The hunger strike emerged as a potent 'weapon of the weak' in the early twentieth century during the suffrage movement. Suffragists, and later radical pacifist women, used their starving bodies as a form of speech that could breach prison walls.
This presentation explores women hunger strikers in twentieth century America, particularly suffragists in the 1910s and radical pacifists in the postwar period. Hunger strikers used their bodies to protest their subordination, and to subvert this tactic the state often force fed the hunger strikers. For many the image of the hunger striker is a gaunt, often Christ-like, man: the Irish nationalist Bobby Sand, or the fasting Gandhi protesting British colonial policies. But, in reality, the modern hunger strike was devised by women who used their bodies in the cause of suffrage. Radical pacifist women engaged in postwar countercultures also deployed the hunger strike in the cause of civil rights and the peace movement. These “unruly women” violated social norms and elevated the role of the body as a tool of resistance.