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The Conscientious Objector’s Wife: Letters between Frank and Lucy Sunderland 1916-1919 (2018) by

K. Macdonald ed., The Conscientious Objector’s Wife: Letters between Frank and Lucy Sunderland 1916-1919 (2018) is a unique camera view of the life of the British home front during the First World War in the midst of British politics, the communitarian movement, feminism, women’s emancipation, pacifism, and the worker education movement. 

This is the story of a marriage under stress due to a powerful, shared secular commitment to, and witness toward, a socialist pacifism. This commitment and witness was mutually upheld in their separation and forward planning for a better and more equitable society.  This was not a fun experience for either Lucy or Frank.  It was a determined experience in which both Lucy and Frank grew as persons and as citizens. This is a well-edited compilation of the letters between incarcerated Frank and liberating Lucy.  The personalities and circumstances are evident through their correspondence.

The book is a chronological presentation of a unique collection of letters between Frank and Lucy with the help of footnotes for context and background.  The letters are carefully edited.  There is a detailed index and a useful list of further readings, including the books that Frank and Lucy read during Frank’s 3-year incarceration.

Frank and Lucy were working class, self-educating pacifists who were active in politics and committed to progressive causes. The three-years in prison changed Frank and Lucy.  Frank was a voracious reader.  Lucy was in charge of the family of three young children, earning enough to support the family by selling eggs under wartime food rationing, collecting insurance premiums from working class neighbors, and doing gig sewing while supporting her community and the rise of feminisms.

How do ordinary people manage to witness to peace personally and maintain their values and lives in loyalty to each other under threat of war, threatened German invasion, diminishing food access, constant family illnesses without health insurance, social ostracism, Spanish Flu epidemic, and lack of education?  Here is the answer.

These are self-educated, thoughtful, determined, majority-rejected, extended family unsupported, financially marginal, censorship-managed,  community-supported, politically aligned, and kind people.

Quakers: There are Quaker references throughout this book.  Lucy lived in an essentially Quaker community of Letchworth.  Local Quaker Meetings were supportive of Frank’s witness and Lucy’s challenge in maintaining the family during Frank’s imprisonment for being a total conscientious objector against universal conscription. Frank and Lucy were not Quakers, but they stood nearby and appreciated the Quakers of their community.

Quakers fit in this book marginally, but with many references.  Frank and Lucy were not Quakers. The Quakers provided an important part of the context of community support for Lucy and Frank.  The letters reflect a larger supportive community in which Quaker meetings played parts.


  • How do Quakers understand the relationship of personal conscientious witness and public witness for peace in the face of war?


The Conscientious Objector’s Wife: Letters between Frank and Lucy Sunderland 1916-1919, Kate Macdonald, ed. (Handheld Books, 2018)

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