Abstract

Frances Swiney, a prominent Edwardian suffragist and Theosophist, used both scientific/eugenic ideas and spiritualism to argue that women represented a higher stage of evolutionary development than men and that women therefore should assume positions of greater prominence in British society. Although eugenics lent scientific authority to feminism, its emphasis on physical reproduction also meant that women were increasingly defined in terms of their childbearing potential and that anything which interfered with motherhood, such as careers, was a threat to civilization. Swiney proved instrumental in circumventing the eugenic dilemma and its seeming biological imperative by redefining eugenics as a moral and spiritual enterprise in which women could modify evolution through force of will. In particular, Swiney drew upon Theosophical spiritualism to argue that human evolution would reach its highest phase in the feminization of the species. Frances Swiney's work helps complexify the Victorian women's movement and remains important to that feminist paradigm which has sought to define women in terms other than biological.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2036
Print ISSN
1042-7961
Pages
pp. 97-117
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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