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A crisis of masculinity: North American Mennonites and World War I

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(Thesis) Ph.D.
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World War I caused a crisis in the ethics of masculinity for North American Mennonites. It marked their first continent-wide forced contact with militant states involved in a popular mass war. As an internally divided, secluded, pacifist, and primarily German-speaking people, they did not respond effectively. In particular they were not prepared for the challenge the militant masculinity of the American and Canadian states posed to Mennonite men. As revealed in The Mennonite, General Conference Mennonite teachings on the war were consistent with a long term depiction of masculine humility and did not emphasize pacifism. This was part of a larger pattern of ethical failure through the refusal to address substantively the Mennonite war experience. Despite failing to deal with the war, the ethics held by men did not remain static. They responded to the war by developing new concerns for church doctrine and for global relief work, interests that marked a distinct divergence from female contributors who responded to the war by limiting their writings to domestic concerns. The effect of the broader community’s failure was to leave young men without resources to address their own circumstances as the targets of military recruiters and a society that said good men fought in the war. The damaging impacts of the crisis are reflected in the demographic records of the Mennonite men who were still forming their masculinity at the time of the war. These records reveal earlier deaths, a higher ratio of marriages ended by the wife’s death, and higher levels of exogamy. The most startling is the changed sex ratio among their children, with a markedly higher ratio of sons to daughters especially for the first born child. The earlier discursive failure in ethics correlated with a long term behavioural failure.
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