The importance of family in nurturing our values and purpose is immense. We can break away from our upbringing, and we need to where it is confining or destructive. Yet history shows that family shapes us powerfully. As we seek to build a world of peace and justice, it is a reminder of how so much starts at home…
Margaret Llewellyn Davies (1861-1944) is but one fine example of the genealogy of Christian feminism. Niece of Emily Davies, her father John Llewellyn Davies was a broad church clergyman who was also closely involved in furthering education, notably as one of the founders of the first Working Men’s College, in London. He was also an ‘interpreter of (the great Anglican theologian and Christian Socialist leader) (F.D) Maurice to the many who found him obscure’ (according to the historian Mayor) and actively involved in addressing poverty. Meanwhile, her mother Mary Crompton was also a leading educationalist, and came from a well-known northern Unitarian family with strong feminist links.
Margaret’s personal journey is also illustrative of similar Christian feminist journeys by women of her generation. Schooled at at Queen’s College in London (founded in 1848 by F.D.Maurice), she went on to Girton College, and then became a voluntary social worker in Marylebone. After this, she put her considerable abilities to work within the Co-operative movement, especially as general secretary of the Women’s Cooperative Guild. Under her outstanding leadership, the Guild’s numbers and work expanded spectacularly, also being far more politically active than it had ever been.
Davies urged women to realise that they were ‘the women with the basket’, having power due to their being the primary consumers in society. Therefore, if they organised cooperatively, they could influence how and where money was spent, seeking better quality and fairly priced food and goods. She also believed that consumers, men and women, were central to world economics and that the economy should be run as democratically as parliaments.
From 1904, through her leadership, the Guild was an active part of the non-militant suffrage campaign. For Davies herself coined the phrase ‘democratic suffragist’ (letter to Common Cause newspaper in Oct 1909), to distinguish such broadly based work from the increasingly shrill and elitist Pankhurst campaigns. This is also fitted with her (and the Guild’s) strong pacifism: a feature which, during the First World War, led to her election to the General Council of the Union of Democratic Control, which called for a negotiated peace.
From little acorns therefore, great oaks grow…
God of Relationship,
as your love flowed through Margaret Llewellyn Davies,
so may it flow through us,
sharing all that is fruitful from our inheritance
and pouring it out to others.
Strengthen we pray the relationships within families,
that they may display the peace and mutual love which we find in you:
and enable consumers to use their economic power for good.
In the name of Jesus our brother, Amen.