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Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Kathleen Courtney

Kathleen Courtney became a pacifist and during the First World War became associated with the Friends' War Victims Relief Committee. Her biographer, Janet E. Grenier, has pointed out: "She worked for the Serbian Relief Fund in Salonika, took charge of a temporary Serbian refugee colony in Bastia, Corsica, and was decorated by the Serbian government. Those who knew her during this period described her as full of life and fun and an exceptional administrator. She went on to work for the Friends' committee in France, Austria, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Greece. She was in Vienna for three years where she was horrified by the post-war scenes of starvation, particularly among refugees."

Courtney continued to be involved in the campaign for women's suffrage. She helped establish the Adult Suffrage Society in 1916 and as joint-secretary she lobbied members of the House of Commons for extension of the franchise until the Qualification of Women Act was passed in 1918. The following year she became vice-president of the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship. As well as advocating the same voting rights as men, the organisation also campaigned for equal pay, fairer divorce laws and an end to the discrimination against women in the professions.

After the war she became a leading figure in the pacifist movement and was a member of the League of Nations Union and became a member of its executive in 1928. She spent much time in Geneva, working as first vice-president of the Peace and Disarmament Committee of Women's International Organizations. However, in 1933 she resigned from the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom because she believed that the league's pacifism, calling for complete disarmament, was unrealistic.

When Abyssinia was invaded by Italy in October 1935, she mobilized British and European women's organizations in the campaign to prevent civilian bombing. During the Second World War she worked for the Ministry of Information. In 1945 she attended the San Francisco conference that established the United Nations. Soon afterwards she became deputy chairman of the United Nations Association.

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