The Women’s Co-operative Guild (WCG) held its founding meeting in 1883 at the annual Co-operative Congress in Edinburgh. By 1917 it organised over 27,000 women in nearly 600 branches across the country. From early on it defined itself as being explicitly committed to working class advancement, clearly differentiating itself from many other, more middle class, women’s organisations. Initially the WCG was an organisation independent of political parties, and much of its work focused on issues such as health, maternity benefits, suffrage and wages. In April 1914 it was involved in an International Women’s Congress at The Hague, which passed a resolution totally opposing war: ‘This Conference is of opinion that the terrible method of war should never again be used to settle disputes between nations, and urge that a partnership of nations, with peace as its object, should be established and enforced by the people’s will.’ (1)
The foundation of the Co-operative Party in 1917 led to tensions within the WCG between those who wanted closer links with the Labour Party, parliamentarianism and electoralism, and those who, by the 1930s, wanted to put absolute pacifism ahead of all other considerations. These tensions contributed to the demise of the organisation. However, during the interwar period, the WCG and its members played an important role in the pursuit of international peace. One of the most visible contributions that the WCG made in this regard was in 1933 when it produced the first Remembrance Day white poppies.
(1) Wikipedia: Co-operative Women’s Guild
National Co-operative Archive
G. Scott, 1998. Feminism and the Politics of Working Women: the Women’s Co-operative Guild, 1880s to the Second World War. London: Routledge.
C. Webb, 1927. The Woman with the Basket: the History of the Women’s Co-operative Guild, 1883-1927. Manchester: Co-operative Wholesale Printing Works.