BUILDING A FEMINIST-PACIFIST PEACE MOVEMENT:
THE EARLY YEARS
by Harriet Hyman Alonso
The following is an essay based on a talk I have given several times over the years and then was published as an article in Spanish in Género y Paz: Teoria y Prácticas de una Cultura de Paz edited by Ma. Elena Diez Jorge and Margarita Sánchez Romero (Barcelona: Icaria Editorial, sa. 2010.) Here is my original article, in the one language I can write in. Included are the slide images used in the presentation and the article.
For over thirty years, I have been researching and writing about peace history, largely about the history of women and peace movements. Because I am a U.S. historian, most of my work has concentrated on women in that nation’s peace movement from the early nineteenth century to the modern day. In the presentation I gave at the International Seminar on “Mujeres y Paz, Teoría y Prácticas de una Cultura de Paz,” I included a series of slides on women who worked for peace up to 1915, culminating in a discussion of the International Congress of Women at The Hague. The slides, themselves, have been collected over many years and represent the efforts of myself and my Canadian friend and colleague, Frances Early, to document the work of North American and European women peace activists. This article contains the content of the talk and most of the photos as well.
In 1993, my book Peace as a Women’s Issue: A History of the U.S. Movement for World Peace and Women’s Rights was published. Covering the history of the U.S. women’s peace movement from the early nineteenth century to 1990, the book traced the evolution and consistency of four main themes which I identified were primary motivators for women working for peace. The one I considered most important was the connection women activists made between militarism and violence against women. Beside the obvious physical violence, this theme included economic, political, psychological, and emotional violence as well. All of these types of violence have existed wherever militarization has been established in a locality and seem to get worse with each generation.
The second theme to run through the peace movement is what I (and other peace historians) call “the motherhood theme.” This idea evolved from the Victorian era’s middle-class ideology that women were the moral watchdogs of society. In 1915, U.S. women peace activists globalized this belief, labeling themselves “the mother half of humanity.” It should be noted, by the way, that these activists understood motherhood to be mainly biologically determined as illustrated by the fact that many of those who identified with this theme were neither married nor had children. They did discover, however, that male political leaders all stopped their daily work to listen sympathetically to the lobbying efforts of “mothers.” This theme has been vocalized in two ways—that women do not raise children (namely sons until quite recently) to kill other mothers’ sons. Nor do we raise sons to be cannon fodder.
The third theme is that women, as citizens, have a duty to move governments away from violent clashes into conflict resolution and diplomacy to negotiate tensions and possible war. As responsible citizens, they also required the right to vote and equal participation in all the world’s governments—in other words, to have a voice to express their unique concerns and the authority to make their wishes a reality. Finally, throughout the history of the U.S. women’s peace movement, women have felt and expressed anger against those men in power who have used greed, self-interest, and inhumanity to gain material benefit and self-aggrandizement. These four themes, I am sure, are not unique to the U.S. women’s peace movement, as over the years, I have learned from many women that these are universal motivating forces for the creation of specific women’s peace organizations.
Before 1914, there was no independent feminist peace movement in the United States. However, individual women and some women’s clubs and church groups did speak out for peace and against violence. The issue of slavery in particular led women to protest and to make the unique connection between slavery and violence against women. This early connection awoke many women to the fact that under the early legal system in the United States based on the English common law, married women held much in common with enslaved women. For example, neither could own property, be guaranteed custody of their children, nor be free to walk away from abusive relationships. The white women who made this early connection did not confuse their own freedom with the bondage of enslaved women. Rather, they identified the basic underlying misogyny which reflected the slave woman’s situation in their own and used it to dramatize their status as second-class citizens. Their concern was illustrated by the image used in the abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator’s “Ladies Department” column showing a kneeling enslaved woman in chains captioned, “Am I Not a Woman and a Sister?” (See photo #1.)
But who were some of these early activists who sowed the seeds linking violence against women with war and a need for women’s rights? One of our earliest and most important foremothers was Lucretia Mott. (See photo #2.) Born in 1793 and raised a Quaker, Mott believed that no true Christian could support a government which engaged in slavery and participated in war. She lived a long and active life as a reformer, Quaker minister, antislavery leader, wife, mother, grandmother, and most precious for us—feminist. Although Mott’s image always shows an unsmiling woman with a dour look, she was well known for her great sense of humor, and at the time of her death in 1880 was one of the most venerated women in the United States.
Lucretia Mott was also known for her early sense of internationalism, and even at a time when women did not travel much across the seas, she was popular in the eyes of the women of England through her tour of that country in 1840 when she served as a representative to the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London. Through her correspondence with the women of Exeter, for example, women of both the United States and England created a joint petition in 1846 to encourage peaceful relations between their two nations. At this time, Mott expressed her belief that women had a unique responsibility to work for peace, especially since they were the ones primarily responsible for raising children:
“We hold it the duty of women, to look with an attentive eye upon the great events which are transpiring around them; in order that with an enlightened judgment, as well as a feeling heart, they may direct the force of their moral influence against the iniquitous spirit of war. The false love of glory, the cruel spirit of revenge, the blood-thirsty ambition, swelling the breast of the soldier in the battlefield; these are often the ripened harvest from the seed sown by his mother’s hand, when in his childish hours she gave him tiny weapons, and taught him to mimic war’s murderous game.”
One of Mott’s “sisters” in the antislavery movement was Lydia Maria Child, a well-known fiction writer and author of popular childrearing manuals. (See photo #3.) Child expressed her disdain of the connections she saw between enslaved and free women. Both, she felt, had been “kept in subjection by physical force, and considered rather in the light of property, than as individuals.” Sarah Grimké, another early feminist, accused most men of entering into a “league to crush the immortal mind of woman . . . He spares her body; but the war he has waged against her mind, her heart, and her soul, has been no less destructive to her as a moral being.”
The women considered to be the mothers of the U.S. movement for women’s rights and suffrage, of course, are Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. (See photos # 4 and 5.) Actually, it was Stanton and Lucretia Mott who came up with the idea of organizing the first woman’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York in July, 1848, now considered a very important moment in U.S. history. Soon after, Stanton and Anthony joined forces to turn that and a few other conventions into a woman’s rights movement. Between 1850 and 1861, when the U.S. Civil War began, Stanton and Anthony launched campaigns for women’s property rights and then for the vote. This movement, however, stalled during the Civil War, giving both women time to consider the relationship between war and the male power structure. In 1868, three years after the war ended, Stanton, for example, identified the “male element” which she considered a “destructive force, stern, selfish, aggrandizing, loving war, violence, conquest, [and] acquisition” above all else. She accused men of causing “discord, disorder, disease and death . . . overpowering the feminine element everywhere.”
In 1888, when Stanton began working with European suffragists to unite the suffrage and women’s rights campaigns, she expressed her belief that women would be the leaders in obtaining world peace when she said, “The true woman is as yet a dream of the future. A just government, a humane religion, a pure social life await her coming. Then, and not till then, will the golden age of peace and prosperity be ours.” In other words, women + rights + nonviolence = peace.
The first U.S. suffragist and abolitionist to attempt to create an international peace movement was Julia Ward Howe. (See photo #6.) Best known for her famous Civil War song (which was abolitionist in its intent), The Battle Hymn of the Republic, Howe was very popular among philanthropists in the Boston area. Incensed by the human waste of the Civil War, in 1870 she became equally agitated by the Franco-Prussian War in Europe. In response, she wrote a “Peace Appeal” to women in the United States and Europe:
“Arise, all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or of tears! Say firmly: ‘Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy, and patience. We, women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country, to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says, ‘”Disarm, disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of Justice.”’”
Howe followed her appeal with the creation of Women’s Peace Festivals, held on June 2, 1873, in a variety of places including the United States, England, Switzerland, Italy, and Turkey, and repeated each year until at least 1909. Then they fizzled out.
One of the most popular organizations in the United States in the latter part of the nineteenth century was the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, founded in 1873 to fight against the use and abuse of alcohol. The WCTU grew into a huge national and international organization involving hundreds of thousands of women. In 1887, Hannah Bailey, a Quaker member of the group, was placed in charge of its newly-created Department of Peace and Arbitration. Bailey’s committee stressed that alcohol abuse, whether at home or in the military, led to violence against women and men alike. As one of the WCTU’s pamphlets stated, women needed to “teach their children that there is a higher form of patriotism than that whose aim is to destroy human life.” (See photo #7.) The WCTU also fostered the establishment of international courts of arbitration which they were sure would wipe war off the face of the earth.
CREATING THE FEMINIST PEACE MOVEMENT
Over the many years I have been researching women’s peace activism, I have come to admire Jane Addams more than I ever expected to. (See photo #8.) At first I thought of Addams as an upper-class privileged woman who flirted with helping the poor as an act of paternalism (or should I say maternalism?). However, over the years, I have come to understand that while her initial involvement in the settlement house movement was a desire to do something independent and charitable, it soon led her to a political awakening which resulted in her evolution into one of the first and most important feminist-pacifists in world history.
Born in 1860, Addams was introduced to the issues of war, peace, and social responsibility by her father, stepmother, and teachers at the Rockville Seminary. In 1889, at the age of twenty-nine, she established Hull-House in Chicago, catapulting herself into the world of inner city slum life, industrial exploitation, and corrupt politics. It seems only natural that her close work using conflict resolution practices with the immigrant community surrounding Hull-House would lead her directly to membership in the Anti-Imperialist League formed in 1898 to protest U.S. involvement in the Spanish-American War and to a dedication to equal rights for all, no matter gender, class, race, or ethnicity. Addams became well-known and respected both in the United States and abroad for her leadership role in the fields of social work, sociology, and women’s rights. Such publications as Democracy and Social Ethics (1902) and Newer Ideals of Peace (1907) added to her reputation as a serious philosophical thinker, a woman who was so admired that Theodore Roosevelt asked her to second his nomination for President on the Progressive Party ticket in 1912 even though at that time U.S. women still did not have the right to vote.
When the suffrage and women’s rights movements developed from national to international campaigns, Jane Addams joined others in organizing through the International Council of Women and the International Woman Suffrage Alliance. The close bonds created between U.S. and European women through these organizational networks developed into a clear peace movement in 1914 when war broke out among the European nations. Jane Addams, of course, was a central figure in the activities. Soon after fighting began, two European suffragists, Rosika Schwimmer (or “Madame Schwimmer” as she came to be called) a Hungarian socialist and journalist, and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, a British socialist and feminist and cofounder of the British militant suffrage organization the Women’s Social and Political Union, reached out to U.S. suffragists for help. (See photos # 9 and 10.)
Schwimmer, a dynamic, imaginative, and somewhat difficult person to work with, arrived in the United States on September 6, 1914 to present President Woodrow Wilson with a petition endorsed by women’s groups in the International Woman Suffrage Alliance urging collective mediation among the warring nations. (It may be surprising to know that in contrast to the present day, peace activists were not infrequent visitors to President Wilson’s office. In fact, legend has it that when he presented the famous Fourteen Points adapted in the Versailles Treaty he pulled out an old-folded up piece of paper from his pocket with those exact points written out in Jane Addams’s hand. Of course, at that time, the ideas expressed in the Fourteen Points were also well-known and discussed among peace activists and internationalists, but women’s peace historians love to tell this tale.) Schwimmer then traveled across the United States speaking to women and urging them to form a separate women’s peace association that would break with the conservative bent of the male organizations which thought in terms of what was best for business or expressed their ideas in religious rather than socialist or feminist images.
Pethick-Lawrence arrived in the United States in November. Her original plan was to promote woman suffrage,
but she ended up linking women’s rights with peace. Quite independently of Schwimmer, Pethick-Lawrence also fostered the idea that President Wilson should take the lead in negotiating an early end to the conflict and that women should create their own feminist peace movement. Even though Pethick-Lawrence (a friendly, lively individual) was more likable than Rosika Schwimmer, both women had a tremendous impact on their U.S. counterparts. Indeed, their individual speaking tours and meetings with Jane Addams and the formidable Carrie Chapman Catt (President of the National American Woman Suffrage Association from 1900-1904 and 1915-1920) led directly to Addams and Catt signing a call to women’s organizations across the country to meet in Washington, D.C. in January, 1915, to create a women’s peace movement. (See photo #11). Over three thousand attended that meeting which resulted in the founding of the Woman’s Peace Party, one of the foremothers of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.
The “Preamble and Platform” that was adopted at the first Woman’s Peace Party gathering laid out the uniquely feminist stance of the organization. The preamble, for example, spoke of women as “the mother half of humanity” who had “a peculiar moral passion of revolt against both the cruelty and waste of war.” As with their mothers and grandmothers before them, these women were sick of the numbers of “maimed and invalid men and poverty stricken widows and orphans” that war created. Convinced that war was created and sustained by the male power structure, the new feminist-pacifists wanted “a share in deciding between war and peace” rather than allowing men to determine the direction that all foreign policy took. As this first meeting came to an end, the assembly elected Jane Addams as its first president. She, in turn, relied on her network of friends in the United States to support her work, including Emily Greene Balch, a professor of economics at Wellesley College and a former social worker. (See photo #12.)
THE INTERNATIONAL CONGRESS OF WOMEN AT THE HAGUE, APRIL 28-MAY 1, 1915
Just as European women inspired U.S. women to create a women’s peace movement, so did they lead the way in organizing the first international meeting of women for peace and against the European conflict in particular. In 1915, the usual biennial meeting of the International Suffrage Alliance was canceled because of the war. Undeterred by nationalist sentiment which prevented women from various nations from crossing certain borders, a group of European women decided to organize a peace meeting instead. It was time, they felt, that women take concrete action to pressure the governmental leaders to make serious peace plans. One of the primary leaders of this effort was Aletta Jacobs, the president of the Dutch Association for Woman Suffrage and a well-known physician in the Netherlands. (See photo #13.) Jacobs was also head of the Committee for International Affairs of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance. At her request, four women from Belgium, five from Great Britain, and four from Germany gathered and agreed to organize the conference. In this way, both the belligerent and neutral nations were represented. Each woman agreed to raise an equal amount of money for the conference. The women also agreed to ask Jane Addams to chair the meeting because they felt that her great reputation and the fact that she represented a neutral nation many miles away from the conflict would add to the nonpartisanship of the affair.
And so the conference was organized, but it was no easy task for several of the women to get there. Forty-seven U.S. women, including Jane Addams, Emily Greene Balch, and Alice Hamilton, for example, were held up in Dover, England, for several days. (See photos #14 and 15.) They arrived in the Netherlands just in time for the opening ceremonies, while most of the 180 women expected from England never made it at all. At first, every one of them was refused a travel permit from the British Home Secretary. After much protest, he agreed to give out twenty-five permits but then even those women were stopped when all traffic between England and the Netherlands came to a halt. From this group, only Kathleen Courtney made it to The Hague. Chrystal Macmillan had been in the Netherlands since April working on the conference and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence came along with the U.S. delegation. These three made up the complete English contingent.
The lone French delegate coming from England was detained and other French women refused to attend as they did not want to seem unpatriotic during a time of war. German activist Frieda Perlan was refused a permit, but twenty-eight German women did attend including Lida Gustave Heymann and Anita Augsburg. (See photo #16.) In total, women from twelve nations attended: Austria (6), Belgium (5), Canada (2), Denmark (6), Germany (28), Great Britain (3), Hungary (10), Italy (1), the Netherlands (approximately 1,000), Norway (12), Sweden (16) and the United States (47). In addition, expressions of solidarity arrived from women and organizations in Argentina, British India, Bulgaria, Finland, France, Portugal, Rumania, Russia, Switzerland, and South Africa.
The congress was quite an affair, and it helps (as I have often tried to do) if you can picture yourself in this room in a gathering of well over one thousand women and a few brave and dedicated (and definitely curious) men. (See photo #17.) You are in a large convention hall. The dignitaries are in the front sitting behind long tables with potted plants in front of them, but not blocking them from your view. There are no microphones in this 1915 setting. There are translators, but not simultaneous translation. Instead, there are intervals scheduled in so that the translators have time to do their job. But you are impatient, and so like many of the women who do not want to wait between discussions, you talk with your neighbor. Therefore, there is a constant din of translation and noise. Women are constantly yelling for the speakers to be louder and for others to quiet down, so that at times, you feel like you are at a public entertainment. But you and everyone around you are deadly serious about your intent—to come up with resolutions to guide nations in bringing about an end to this war, and, indeed to all wars.
In the end, you all agree on a set of resolutions, and then that almost insufferable but passionate Rosika Schwimmer suggests that delegations deliver the resolutions to the leaders of the European nations as well as to President Woodrow Wilson and engage these leaders in a discussion of the possibility of neutral mediation. At first, many are unsure if this plan is practical or even possible, but soon enthusiasm reigns supreme, especially after Schwimmer makes her most dramatic appeal:
“Brains—they say—have ruled the world till today. If brains have brought us to what we are in now, I think it is time to allow also our hearts to speak. When our sons are killed by millions, let us, mothers, only try to do good by going to kings and emperors, without any danger than a refusal.”
And so with a “Hear, Hear, Hear!,” they all agreed. After the congress, two delegations (one led by Jane Addams and the other by Emily Greene Balch) journey forth in an incredible trip to speak to leaders and ask them to think about these resolutions and to come together to mediate. It is amazing to think of some of the world leaders they met with: Prime Minister Cort van der Linden of the Netherlands, Foreign Minister Sir Edward Grey of England, Prime Minister Asquith, also of England, Reichskanzler von Bethmann Hollweg of Germany, Prime Minister von Sturgkh of Austria . . . the list goes on. (See photo #18.)
When we look back upon the resolutions which the women at The Hague created, it is amazing how current they still are and also how closely they follow the four themes of the women’s peace movement which I laid out for you at the beginning of this article. Let us now look again at the four themes of the movement and some of the resolutions so we can better understand the conference, our foremothers of peace, and our own future direction as feminist-pacifists.
First, let us consider the idea that these women were very concerned with the connection between militarization and violence against women. In Section I, numbers 1 and 2 of the resolutions, “Woman and War,” the women clearly stated this connection:
We women, in International Congress assembled, protest against the madness and the horror of war, involving as it does a reckless sacrifice of human life and the destruction of so much that humanity has laboured through centuries to build up.
- Women’s Sufferings in War
This International Congress of Women opposes the assumption that women can be protected upon the conditions of modern warfare. It protests vehemently against the odious wrongs of which women are the victims in time of war, and especially against the horrible violation of women which attends all war.”
While there is no direct use of the word “rape,” it is clear that the violation of women’s bodies was an important issue for these feminist peace activists. Indeed, the official report of the meeting included a letter sent to the convention organizers from the Abraham Lincoln Centre of Chicago’s class in religion which stated:
“That some action be taken to insure protection to women and girls from the horrible outrages from men of all nations in all countries, in time of war. The violation of women is, and always has been, one of the chief atrocities accompanying and following war, and men have not placed and will not place this outrage on a par with the desecration of personal property until women assembled in conclave as you are now, demand it. When humanity is served by the sacrifice of women’s hearts or bodies, such sacrifice is gladly made. But in the wanton violation of women all humanity is outraged, ideals slowly built up through the ages are cast aside, and woman is simply regarded as the female of the species, as booty belonging to the victor.
“In the name of home and childhood, of motherhood and human advancement, we demand that the violation of women be condemned as the most uncivilized relic of barbarous warfare and unworthy the soldier of any nation calling itself either civilized or Christian.
“. . . we beg you to deplore and condemn the violation of women and to demand protection for our sisters of all races. We pray your conference to speak out, voicing the age-long horror and fear of women of America, Asia, Africa and Europe, in the hopes that later, men gathered in official conference at The Hague may also condemn and take action to protect the mothers of men from outrage.”
The second theme, that of “motherhood,” is evident in Section V, “The Education of Children” which states that the congress “urges the necessity of so directing the education of children that their thoughts and desires may be directed towards the ideal of constructive peace.” After all, it was the duty of women to see to the raising of intelligent and informed children who would become the peace-loving citizens of the future.
While all the resolutions reflect the dedication of the congress participants to act as responsible citizens, there are some specific examples which not only indicate their great knowledge of the foreign policy of the times but also resonate in our times. Take, for example, Section II, number 3, paragraph 3, “Action towards Peace,” in which the women clearly state their position on national autonomy (or self-determination, as it was then called): “That no territory should be transferred without the consent of the men and women in it, and that the right of conquest should not be recognized.” Most interesting in terms of the times and the background of the participants is the use of “men and women” as equally important residents of any country.
Besides wishing to ensure a voice for the world’s people, the women also pushed for an international body which could see that conflict resolution became a normal part of foreign policy among nations. They state specifically also in Section II, number 3:
“That the Governments of all nations should come to an agreement to refer future international disputes to arbitration or conciliation and to bring social, moral and economic pressure to bear upon any country which resorts to arms.”
It is easy to understand why the women put such great faith in the 1919 establishment of the League of Nations and the World Court as well as the 1928 signing of the Kellogg-Briand Pact which basically stated that nations would sit down and discuss their problems before shooting at each other. These initiatives reflected the institutionalizing of their life’s hopes, dreams, and hard work.
The women at The Hague gave great thought to the use of peer pressure in order to steer nations away from war. They sincerely felt that social, moral, or economic blockades could bring any troublesome nation to its knees. And of course, they insisted that the success of this or any effort to insure peace rested on the influence of women through the voting process. In Section III, number 9, the women strongly insisted upon “The Enfranchisement of Women,” for how could women truly be responsible citizens if they did not have the vote?
“Since the combined influence of the women of all countries is one of the strongest forces for the prevention of war, and since women can only have full responsibility and effective influence when they have equal political rights with men, this International Congress of Women demands their political enfranchisement.”
The demand for the vote was repeated twice more, first in Section IV, number 15 on “Women in National and International Politics” where it was expressed that in order to put into effect any peace agreements it was “essential . . . to put into practice the principle that women should share all civil and political rights and responsibilities on the same terms as men” and second, in Section VI, numbers 17 and 18, “Women and the Peace Settlement Conference,” where the women affirmed the need to include those of their sex among the representatives who would make up the peace conference at the end of the war.
Finally, let us look at how the women at The Hague expressed their anger at those men who made up the powerful of the earth. In Section IV, “International Cooperation,” two passages give us a sense of the fire burning under the well-dressed forms in that large hall in the Netherlands. In number 12 where the women discussed “General Disarmament,” there was a clear attack on the international munitions agents, those private individuals who made fortunes off the backs of the common soldiers and civilian victims of war. While the women truly believed that an international agreement would lead to universal disarmament, they were wary enough to suggest an interim measure, that being that. . . all countries should, by such an international agreement, take over the manufacture of arms and munitions of war and should control all international traffic in the same. It sees in the private profits accruing from the great armament factories a powerful hindrance to the abolition of war.”
In number 14, they also lashed out at the making of secret treaties, demanding that all future treaties be the responsibility of the legislature of every government in the international community.
To end my presentation and this article, I thought it might be interesting to take a very brief look at what happened after The Hague congress culminating with the 1932 League of Nations Conference on Reduction and Limitations of Arms. To begin, let me just say that this was only the beginning of the organized efforts of feminists working for world peace and social justice.
At the conclusion of the Hague meeting, the women created the International Committee of Women for Permanent Peace and pledged to regroup at the same time and in the same place as those world leaders who would draft the peace treaty ending the Great War. The war ended on November 11, 1918, and the nations met from January through May, 1919, with Germany signing the Versailles Treaty on June 28. The peace women were unable to hold their meeting in France nor for so many months, so they reconvened from May 12-17 in Zurich, Switzerland, instead. There over two hundred women from the belligerent and neutral nations embraced each other and began planning. (Twenty-three came from the United States, twenty-three from Great Britain, three from France, twenty-seven from Germany, nine from other Central Power nations, and one hundred twenty-six from neutral nations.) Out of that meeting came the creation of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) whose constitution dedicated its members to work for “further peace, internationalism, and the freedom of women” and to support resolutions made at various international conferences that would support their goals.
As attendance at the Zurich meeting indicated, up to this point, the women’s peace movement had been basically a white movement concerned with immediate war issues. As U.S. African-American activist, Mary Church Terrell, later wrote in her autobiography, “it is . . . truthful to say that women from all over the white world were present . . . It was my privilege to represent not only the colored women of the United States, but the whole contingent of Africa as well . . . In fact, since I was the only delegate who gave any color to the occasion at all, it finally dawned on me that I was representing the women of all the non-white countries of the world.” Throughout the 1920s, however, WILPF tried to do better. (See photo #19.) Indeed, there was much global outreach. First the organization settled into its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Then it helped to establish national and local branches in Europe, the United States, Latin America, India, Japan, Australia, and, over the years, many nations. As president of the newly-formed WILPF, Jane Addams traveled all over the world organizing and visiting organizational branches. In the United States, there was a concerted effort to recruit women of color, an effort that certainly had its ups and downs. In New York City, for example, African-American women who were at first enthusiastic, left the organization over its support of neutrality during the 1935 Italian invasion of Abyssinia (then renamed Ethiopia) and its internal arguing over lobbying for federal anti-lynching laws.
Various peace groups also worked with WILPF in support of the 1920-21 Washington Naval Disarmament Conference, the League of Nations, the World Court, and all treaties that they hoped would bring about permanent peace and disarmament. But key to this internationalist spirit was the 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact, affectionately known as “the law to end all wars.” Signed by sixty-two nations, the pact basically said that countries would condemn war as the solution to international conflicts and as an instrument of national policy. This short and simple document opened the way for mediation and conflict resolution to be used as the primary methods of dealing with tensions between nations. The one problem with the pact, however, was that national leaders did not interpret it as being honored in cases of self-defense. And what isn’t self-defense?
In their great enthusiasm, women all over the world prepared for the 1932 League of Nations Conference on Reduction and Limitation of Arms to be held in Geneva. As part of their efforts to involve as many people as possible and to educate them on the conference, several groups initiated petition drives. The International Council of Women designed a Polyglot Petition for Disarmament calling for the general reduction of arms followed by the eventual elimination of weapons and war as they interpreted the Kellogg-Briand Pact. The Council also created a Peace and Disarmament Committee in 1931, basing it in Geneva. Fourteen women’s international organizations fell under its umbrella which effectively represented the voices of millions of women around the globe. A sampling of these groups indicates their breadth: World’s YWCA, International Alliance of Women for Suffrage and Equal Citizenship, WILPF, World’s Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, League of Jewish Women, League of Iberian and Latin American Women, and League of Mothers and Educators for Peace.
In the end, four different petitions were circulated under the sponsorship of the International Council of Women. These included an international WILPF petition that was originated at the organization’s International Congress in Prague in August, 1929; a British version of the WILPF petition; a petition from the International Alliance of Women for Suffrage and Equal Citizenship, and a petition from the U.S. National Committee on the Cause and Cure of War, a moderate women’s umbrella organization created and led by suffrage leader Carrie Chapman Catt. Another independent petition was created by the U.S. based Women’s Peace Union (in tandem with the War Resisters International of England) which called for laws in every nation’s constitution to make war illegal (or to “outlaw” war). The four main petitions were basically the same and were designed to pressure governments to force their representatives in Geneva to make progress towards disarmament and not just to talk and argue. The difference between the international WILPF petition and the others was that the former called for “total and universal disarmament” while the others called for reductions in arms and/or at least some progress. The one disappointment for me is that in order to reach entire populations, the women dropped both their feminist language and their distinctly feminist issues.
The petition drives were very successful, culminating in over eight million signatures, the largest numbers coming from Canada, Australia, Denmark, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Great Britain, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States. Most interesting are the names of just a few of those with fewer signatures (from single digits into the thousands) which illustrate the tremendous growth in organizational outreach since 1915. These included Albania, Argentina, Brazil, Ceylon, Cuba, Egypt, Fiji, Hawaii, Indonesia, Jamaica, Madagascar, Mexico, Nigeria, Palestine, Syria, Tunisia, and Turkey. In addition, peace groups converged on Geneva to lobby, hold study groups, network, and to write and disperse literature. Even though the results of the international meeting were disappointing, the women did not lose hope and continued their work.
For us, sitting in a conference over ninety years later, the women’s voices sound idealistic (even utopian). How could they have envisioned a world where there would be universal disarmament or where governments, not corporations, would control the arms trade? Yet, they also envisioned a world where women had the vote, and they were indeed instrumental in seeing that that was achieved. So, why couldn’t they dream larger? We all have much to benefit from the ideas and organizational skills of these, our foremothers—their vision, their commitment, their sisterhood, their love for humankind, their courage, their humor—their examples as their greatest gift to us for our own work in the years ahead.
I would like to thank Elena Díez, Dolores Mirón, and Margarita Sánchez Romero for inviting me to participate in the International Seminar on Women and Peace held at the University of Granada, Spain in November, 2008, and for the Instituto de la Paz y los Conflictos and the Instituto de Estudios de la Mujer at the University for hosting me.
ADDAMS, Jane; BALCH, Emily G., and HAMILTON, Alice (1915; reprint, 2003). Women at The Hague: The International Congress of Women and Its Results. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
ALONSO, Harriet Hyman (1993). Peace as a Women’s Issue: A History of the U.S. Movement for World Peace and Women’s Rights. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press.
ALONSO, Harriet Hyman (2003). Introduction in ADDAMS, Jane; BALCH, Emily G., and HAMILTON, Alice. Women at The Hague: The International Congress of Women and Its Results (1915). Urbana: University of Illinois Press, p. vii-xl.
DAVIES, Thomas Richard (2007). The Possibilities of Transnational Activism: The Campaign for Disarmament between the Two World Wars. Leiden and Boston: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers.
 Alonso, Peace as a Women’s Issue, 1993: 64.
 Alonso, Peace as a Women’s Issue, 1993: 27.
 Lucretia Mott to Women of Exeter, England, 1846. Courtesy of Swarthmore College Peace Collection. Thanks to Frances Early and Wendy Chmielewski for this quotation.
 Alonso, Peace as a Women’s Issue, 1993: 32.
 Alonso, Peace as a Women’s Issue, 1993: 32.
Alonso, Peace as a Women’s Issue, 1993: 44.
 Alonso, Peace as a Women’s Issue, 1993: 44.
 Frances Early, Slide Lecture, 1989.
Alonso, Peace as a Women’s Issue, 1993:49.
 Alonso, Peace as a Women’s Issue, 1993: 64.
 Alonso, “Introduction,” Women at The Hague, reprint 2003: xxi.
 Alonso, “Introduction,” Women at The Hague, reprint 2003: xxxvi-xxxvii.
 Addams, Balch, Hamilton, reprint 2003: 72.
 Alonso, “Introduction,” Women at The Hague, reprint 2003: xxiii-xxiv.
 Addams, Balch, Hamilton, reprint 2003: 76.
 Addams, Balch, Hamilton, reprint 2003: 73.
 Addams, Balch, Hamilton, reprint 2003: 73.
 Addams, Balch, Hamilton, reprint 2003: 74.
 Addams, Balch, Hamilton, reprint 2003: 76.
 Addams, Balch, Hamilton, reprint 2003: 75.
 Alonso, Peace as a Women’s Issue, 1993: 83.
 Alonso, Peace as a Women’s Issue, 1993: 102.
 Davies, 2007: 233-234.
What a terrific and helpful article, Harriet! Thanks for putting it out here for everyone to consult and use. — Roberta
Great story, appropriate for 100th anniversary of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Thanks, Jim Gould