Swarthmore College Peace Collection, 500 College Avenue, Swarthmore, PA 19081-1399, USA


HISTORICAL INTRODUCTION [written by Archivist Eleanor Barr in 198_?]

On January 10, 1915, approximately 3,000 women met at the Willard Hotel in Washington (DC) to address the situation created by the outbreak of World War I. Jane Addams of Hull-House and Carrie Chapman Catt, a leader of the international suffrage movement, called the conference in response to the efforts of Rosika Schwimmer, a Hungarian suffragist, journalist, and social work, and of Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, an English feminist, to convince women of the United States to join their European counterparts in protesting the war. There were about 86 official delegates at the conference, of whom most were suffragists. They represented such diverse groups as peace, suffrage, temperance, educational and social workers' organizations, the National Women's Trace Union League, the National Council of Women, and the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. The platform committee, comprised of Catt, Addams, Fannie Fern Andrews, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Lucia Ames Mead, Alice Thacher Post, and Anna Garlin Spencer, drew up an eleven-point platform that the conference approved. This platform called for a conference of neutrals to offer continuous mediation as a way to end the war (the Wisconsin plan), supported woman suffrage, and established the Woman's Peace Party (WPP).

The WPP was headquartered in Chicago, with Jane Addams as chairman, Lucia Ames Mead as national secretary, Harriet P. Thomas as executive secretary, Sophonisba P. Breckenridge as treasurer, and Elizabeth Glendower Evans as national organizer. They contacted prominent women associated with the peace movement in each state, urging them to start branches. the WPP joined with other peace groups to form the National Peace Federation, which petitioned the Wilson administration to call a conference of neutral nations for continuous mediation. Part of the WPP's campaign to sway public opinion was their production of Euripides' Trojan Women, which was presented in many cities across the country.

At the end of February 1915, the WPP received an invitation to attend an international conference of women pacifists at The Hague. The primary sponsor of the International Congress of Women was the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, headed by Carrie Chapman Catt. Jane Addams chaired the congress; she and Fannie Fern Andrews were the two members from the U.S. on the executive committee. Most of the forty-seven delegates from the U.S. were WPP members, but others represented groups such as the Immigrants' Protective League, the Universal Peace Union, and the Woman's Trade Union League. Some of the U.S. delegates went as individuals.

The International Congress of Women opened on April 28, 1915 with delegates from 12 countries, including the Netherlands, the United States, Germany, Great Britain, Canada, Hungary, Austria and Norway. The program adopted by the congress was much like the WPP's platform. The Hague Congress appealed for mediation to end the war and in general called for repudiation of war, support for arbitration and conciliation in settling disputes, democratic control of foreign policy, woman suffrage, popular consent prior to territorial transfers between nations, general disarmament, freedom of seas and free trade, and voiding of secret treaties.

Before closing, the congress established the International Committee of Women for Permanent Peace (ICWPP), with representatives from each country and plans to hold a second international congress at the same time as a peace conference to end the war. The congress also delegated two groups of envoys to visit the governments of belligerent and neutral nations of Europe and the President of the U.S., in support of a conference for continuous mediation. These delegations, whose U.S. members were Jane Addams, Alice Hamilton, Emily Greene Balch, and Julia Grace Wales, talked with the governments of fourteen European countries in about five weeks. After returning to the U.S., Jane Addams, Emily Balch, and other peace leaders met with President Wilson and his aides on a number of occasions to try to convince them to initiate a conference of neutrals. Through the fall of 1915, the WPP attempted to marshal public opinion in support of such action.

When it seemed unlikely that Wilson would call a conference, members of the WPP, as individuals, turned to automobile magnate Henry Ford, who offered private financing for a conference. Jane Addams and others considered his idea of chartering a ship to carry the delegates to Europe a costly public relations gimmick, but they appreciated his support for the neutral conference. Despite problems associated wit the Ford Peace Expedition, the Neutral Conference for Continuous Mediation did meet in Stockholm and remained in session during 1916 and early 1917, with delegates from Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States. They publicized various peace proposals, investigated problems hindering a constructive peace, and kept alive the idea of mediation. Emily Greene Balch served as the U.S. delegate as a replacement for Jane Addams, who had fallen seriously ill.

In addition to its efforts for a neutral conference, the WPP opposed steps taken by the U.S. government to prepare for war. Especially active in the anti-preparedness campaign was the New York Branch, which had been started by Crystal Eastman prior to the founding of the national WPP. The WPP also protested U.S. imperialism in Haiti, Nicaragua, the Virgin Islands, and the Dominican Republic. In early 1917, as the U.S. moved closer to war, the WPP joined other peace societies in calling for a popular referendum before declaring war. With U.S. entry, the WPP remained pacifist, but stressed internationalism and support for a League of Nations instead of protesting the war. Jane Addams lectured for the Department of Food Administration and members of the Massachusetts Branch of the WPP were particularly active in food conservation. The WPP wholeheartedly supported Wilson's Fourteen Points.

The congress that the Hague Congress had agreed to hold concurrently with the peace conference met in Zurich in May 1919. In six days of sessions the delegates passed resolutions for an end to the blockade of Germany, more democratic organization of the League of Nations, total disarmament, and universal free trade, and against many of the terms of the Versailles peace treaty. The ICWPP then formed itself into a permanent organization, the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), to be composed of national sections and headquartered in Geneva. Jane Addams was elected president, and Emily Balch became secretary-treasurer. In November 1919, the WPP accepted the resolutions of the Zurich Congress and agreed to become the United States Section of the WILPF.

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