The Humanitarian League 1891-1919

The Humanitarian League 1891-1919

This thesis will consider the way in which the Humanitarian League was structured, the ideas of those who were active within it, what the League did and who was involved in its work. The League will then be placed within the contemporary context. It will be shown that it was one of a number of new movements or enterprises tending towards the establishment of mystic ideas and a new social order … [which] marked the coming of a great reaction from the smug commercialism and materialism of the mid Victorian epoch and a preparation for the new universe of the twentieth century.

Chapter 1 attempts to chart the rise and fall of the League by setting out the changes in its format. The numbers involved in the League are difficult to assess. There are a few references to the numerical strength of the League in the Annual Reports and the League house journal, Humanity, but there were others who helped it without being subscribers. They did so by writing or by the signing of petitions or by further publicising League interests in the House or in the press. The fortunes of the League can be gauged by the volume of its printed output and the number of committees it could sustain and consideration is given to those matters in this chapter.

In the second chapter the numerous ideas which were woven into the formulation of the theory and practice of Humanitarianism are examined. The League represented itself as being more interested in action than in words, and only a few statements were made as to where it stood. The general theory was adopted by many different people who came to it from a variety of directions. The theory was adopted by individuals and tailored to circumstances in a number of different ways. The overall effect of the theory is considered as well as the variations.

“The Humanitarian League is a Society of thinkers and workers, irrespective of class or creed who have united for the sole purpose of humanising, as far as possible, the conditions of modern life.” The League recognized that “compassion, when it assumes a practical form, must experience, for a time at any rate, restrictions and limitations.” These ‘limitations’ and the successes of a selected number of League campaigns to ‘humanise’ modern life are considered in Chapter 3.

The fourth chapter of the thesis is a study of the characteristics of those who joined the League. Their class, sex, age and moral attitudes are examined in order to try to evaluate the work of the League. The elite of the League are given particular consideration as it was their energy which maintained the League and acted as a catalyst for its activities.

The summary intends to consider the ways in which the League threw light upon the concept of institutionalisation, the role of the visionary aesthetic, and the emerging environment ethic. The League attempted to unify opposition to the cultural order. In its place it wished to create a new scheme for those whose mid-Victorian evangelical sense of the significance and harmony of human experience had been shattered. It hoped to build a political and economic world upon its moral vision.

Dan Weinbren

Thesis, 1983

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