the men who said no
'What we want is not militarism in education, nor yet pacifism, but the cultivation of an open mind” she quotes - and adds the need for ‘a sensitiveness to life’  



Rosa Hobhouse was the wife of Stephen Hobhouse, a Quaker conscientious objector in WW1. She herself was actively working for peace.

Born Rosa Waugh, she met Stephen at a dinner party for Christian activists and they were married six weeks later. She was a Quaker and together they adopted a life of poverty in Hoxton in the East End of London, where Stephen had already established himself after renouncing his inherited wealth under the influence of Tolstoy’s writings. Sticking to their lifestyle they took the bus home from their wedding. Sylvia Pankhurst described Rosa as ‘a Quaker with a mystic’s temperament’ - she came to Sylvia to offer £1 a week to rent space in Hoxton for Sylvia’s East London Federation of Suffragettes. Rosa took on the task of visiting Germans in distress, and Stephen brought his concern about ‘enemy’ aliens who had lost their jobs to the Quaker Meeting for Sufferings. This led to the setting up of the Emergency Committee for the Assistance of Germans, Austrians and Hungarians in Distress.

Rosa wrote a leaflet and circulated it to all the bishops of the Church of England and to many prominent Free Church ministers. It began: “In these days, the Spirit saith unto the Churches: ‘Your hands are full of blood. When will ye come out of your ways, and arm yourself with the Mind of Christ?’” She shared the platform with Charlotte Despard at an Independent Labour Party meeting in early 1916. In the summer that year she set out on a peace pilgrimage with her friend Clara Cole. They walked through Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire distributing hundreds of anti-war leaflets and speaking about their aim of a negotiated peace. After five days they were arrested, charged with conduct prejudicial to recruiting, and spent nearly three months in Northampton Prison. Clara spoke of how much she appreciated ‘the cheerful and sympathetic comradeship of Rosa’.

Stephen was imprisoned as a CO, having a very difficult time from which his already poor health suffered greatly. Visiting him in prison, Rosa asked if she could kiss him goodbye, but permission was refused - the warder apologising afterwards to Stephen for having to refuse. His mother Margaret, who disagreed with his pacifist views but was determined to save his life, campaigned for the release of all the absolutist COs, and eventually 300 of the most sick including Stephen were released in December 1917. His health never recovered, and he was unable to continue his work and life in poverty. His family set up trust funds to support them both. They became believers in homeopathy, writing the biography of its founder, Samuel Hahnemann. Stephen lived the rest of his life pursuing and writing about mysticism and faith-based pacifism. Rosa was a poet and a prolific author, writing books about story-making, and about Norse Legends, and Robin Hood and other Tales of Old England. She also wrote the life of Mary Hughes, another friend who shared her belief in the life of poverty and dedication to working for the poor.

She wrote an article in The Tribunal on March 8, 1917 about her concern at the effects of militarism on the young. She describes the life of a child, the sense of infinite possibilities: ‘Whatever they may know of the tragedies and sordidness of our false civilisation, they are as yet uncommitted to any of the evils which surround them…’ She pleads for them to have scope for choice. “What we want is not militarism in education, nor yet pacifism, but the cultivation of an open mind” she quotes - and adds the need for ‘a sensitiveness to life’.

‘By two positive evils those who are coming to the verge of undertaking the social political responsibilities of the future are overshadowed, the suppression of free expression and militarism….It is a great thought, that the steps of the young throughout the whole earth are the steps of free men and women in the making….In the court-yards, even of the poorest parts of our cities, they are to be heard shouting and racing with a peculiar freedom and joyance. But the meshes of a close captivity is already being spun for them, a captivity which is first directed towards their minds, and only afterwards claims the body. ‘

‘If, then, the militarists are making their cause loom large in the growing imagination, large must our pacifism also look, for, as I have suggested, until the presentation is balanced the judgment of youth cannot be free. And, above all, in the putting forward of our vision of liberty, of love, and of justice, it must be aglow with an intense intention (as intense an intention as that of the militarists) to see that vision translated, not only into the inner experience, but also into the very organisation of society.’



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