According to Ray Strachey, ‘The true history of the Women’s Movement is the whole history of the nineteenth century’.1 Many historians suggest that an identifiable ‘women’s movement’ did not appear until the mid-nineteenth century, when the suffrage campaign gathered momentum (although its concerns were far greater than the simple aim of the parliamentary vote). Yet this movement did not come from nowhere. From the early nineteenth century, women combined independently or alongside men to make political demands. This chapter outlines some of the main areas of women’s collective activity prior to the point when a distinct women’s movement emerged. It shows how their experience brought them invaluable political skills as well as helping them to develop analyses of a range of social questions relating to sexual inequality. These skills and analyses facilitated the coalescence of what we might consider feminist demands into a women’s movement which lasted beyond the First World War.
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