
  4. 174. For Lady Constance Lytton see her Prisons and Prisoners: Some Personal Experiences, 1914 and her Letters, edited by B. Balfour 1925.
  5. 175. LEONORA COHEN: 1872-1977. Apprenticed as a milliner, active in equal pay cause among Leeds tailoresses. After the First War and marriage, a JP in Leeds; OBE for work among prisoners. See Liverpool Daily Post, June 14, 1973, interview; MS of interview in Vegetarian Society files; and Alive, Nov 1978, obituary.
  6. 176. EVA GORE BOOTH: 1670-1926. Daughter of Sir Henry Gore Booth, brought up in the atmosphere of the Celtic twilight. In 1897 to Salford, where she led the reading class at Ancoats Brotherhood with readings from Shelley and Emerson. In 1914 a peace worker in Women's Peace Crusade. Involved with her sister, Countess Markievicz, in the Irish national cause. See introduction to her Poems, 1929, by Esther Roper, and article in VM, Sept 1932, p256.
  7. 177. For Mrs Despard, see A. Linklater, An Unhusbanded Life, 1980
  8. 178. See Mrs Despard, Theosophy and the Women's Movement, 1913; Mrs Swiney saw a similar link; Leonora Cohen was a theosophist and later keen supporter of the Liberal Catholic Church; see also Eva Gore Booth's free and mystical version of Christianity in her The Psychological and Poetic Approach to the Study of Christ in the Fourth Gospel, 1923. See also Diana Burfield, 'Theosophy and the Women's Movement', BSA Sociology of Religion Conference, Birmingham, 1980.

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