Vida Goldstein (13 April 1869 – 15 August 1949) was born in Portland, Victoria, Australia in 1869. Surprisingly, her father was an anti-suffragist and her mother was a dedicated one, however he always taught his daughters how to be economically and intellectually independent. Vida remained unmarried so this knowledge was helpful, but she was also a passionate suffragette, helping her mother at the age of 21 to collect signatures for the Woman’s Suffrage Petition. Her passion for politics grew, and in 1903 Vida was the first woman in the entire British Empire to stand for a national election. Though she lost, it didn’t stop her continuing her fight. She did manage to poll with 51,000 votes.
When the First World War broke out, Vida was a committed pacifist and on the 15th June 1915, helped establish the Women’s Peace Army. The Women’s Peace Army was an attempt to bring all women in Australia together to oppose the war no matter their political views. They were a radical feminist socialist militancy against war; in fact their motto was, “We war against war!” There was no enemy in Germany; the Peace Army believed that killing other people’s sons was wrong in itself. Within the Women’s Peace Army manifesto, Vida mentions a mother who says “It was not the thought of his being killed that was a nightmare to me. That was terrible, but more terrible still was the thought of his killing another dear boy like himself, a boy whose mother loved him as passionately as I loved mine.”The Peace Army was heavily involved in anti-conscription campaigns and urged young men to think of the bigger picture as to where the war was heading. She heavily used the Bible and the 10 Commandments in her speeches, asking whether they should break the commandment “Thou Shalt Not Kill.” It was also a question of letting the men take on the decision and responsibility of the war and if they wanted to become a soldier instead of being forced.
In 1919, just after the war, Vida was invited to speak for all Australian women at the Women’s Peace Conference in Zurich; a fantastic opportunity of which she was away for 3 years. During this time The Women’s Peace Army dissolved and so did her public engagement with Feminist politics in Australia.
For more information on Vida Goldstein and The Women’s Peace Army, check out the Women’s Peace Army Manifesto by Vida Goldstein.