Imperial Volunteering: Women and Welfare in the Twentieth-Century British Empire
van Tol, Deanne Gabrielle
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This thesis examines the rhetoric and practice of voluntary welfare work by British women within the twentieth-century British Empire. Voluntarism was an important component of the attention to colonial welfare and development that was a dominant theme of the ideology and practice of the last decades of the British Empire. Debated and defined during the 1930s, programs to enact welfare and development were implemented after the Second World War as part of a revived empire during the 1950s. These programs remained integral to post-colonial relationships after the rapid dismantling of empire in the 1960s. Examining the welfare component of twentieth-century imperial aspirations, this study follows the informal practitioners of colonial welfare—the British women residing in empire who through voluntary work contributed to both defining and delivering colonial welfare—considering the intersection of individual lives and imperial responsibilities. This study offers a comparative and trans-imperial account of individual women engaged in voluntary efforts alongside a closer analysis of the rhetoric and reality of voluntarism in colonial Kenya. White women residing in the colonies contributed voluntarily to the provision of colonial health, education, and social services after the First World War: their efforts were both part of everyday life and entwined in the imperial politics of welfare, gender, and race. The phenomenon of imperial voluntarism represented continuity in the ideas and activities of white women on the colonial frontier, yet imperial voluntarism also represented change within the context of the particular conditions of twentieth-century empire. Chapters engage with themes of voluntary work and daily life, the politics of voluntary work, the relevance of voluntarism within an emerging post-war colonial welfare state, and the entanglement of imperial volunteers within the violence and political processes of decolonization.