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Muriel Duckworth peace activist

May 10, 2000

From the beginning, Muriel Duckworth (born Muriel Helena Ball) allowed her passionate idealism to lead her into activism. As a student at McGill University, she quickly became involved in the Student Christian Movement where she was exposed to a variety of different perspectives from lecturers and fellow students. She remained incredibly open-minded throughout her life, but she never lost sight of her ideals of peace and equality.

Muriel went on to become a devoted wife and mother, all the while becoming heavily involved in her own community in Montreal and later in Halifax when the Duckworths settled there in 1947. While her children were growing up, she founded a number of committees for community change. She also committed herself to pursue rights for marginalized people, such as the black community in Halifax. She began to have a greater impact outside her own province when she became a key member of Voice of Women (VOW) in 1960.

VOW, an organization founded by women, was devoted to the cause of peace at a time when there was an enormous sense of urgency and fear because of the cold war and the war in Vietnam. Muriel became national president in 1967, attending international conferences and reaching out to women in all spheres of life. She developed a belief in the ability of people to reach a common understanding in the cause of peace and justice. She became deeply affected by the plight of many women she met who had been devastated by the ravages of war and had risked their lives for peace.

After her term as president, Muriel returned to Halifax and again threw herself wholeheartedly into her community, both as a citizen and a feminist. She was a founding member of the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women and the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport. She also became a candidate for the New Democratic Party, and placed equality and free access to education at the centre of her platform. Through it all, she still managed to attend international conferences and push for world disarmament. For her efforts in promoting the cause of peace and equality, she was awarded the Order of Canada and seven honourary degrees.

Muriel’s success as one of the most influential female activists in modern Canadian history lay in her ability to believe in herself in the possibility of achieving a just society, and then make things happen. She became a pacifist because she had a vision of a society in which everyone has access to the means – jobs, education, health – to develop their full potential as human beings. Through her work in countless organizations and committees, she was able to further this dream and give hope to women in her own community and other parts of the world as well. However, Muriel was not just a faceless part of these organizations, nor was she simply a fearless leader. She had an extraordinary ability to make people feel at ease, and promoted open discussion, consultation and negotiation rather than leading people in a single direction. Her ability to sympathize, synthesize and address the various problems women encountered when faced with a dominant patriarchy obsessed with violence and war led her to join the feminist movement in Canada.

Marion Douglas Kerans, author of Muriel’s biography, says:

Muriel’s strength was not only that she spoke out on behalf of women, it was how she involved women in feminist issues, how she dealt with differences within the feminist movement and the attitudes displayed towards those with whom she did not agree that marked her as a special kind of feminist leader. For Muriel, integrating the personal and the political meant integrating pacifism and feminism.

Throughout her inspiring career as a pacifist feminist, she would continue to educate people around her. As an NDP candidate in her Halifax riding, she began campaigning two years early to make known the important issues in the community, from education to Canada’s skewed tax structure, which hindered the economic stability of the working class. A compassionate, open human being, she continues to be surrounded by people who are inspired by her strength. When she and a group of women made their home in Coburg House, which became a gathering place for the Quakers and women in the Halifax community, she would extend the same open welcome to a visiting dignitary and a high school student.

Never did she take a human life for granted, and it was through her ability to see the possibility in marginalized people that she fought for their right to live in a community which gave them the freedom to dream. As an ambassador for peace on the world stage and a devoted citizen and feminist, Muriel Duckworth lives life to the fullest, ready to take on the challenges the world presents to her.

She can confront, comfort, enlighten
all of us
war-torn refugees, hate-torn kids,
timid well-wishers, the hopeful people
and sometimes, even, the spite-filled ones
with no hope at all
All of us,
From her own inner well
Of tranquillity and strength
Her self-found peace.

— Hattie Prentice, Halifax VOW member

More to Consider

When the word feminist is mentioned, people assume it to mean a lesbian who hates men. Neither has anything to do with being feminist. Feminism, as per The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, defines feminism as, "the doctrine advocating social and political rights for women equal to those of men" and "an organised movement for the attainment of such rights for women." Muriel Duckworth was a true feminist, and a very cool woman!

resources for this story

Marion Douglas Kerans, Muriel Duckworth: A Very Active Pacifist (Fernwood, 1996 ISBN: 1895686687)

Listservs: contact any you wish to be added to their email lists. Coalition opposed to the Arms Trade ad207@freenet.carleton.ca

International Women’s Tribune Centre iwtc-womensglobalnet@igc.topica.com

Global education, news releases byng-clarke@un.org

Nizkor International Human Rights Team nzkspain@teleline.es

The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation:
The Sunflower Newsletter (monthly) sunflower-napf-owner@egroups.com
Abolition 2000 Grassroots Newsletter a2000@silcom.com

Peace, Earth and Justice list emerald@islandnet.com

Peace – Canada delong@nucleus.com

Peace – International mdwallace@unixg.ubc.ca

Project Ploughshares Update ploughshares_update@watserv.uwaterloo.ca

Science for Peace fawcett@physics.utoronto.ca

WILPF wilpfun@igc.org

This feature was first published on section15.ca’s predecessor site CoolWomen.

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