Woman's Peace Party

On the outbreak of the First World War a group of women pacifists in the United States began talking about the need to form an organization to help bring it to an end. On the 10th January, 1915, over 3,000 women attended a meeting in the ballroom of the New Willard Hotel in Washington and formed the Woman's Peace Party. Jane Addams was elected chairman and other women involved in the organization included Mary McDowell, Florence Kelley, Alice Hamilton, Anna Howard Shaw, Belle La Follette, Fanny Garrison Villard, Mary Heaton Vorse, Emily Balch, Jeanette Rankin, Lillian Wald, Edith Abbott, Grace Abbott, Crystal Eastman, Carrie Chapman Catt, Emily Bach, and Sophonisba Breckinridge.

In April 1915, Aletta Jacobs, a suffragist in Holland, invited members of the Woman's Peace Party to an International Congress of Women in the Hague. Jane Addams was asked to chair the meeting and Mary Heaton Vorse, Alice Hamilton, Grace Abbott, Julia Lathrop, Leonora O'Reilly, Sophonisba Breckinridge and Emily Bach went as delegates from the United States. Others who went to the Hague included Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, Emily Hobhouse, (England); Chrystal Macmillan (Scotland) and Rosika Schwimmer (Hungary). Afterwards, Jacobs, Addams, Macmillan, Schwimmer and Balch went to London, Berlin, Vienna, Budapest, Rome and Paris to speak with members of the various governments in Europe. During this time they met Edward Grey (13th May), Herbert Asquith (14th May), Gottlieb von Jagow (21st May), Theobold von Bethmann-Hollweg (22nd May), Karl von Sturgkh (26th May), Théophile Delcassé (12th June) and Rene Viviani (14th June).

Members of the Women's Peace Party in 1915
Members of the Women's Peace Party in 1915

Alice Hamilton visited Germany in 1915 to discover what the people thought of the war. She later recalled: "One must always remember that most Germans read nothing and hear nothing from the outside. I talked with an old friend, the wife of a professor under whom I worked years ago when I was studying bacteriology in Germany. She and her husband are people with cosmopolitan connections, they read three languages beside their own, and have always been as far removed as possible from narrow provincialism, but since last July they have known nothing except what their Government has decided that they shall know. I did not argue with my friend, but, of course, we talked much together and after she had been with us for three days she told me that she had never known before that there were people in England who did not wish to crush Germany, who wished for a just settlement, and even some who were opposed to the war."

The women were attacked in the press by Theodore Roosevelt who described them as "hysterical pacifists" and called their proposals "both silly and base". Jane Addams was selected for particular criticism. One man wrote in the Rochester Herald, "In the true sense of the word, she is apparently without education. She knows no more of the discipline and methods of modern warfare than she does of its meaning. If the woman conceded by her sisters to be the ablest of her sex, is so readily duped, so little informed, men wonder what degree of intelligence is to be secured by adding the female vote to the electorate."

By 1917 the Woman's Peace Party had 40,000 members. However, after the United States entered the war the party fragmented. The Espionage Act, passed by Congress in 1917, prescribed a $10,000 fine and 20 years' imprisonment for interfering with the recruiting of troops or the disclosure of information dealing with national defence. Additional penalties were included for the refusal to perform military duty.

Criticised as unconstitutional, the act resulted in the imprisonment of many of the anti-war movement. This included Rose Pastor Stokes who was sentenced to ten years in prison for saying, in a letter to the Kansas City Star, that "no government which is for the profiteers can also be for the people, and I am for the people while the government is for the profiteers."

Primary Sources

(1) Statement issued by the Women's Peace Party (10th January, 1915)

We women of the United States, assembled in behalf of World Peace, grateful for the security of our own country, but sorrowing for the misery of all involved in the present struggle among warring nations, do hereby band ourselves together to demand that war be abolished. As women, we are particularly charged with the future of childhood and with the care of the helpless and the unfortunate. We will no longer endure without protest that added burden of maimed and invalided men and poverty-stricken widows and orphans which was placed upon us. We demand that women be given a share in deciding between war and peace in all the courts of high debate - within the home, the school, the church, the industrial order and the state. So protesting and so demanding, we hereby form ourselves into a national organization to be called the Woman's Peace Party.

(2) Chicago Daily News (12th April, 1915)

These women (members of the Woman's Peace Party) had embarked because the cry from the women of Europe was too pitiful to be ignored, and because it is feminine nature to respond impulsively and completely. It was a serious-minded group, where the women flocked around Miss Addams, there generally was laughter. But there could scarcely be hilarity, for the women bore in their memories the awful tidings they had received from their sisters abroad, tidings of sexual horrors, of naked children, of ruined generations, of racial peril.

(3) Emily Bach was one of the women who attended the International Peace Conference in the Hague. In her journal she recorded her impression of Jane Addams (April, 1915)

Miss Addams shines, so respectful of everyone's views, so eager to understand and sympathize, so patient of anarchy and even ego, yet always there, strong, wise and in the lead. No 'managing', no keeping dark and bringing things subtly to pass, just a radiating wisdom and power of judgement.

(4) New York Times (6th July, 1915)

Everyone will be glad to welcome Miss Jane Addams back and this includes those of her admirers who were sorry to see her go. Those will hope that the next time there is to be a demonstration of the folly of those who think peace can be brought by stopping a war it will fall to the lot of someone less generally respected than she is to make it. For Miss Addams is a citizen too highly valued for any one to see her engaged in such melancholy enterprises without a feeling of pain.

(5) Jane Addams, speech at Carnegie Hall (9th July, 1915)

The first thing which was striking is this, that the same causes and reasons for the war were heard everywhere. Each warring nation solemnly assured you it is fighting under the impulse of self-defense.

Another thing which we found very striking was that in practically all of the foreign offices the men said that a nation at war cannot make negotiations and that a nation at war cannot even express willingness to receive negotiations, for if it does either, the enemy will at once construe it as a symptom of weakness.

Generally speaking, we heard everywhere that this war was an old man's war; that the young men who were dying, the young men who were doing the fighting, were not the men who wanted the war, and were not the men who believed in the war; that someone in church and state, somewhere in the high places of society, the elderly people, the middle-aged people, had established themselves and had convinced themselves that this was a righteous war, that this war must be fought out, and the young men must do the fighting.

(6) In her speech at Carnegie Hall Jane Addams claimed that soldiers were provided with alcohol before making bayonet charges. The journalist, Richard Harding Davis, wrote a letter of complaint about her speech to the New York Times (13th July, 1915)

In this war the French or English soldier who had been killed in a bayonet charge gave his life to protect his home and country. For his supreme exit he had prepared himself by months of discipline. Through the winter in the trenches he had endured shells, disease, snow and ice. For months he had been separated from his wife, children, friends - all those he most loved. When the order to charge came it was for them he gave his life, that against those who destroyed Belgium they might preserve their home, might live to enjoy peace.

Miss Addams denies him the credit of his sacrifice. She strips him of honor and courage. She tells his children, "Your father did not die for France, or for England, or for you; he died because he was drunk."

In my opinion, since the war began, no statement has been so unworthy or so untrue and ridiculous. The contempt it shows for the memory of the dead is appalling; the crudity and ignorance it displays are inconceivable.

(7) Pittsfield Journal (3rd July, 1915)

The time was when Miss Jane Addams of Hull House, Chicago held a warm place in the hearts of the American people but she is vast losing the esteem, with her earlier efforts seem to merit. Her dabbling in politics, her suffrage activity and her ill-advised methods of working for peace have very materially lowered her in the esteem of hundreds of former admirers.

(8) Rochester Herald (15th July, 1915)

In the true sense of the word, she (Jane Addams) is apparently without education. She knows no more of the discipline and methods of modern warfare than she does of its meaning. If the woman conceded by her sisters to be the ablest of her sex, is so readily duped, so little informed, men wonder what degree of intelligence is to be secured by adding the female vote to the electorate.

(9) Harriet Hyman Alonso, Women at the Hague (2003)

A point of some debate concerned the proposed Resolution on Armaments, which expressed the concern that a strong profit motive on the part of arms manufacturers greatly hindered peace efforts. Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence protested the existence of what forty-five years later President Dwight D. Eisenhower would term the "military-industrial complex." Pethick-Lawrence claimed that "international agents" were employed by transnational arms corporations to "stir up troubles, to create rebellions, to manufacture panics, so that there may be a demand for weapons and munitions... by means of which they grow rich." The proposed resolution urged that all nations agree to take over the production and sale of arms. The concern was to prevent mention of the role of neutral nations in the crisis. Elizabeth Glendower Evans of the United States wished to have it stated that neutral nations should embargo arms sales. Addams, placed in what she considered to he the embarrassing position of having to "go against a criticism other own country," suggested that the wording point to a future international agreement in which all nations (rather than individual nations) would control weapons trading.

(10) Mary Heaton Vorse, A Footnote to Folly (1935)

The women’s rising tide of protest against the war came to a point on February 12, 1915. On that date a great peace meeting was held in Washington by the women of America. On the same date, in Holland, an International Congress of Women, to be held in Amsterdam, was called by Dr. Aletta Jacobs, a famous Dutch suffragist.

The American delegation, the largest which attended the Congress, was headed by Jane Addams. It included such people as Grace Abbott, Julia Lathrop, Sophonisba Breckinridge, Dr. Alice Grace Hamilton, Miss Kittredge, Mrs. W. I. Thomas, who, with her husband, was so bitterly persecuted during the war for her pacifism, Fannie Fern Andrews, Mary Chamberlain, from the Survey, and Marian Cothren. At my table were Mary Chamberlain and the Pethwick Lawrences.

Besides many of the most forward - looking women of America, the group also included cranks, women with nostrums for ending war, and women who had come for the ride. New Thought cranks with Christian Science smiles and blue ribbons in their hair, hard - working Hull House women, little half-baked enthusiasts, elderly war horses of peace, riding furious hobbies.

As a background was Jane Addams, unassertive, contemplative and sensitive. All the way over we discussed our program. All the way over, that great woman, Miss Addams, listened with as much patience to the suggestions of the worst crank among us as she did to such trained minds as Miss Breckinridge. I have never known anyone who had a greater intellectual hospitality or courtesy. When I spoke of this to her one day, she said quietly, “I have never met anyone from whom I could not learn.” We were held up for four days in the English Channel, off Dover, and arrived late, just in time for the opening meeting on the 27th of April.

The women who attended this Congress were for the most part well-to-do women of the middle class. It was an everyday audience, plain people, just folks, the kind you see walking out to church any Sunday morning. Labor was unrepresented except for Leonora O’Reilly, of the Woman’s Trade Union League, and Annie Molloy, the president of the Telephone Operators Union. It was an audience composed of women full of inhibitions, not of a radical habit of thought, unaccustomed for the most part to self-expression, women who had walked decorously all their days, hedged in by the “thou shalt nots” of middle-class life. This meeting of these women seemed all the more remarkable on that account, much more significant than the famous Ford Peace Ship.

The Congress was held in a great hall, called the “Dierentuin,” in the Zoological Gardens. In front of the gardens on a wide field, soldiers were perpetually drilling. One saw them move off more like automata than men. One saw them go through various maneuvers. They were perpetually there, a living example of the awful madness of war. A Dutchwoman said to me, as we walked past them: “It is only since the war that I have realized that they do this to learn how to kill other men and to offer themselves to be killed. My head has always known this, but my heart only since the war!”

Counting visitors, there were between 1,200 and 1,500 in the audience. There were delegates from twelve countries. But no delegates from France, Serbia or Russia. Not even the Socialist women would send a delegate while the enemy was on French soil.

On the proscenium sat some of the most famous women in Europe, almost all internationally known; Miss Jane Addams and Miss Fannie Fern Andrews, from America; Dr. Aletta Jacobs and Dr. Boissevain, from Holland; Miss MacMillan and Miss Courtenay, form Great Britain. One wonders where those old feminists are now, Dr. Augsburg and Fraulein von Heymann of Germany, Frau Kruthgar or Frau Hofrath von Lecher of Austria. What has become of those able fighters of twenty years ago from Central Europe?

Of the two hundred English who had planned to come, only two had been allowed visas. And only one Italian delegate had got through, but there were delegates from Poland, from South Africa and from Canada.

For the first time in all the history of the world, women of warring nations and women of neutral nations had come together to lift up their voices in protest against war, through which the women and the workers gain nothing and lose all.

(11) Freda Kirchwey, obituary of Crystal Eastman in The Nation (8th August, 1928)

As a pacifist Crystal Eastman was also a militant. She was the vigorous leader of the Woman's Peace Party in New York State during the early years of the Great War, piloting that organization through stormy days when it was denounced as pro-German and when some of its members dropped off to support the war or to roll bandages. She turned the energies of this women's society into dramatic, vigorous protest and caught the attention of a country already sliding into the fatal whirlpool. With equal vigor she shared the labors of the editor of The Nation and other pacifists who founded the American Union Against Militarism, a body which stood firm even when the war itself trampled their protest under iron feet.

But pacifism had failed to save the world. In 1917 Crystal Eastman joined her brother Max on the staff of The Liberator, successor to The Masses. For two years they fought against war and in behalf of social change. They hailed the Soviet Revolution in Russia as the embodiment of their dreams. They watched with high hope the tide of revolutionary sentiment rise in Central Europe, as famine and the devastation of war and the truckling of the peace makers made the workers more and more desperate and conscious of their plight.

(12) Women's International League Manifesto (1926)

The League aims at uniting women in all countries who are opposed to every kind of war, exploitation and oppression, and who work for the solution of conflicts not by force of domination but by the recognition of human solidarity, by world co-operation, and by the establishment of social, political and economic justice for all, without distinction of sex, race, class or creed.