USM Open Source History Text: The World at War: World History 1914-1945

Introduction: Emmeline Pankhurst and "Mass Society"

The late nineteenth century saw the emergence of “mass society.” Many things contributed to this: the spread of voluntary organizations, popular movements for progressive reform, mass spectacles (like professional sports) and international fairs, the beginnings of the film industry, the increase in urban populations, and, first and foremost, the spread of print media. Mass society means that more people were involved in the cultural, public, and political life of the state—or simply that they were mobilized in various ways in order to influence or discuss certain issues. Examples of mass society in the realm of politics include: the abolitionist movement in the United States before the U.S. Civil War, black equality movements in post-Reconstruction Jim Crow society, rural populism in the United States in the Gilded Age, workers’ rights movements in the industrializing West, nationalist groups throughout the world in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, women’s rights movements in Western Europe and the U.S., and colonial resistance movements.

In addition to the mass political movements, mass society can be seen in the cultural realm. This era witnessed the birth of mass spectator events from professional sports, to the modern Olympic Games, to the first World Cup of soccer (1930). In addition, the concept of the “celebrity” emerges, whether in print, like the African explorer Livingstone, or in film with the “movie star,” like Mary Pickford, whose name now appears above the movie title on posters and marquees. On the level of material culture, we see the dramatic growth of advertising and consumer culture, most famously embodied by Henry Ford and his Model T.Associations also played a huge role in the development of a mass society. Membership in organizations like the Boy Scouts grew into the millions. Women’s suffrage groups organized, as did movements for temperance and other social reform programs. This “progressive era” was dominated by the growth and activity of associations.

Increased literary, increased proximity to social problems of all kinds through population growth and urbanization, increased access to information fueled this new mass society. Mass society could both reinforce the power of the status quo, work to radically undermine it, or to gradual transform it. The masses became a powerful force, one that provoked both hopes and fears, one that some traditional elite sought to release and others to control.

In the following pages by the British women’s suffrage leader Emmeline Pankhurst delves into this new mass society, narrating one women’s journey of social awakening and activism. As you read, consider the following questions:

1)    Describe the process by which Emmeline Pankhurst became included in the suffrage movement. How does this relate to historical trends discussed in the first two chapters of the textbook?

2)    One of the most important developments in world history, especially European and U.S. history from the mid-nineteenth century until 1914 was the growth of “mass society.” How does Pankhurst’s autobiography reflect this development?

3)    Compare and contrast the Gandhi piece with Pankhurst’s account with regard to the concept of resistance? How are they similar? How different? How do these differences reflect their different positions are British subjects before WWI?

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