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History Festival Talk | Objecting In Conscience

10th May 2018 @ 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm


Join Dr Judith Rowbotham in exploring the fascinating – and tension-riddled – history of vaccination. Discover how the term ‘contentious objector’ was used originally for people against the dangers of vaccination, a belief for which parents were even prepared to be imprisoned.

The term ‘conscientious objector’ is associated nowadays with individuals who claim a right, on the basis of the promptings of  conscience, not to take up arms in conflict. But the idea of the Conscientious Objector came about very differently, meaning Victorian parents who objected to having their infants vaccinated against smallpox because of the dangers (infection in particular) they associated with it.

For over half a century, parents stood up in court, including those in the Three Towns, to say that they ‘objected in conscience’ to being forced by law to have their children vaccinated. These parents felt so strongly that they were prepared to go to prison to make their point – and with widespread popular support. This established the principle of objecting to something required of you by law on the grounds of conscience. The British government finally yielded and repealed the legislation – but the principle remained. So, when the Military Service Act 1916 came into force, the same phrase was used. In Plymouth as elsewhere, the association between Conscientious Objection and military service began in the Great War, and continues to this day.

Objecting In Conscience – from Victorian Vaccination to Military Service, a historical exploration of Plymouth’s part in the state’s failure to persuade will be taking place in our Mayor’s Parlour, Thursday 10th May, 6-7pm. Tickets cost £3.50 including tea or coffee and can be purchased on the night.


10th May 2018
6:00 pm - 7:00 pm
Event Category:


Devonport Guildhall
Ker Street
Plymouth, Devon PL1 4EL United Kingdom
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