Peace Activist, Travel Writer, and Fascist Sympathiser: The Various Lives of Muriel Innes Currey

Reviewing the 1932 book Italian Foreign Policy, 1918-1932, then Fellow at Harvard University, Robert Gale Woolbert, concluded that its author, ‘in her pro-League zeal’, accepts the belief ‘that Fascism has made its peace with Geneva’.[1] Woolbert’s observation captures one of the central planks in the international thought of the British journalist, travel writer, and fascist sympathiser, Muriel Innes Currey (1884-1974), namely her pro-League activism and concurrent fascist sympathies. Indeed, after serving in the Women’s Royal Naval Service during the First World War, the internationalist-minded Currey emerged during the 1920s as a vocal campaigner for peace, a vociferous lecturer on behalf of the League of Nations Union, and an active member of the Royal Institute of International Affairs (hereafter Chatham House). However, especially during the 1930s, Currey increasingly extolled the virtues of the Italian corporate state as a replicable model of governance and defended the foreign policy of fascist Italy. During this period, Currey was intricately involved with a clique of far-right fellow travellers, even representing an important ‘intelligence asset’ to the Italian Ambassador, Dino Grandi.[2] Among other affiliations, she was enrolled as a member of Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists and served as Honorary Secretary to a pro-fascist study group on the corporate state, one formerly affiliated with Chatham House.

Aside from a select few references by historians of fascism, the paradoxical Currey remains a largely unknown figure among historians of international thought, disciplinary historians of International Relations (IR), and fascist studies alike.[3] In a forthcoming article in Global Studies Quarterly, I endeavour to redress this situation by exploring her interwar international thought and activities. As a prima to this study, I want to utilise this space to reflexively engage with two points. These do not foremost pertain to the contents of Currey’s thought, but rather the research process involved in its recovery, the foundational premise of treating her as an international thinker, and the contributions which ensue.

First, while the historical excavation of the largely forgotten activities of, and contributions to, the history of international thought by women represents a ‘fundamentally feminist project’,[4] I found there to be a certain oddity involved in recovering Currey’s international thought to the extent that any ascription of the label feminist to her imperialist worldview would be a misnomer. Currey certainly promoted a type of ‘feminine fascism’,[5] but this was a far cry from feminism as conventionally understood. Indeed, her vision for women was expectedly somewhat regressive. Admittedly, she did not believe that women ought to be confined solely to the domesticated life of the ‘tradwife’, to use a neologism popular among factions of the radical right.[6] After all, Currey herself remained a politically active woman, unwed and without dependents. Yet Currey was not overly beholden to the issue of women’s suffrage, instead hailing the example of Italy for its welfare policies, admission of women into select female-dominated professions, and establishment of a distinct entity to represent women within the corporate system.[7] Beyond her opinions on women’s rights, Currey’s views on empire were especially unpalatable, while her laudatory appraisal of Mussolini as an apostle of peace and stability was frankly misguided.

Of course, the motivation behind the Women and the History of International Thought project is not reducible to the excavation of feminist thinking on the international. Rather, its feminist ethic is focused on the historical recovery of the diversity in women’s international thinking, the contributions therefrom, and the contents thereof, whether such thought is morally dubious or otherwise. In the case of Currey, it is precisely by virtue of her associations with far-right groups and personalities that the primary contributions of treating her as an independent historical figure and thinker derive. The reconstruction and contextualisation of Currey’s thought help to redress a double erasure within the history of international thought and the disciplinary history of IR: the gendered elision of women’s international thinking and the diversity thereof, alongside the disciplinary amnesia surrounding the place of fascism within IR’s formative history.[8]

Currey diverged from existing accounts of ‘white women’s IR’ due to her admixture of High Tory conservatism, Italophilic solidarity, and fascist sympathies, whereby applauding Mussolini’s foreign policy and holding onto the promise of Anglo-Italian cooperation, a Locarno-style détente, and international cooperation via the League. However, it is not only the contents of Currey’s thought that is of historical interest. Rather, what is particularly intriguing is the intersection between Currey’s ideological disposition and her institutional and discursive positionality with respect to the formative history of IR. While Currey was debatably situated on the periphery of the then amorphously defined field, her texts were reviewed and cited by figures within the discipline, while she herself reviewed numerous books in a leading IR journal. Moreover, Currey was a thinker who engaged in key debates occupying IR and interacted with one of the foremost institutions associated with the discipline, Chatham House.

The second aspect I intend to comment on revolves around the source material relied upon within the article, the reasons for it, and the implications of this. Documents related to Currey, or published by her, often appear in eclectic and odd mediums: book advertisements and reviews, travel writings, radio broadcasts, and short stories, among others. In part, this simply reflects the multitude of platforms and registers in which Currey published. Fond of the literary arts and fascism, Currey published everything from short stories about the Irish rebellion, French Revolution, and the First World War, to pamphlets and books commending the social welfare and foreign policy of fascist Italy. Similarly, Currey was granted the unusual distinction of Mussolini’s personal permission to embed with the Italian military during its invasion of Abyssinia. Reflecting an especially extreme form of ‘fascist tourism’, her resulting coverage of the conflict may be located at an odd intersection between travel writing and war reportage. This was not unsurprising; among Currey’s many ad hoc roles, she was also a published travel writer based on her adventures in such countries as Greece, Austria, and Yugoslavia.[9] Her account of the conflict, encapsulated most comprehensively in A Woman at the Abyssinian War, was thus comparably ‘imaginative and idealized’.[10]

Yet the reasons behind this eclecticism extend beyond Currey’s writing style and use of certain mediums. Indeed, her usage of particular outlets impinges on important questions about the gendered locations in which women commonly published during the interwar period. For example, Currey’s frequent contributions to the flagship journal of Chatham House, International Affairs, via book reviews may be viewed from this angle, representing a particular manifestation of women’s ‘intellectual labor’ within think tanks.[11] For the historian, this places one in the position of discerning insight into Currey’s thought through her snapshot assessment of the output of others, source material that is—to cite one reviewer of the forthcoming article—‘hardly worth quoting at length’. Yet even from the broad contours of Currey’s reviews and her affiliation with International Affairs, intriguing insights can be gleaned: her publications not only point towards the gendered and diverse platforms through which women contributed to the discipline, but the subtle politicisation of the journal’s seemingly mundane book reviews section as Currey instrumentalised her role as a reviewer to praise pro-fascist texts and lambast its critics.

A final layer must be mentioned, one that I have also grappled with during the often-tedious archival research involved in excavating Currey’s thought. Gendered norms influenced not only the means through which women contributed to international thought, but may also be implicated in the preservation or otherwise of primary source material. From the Chatham House Archives and the Oxford-based library of St Antony’s College to the collections held by the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives and the Imperial War Museum, documents related to Currey are scattered across libraries and archives throughout England. Nevertheless, what has proved to be discoverable is of scant quantity relative to other fellow travellers with which she was affiliated. In this respect, one should be cautious of reproducing what Swati Srivastava refers to as the potential ‘biases generated in the preservation of history’ and the ommissions in historical representation that may ensue, such as those produced by discarding materials deemed unimportant or relegating lesser-known women to ‘uncatalogued boxes’.[12] To borrow the inelegant terms of Donald Rumsfeld, this can produce not only ‘known unknowns’ (reasonably presumed facts that one perhaps cannot conclusively verify), but also ‘unknown unknowns’ (omissions that one may not even be cognisant of). To offer a preemptive note, my excavation of Currey’s international thought is a product of this reality and an effort to overcome it.


[1] Robert Gale Woolbert, review of Italian Foreign Policy, 1918-1932, by Muriel Currey, Journal of Modern History 5, no. 2 (1933): 264. See also Muriel Currey, Italian Foreign Policy, 1918-1932 (London: Ivor Nicholson and Watson, 1932).

[2] Stephen Dorril, Blackshirt: Sir Oswald Mosley and British Fascism (London: Penguin, 2006), 361.

[3] See, for example, ibid., 234, 256, 258-9, 361; Julie V. Gottlieb, Feminine Fascism: Women in Britain’s Fascist Movement, 1923-1945, 2nd edn. (London: St Martin’s Press, 2021), 125, 127, 170, 270, 292-3; Claudia Baldoli, Exporting Fascism: Italian Fascists and Britain’s Italians in the 1930s (Oxford: Berg, 2003).

[4] Patricia Owens and Katharina Rietzler, ‘Introduction: Toward a History of Women’s International Thought’, in Women’s International Thought: A New History, eds. Patricia Owens and Katharina Rietzler (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021), 11.

[5] Gottlieb, Feminine Fascism.

[6] On ‘tradwives’, see Annie Kelly, ‘The Housewives of White Supremacy’, New York Times, 1 June 2018,  

[7] Gottlieb, Feminine Fascism, 127; see also Muriel Currey, The Position of Women in Italy (Rome: Forum, 1938).

[8] For an example of how fascism has typically been understood in relation to the field, see Torbjørn L. Knutsen, A History of International Relations Theory, 3rd edn. (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2016), 257-8.

[9] See, for example, Muriel Currey, Dalmatia (London: Phillip Allan, 1930); Muriel Currey, Yugoslavia: A Guide Book Approved by the Official Tourist Department for Yugoslavia (London: Chatto & Windus, 1939).

[10] Claudia Baldoli, ‘Anglo-Italian Fascist Solidarity? The Shift from Italophilia to Naziphilia in the BUF’, in The Culture of Fascism: Visions of the Far Right in Britain, eds. Julie V. Gottlieb and Thomas P. Linehan (London: I.B. Tauris, 2004), 159. On Currey’s reporting, see especially Muriel Currey, A Woman at the Abyssinian War (London: Hutchinson & Co, 1936).

[11] Katharina Rietzler, ‘U.S. Foreign Policy Think Tanks and Women’s Intellectual Labor, 1920-1950’, Diplomatic History 46, no. 3 (2022): 575-601.

[12] Tobias Lemke, Andrew A. Szarejko, Jessica Auchter, Alexander D. Barder, Daniel Green, Stephen Pampinella, and Swati Srivastava, ‘Forum: Doing Historical International Relations’, Cambridge Review of International Affairs (2022),