By Eve Haskins and Peter Nias.

Next month is the centenary of Bradford Women’s Humanity League, who held a demonstration for peace on September 9, 1917. The march attracted 3000 people.

Eve Haskins, of Shipley, is studying for a PhD at the University of Leeds, researching the social impact of the First World War. She is especially interested in the history of the local area, including anti-war activities and women's history. Manningham resident Peter Nias, formerly of the Peace Museum, is interested in the history of peace campaigners and has undertaken much research into this subject locally.

Eve and Peter Eve have been looking into the history of Women’s Humanity League demonstration and finding out about those who took part.

While thousands of men died in the trenches in the First World War, some of the women on the Home Front challenged the whole idea of war. Women from across the Bradford district formed a group to campaign against the ever-rising slaughter, conscription, profiteering food rises and shortages. Their work culminated in a large peace demonstration on Sunday September 9, 1917.

Led by Esther Sandiforth, of Shipley, and Fanny Muir from Frizinghall, the Bradford Women’s Humanity League was formed in early 1916 and eventually joined the national anti-war campaign the Women’s Peace Crusade. The Women’s Peace Crusade had also been formed in 1916 in Scotland and spread through the north of England in 1917. Both were grassroots groups of ordinary women, who met on street corners and held public meetings condemning the futility of the war.

A plaque on the Textile Hall in Westgate, Bradford, erected only ten years ago, marks the place where the remarkable 1917 demo started. Headed by a band, 3000 people marched across the city to a rally in the grounds of the then Textile School, where Bradford College now stands.

Speakers came from other parts of the Yorkshire region and from across the country, including leading anti-war campaigners Charlotte Despard from London, Ethel Snowden who lived near Keighley and the Quaker Isabella Ford from Leeds.

Fanny Muir, who lived in Highfield Road, Frizinghall, was, by the time of the march, widowed with three children, but still found the time to be involved in the Bradford Women’s Humanity League.

She was an active member of her local branch of the Independent Labour Party.

In April 1918 Muir was arrested for addressing a meeting of 100 people at the Market Place in Shipley and charged under the Defence of the Realm Act. The newspaper reports of the time state that Muir was offered the choice of either three months’ imprisonment or a £50 fine, which was an incredibly excessive amount in 1918. Although she was offered the full amount by three separate benefactors, Muir accepted the prison sentence and was subsequently imprisoned for three months.

Esther Sandiforth of Hope View, Carr Lane, Windhill, Shipley was a redoubtable speaker and organiser. Born in Middlesbrough in 1871, by the time of the 1911 Census Esther was living in Shipley and was married to a mill worker, William. They had three children: Joseph, Alan and Emma. They also lived with Esther’s mother, Elizabeth Whitell, a 64-year-old widow who was employed as a maternity nurse. Esther Sandiforth’s name regularly appears in the press of the time, and the language she used was incredibly emotive. She wrote to the Bradford Pioneer as early as April 1916:

“Oh, mothers, when will ye rouse yourselves? The mad world is plunging recklessly in a hideous carnival of blood. Europe reeks with the stench of the dead bodies of your sons and you make no sign. The air is rent with strange sounds and mingled oaths and prayers…”

Sandiforth and Muir were supplemented by other local women of standing. One in particular was the headteacher of Bowling Back Lane School, Sarah Coulson, who had to endure criticism from the Education Board. Hilda Wilson of Ryan Street’s Bethel Methodist Church also actively spoke up.

This organised opposition to the war was very much a working-class protest, both in the city and across Britain. Unfortunately, very little was recorded at the time about the movement, although reference can be found in the local press of the time and a Bradford University Peace Studies student, Finola Doogan, wrote her Master’s degree dissertation on women’s peace groups in the war in 1993.

The Bradford demo from September 9, 1917, together with the similar sized 2003 Bradford demo against the Iraq war seem to have been the only times in the last 100 years when such large numbers have marched across the city in support of a cause.

There will be a free public illustrated talk on the Bradford Women's Humanity League at the Peace Museum, Bradford, on Thursday September 7 at 5.30pm, given by Eve and Peter. They said, “We would be particularly interested to hear from anyone who knows of family stories of the time about that women's movement".

Please phone or email to book a place on 01274-780241 or