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

[written by Archivist Eleanor Barr in 1987]

The United States Section of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom originated in January 1915 as the Woman's Peace Party. At a conference in Washington (DC), called by Jane Addams and Carrie Chapman Catt, approximately 3,000 women approved a platform calling for a conference of neutrals to offer continuous mediation as a way to end war, the extension of suffrage to women, and the establishment of the Woman's Peace Party (WPP). Additional provisions called for the limitation of armaments and the nationalization of their manufacture, organized opposition to militarism, education of youth in the ideals of peace, democratic control of foreign policy, and the removal of the economic causes of war. Addams was elected chairman of the WPP.

In April 1915, representatives of the WPP participated in the International Congress of Women held at The Hague (The Netherlands). This congress adopted a program similar to the platform of the WPP and established the International Committee of Women for Permanent Peace (ICWPP), made up of not more than five women from each of the twelve nations represented at the congress. Addams, who had chaired the Hague Congress, was selected as international chairman. At the first annual meeting, held in January 1916, the WPP voted to become the U.S. Section of the ICWPP.

The 1915 Congress at The Hague had voted to hold a second international congress of women at the end of the war at the same time as the negotiations to frame the terms of peace. In May 1919, the second International Congress of Women was held in Zurich (Switzerland), while the Paris Peace Conference was in session. When the terms of the Treaty of Versailles were made public, the women at the Zurich congress passed a number of resolutions pointing out the dangers to permanent peace contained in the provisions of the treaty. The delegates to the Zurich congress, representing nineteen countries, were unable to reach agreement on supporting the League of Nations, so no position was officially taken. All agreed in desiring a world league representing the will of the people, with membership open to all states; immediate reduction of armament on the same terms for all; universal free trade; and "sanctions" in no case to involve military force or food blockades.

The delegates voted to form a permanent organization, changing its name to the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). Headquarters were moved from Amsterdam (The Netherlands) to Geneva (Switzerland) to be near the proposed site of the League of Nations. Jane Addams was made international president, and Emily Greene Balch of Massachusetts was elected international secretary-treasurer in charge of the Geneva office.

In November 1919 the WPP voted to change its name to the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Section for the United States. Anna Garlin Spencer was selected as national chairman. The headquarters of the WPP had been in Chicago, home of Jane Addams. The U.S. Section of WILPF established its national office in New York City (NY) in early 1920, but moved to Washington (DC) in November 1921.

The WILPF is an international organization with headquarters in Geneva. There are members all over the world, and established national sections in many countries. These national sections are autonomous in terms of organization, finance, and action, and are free to interpret the broad principles and policies adopted by the international congresses held approximately every three years.

The U.S. Section is governed by a National Board of Directors consisting of the national officers, state presidents, chairs of certain committees, and a number of elected and appointed members. The National Board has the authority to administer the affairs of the U.S. Section, subject to instructions from the Annual Meeting. The size and composition of the National Board are stated in the WILPF constitution and have been changed periodically. Since 1972, a majority of the board members have been elected on a regional basis.

The National Board elects the officers of the U.S. Section and appoints the chairs of standing committees. Much of the work of the U.S. Section is done by administrative and program committees. Committee chairs work closely with paid staff members to plan WILPF activities and to disseminate information to local branches and the general public. The number, names, and organizational structure of WILPF committees have changed through the years. In December 1954 there were 33 divisions, committees and subcommittees.

The Annual Meeting of the U.S. Section, attended by delegates from branches throughout the country, discusses and approves a policy statement and program for the coming year. Reports are given by national officers, staff members, and committee chairs. Resolutions are passed stating WILPF positions and asking for specific actions by government officials and others. The budget also is adopted at the Annual Meeting. At the Annual Meeting in 1970, it was decided to hold national membership meetings biennially (starting in 1971), with regional meetings in the years when a Biennial Meeting was not scheduled.

The United States Section of WILPF is made up of many local branches. As the membership grew quickly, from about 500 to over 1300 in 1921, state chairs became necessary to coordinate the work of local groups formed in various areas. By May 1924, the U.S. Section had 26 branches and the membership had increased to about 6,000.

Local branches carry out the active legislative and educational work of the organization. They hold public meetings, conduct study groups and service projects, and participate in various campaigns and activities coordinated by the state and national offices. Local branches often undertake joint activities with other organizations.

The importance of the state branch within the organizational structure of the U.S. Section has varied from state to state and from one time period to another. Among the states which had strong state branches prior to 1959 are the following: California, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. Most of these states maintained offices with paid staff members, sent out regular newsletters, and acted as service centers for local branches within the state.

WILPF officers, board members, and committee chairs are assisted in their work by a small paid staff. Prior to the appointment of Amy Woods in October 1922, there was considerable turnover in the position of executive secretary. Woods was followed by Dorothy Detzer, who served as executive secretary from 1924 to 1946. Detzer focused much of her attention on legislative activities and was well known as a lobbyist on Capitol Hill. Her Branch Letters are full of detailed reports on legislative issues of interest to WILPF.

Mildred Scott Olmsted served as executive secretary of the Pennsylvania Branch from 1922 to 1946. Beginning in 1934, she also served as national organization secretary of the U.S. Section, with primary responsibility for maintaining close contact with branches and for developing branch work and organization. Her Organization Letter was an important channel of communication between the national officers and committee chairs and the state and local branch presidents and other members of the National Board. Olmsted became national administrative secretary in 1946. She retired as executive director in 1966 after 44 years of dedicated service to the Pennsylvania Branch and the U.S. Section.

By 1940, the U.S. Section had 13,000 members and over 100 branches. Membership dropped significantly during World War II, however. In January 1955, there were 4,336 members in ten state branch and 62 local branches. The Jane Addams Branch was formed in 1948 for members-at-large who belonged to the U.S. Section but lived in areas where there was no local branch.

The national headquarters of the U.S. Section was located initially in New York City (NY), but moved to Washington (DC) in late 1921. In 1946, when Olmsted became administrative secretary, the national office was moved to Philadelphia (PA), where it is still located. At the same time, a separate Legislative Office was established in Washington (DC) under the direction of a legislative secretary. The strength of WILPF in the Philadelphia area and the availability of of dedicated volunteers have been factors in the decision to keep the national office in Philadelphia. The New York office of WILPF was established in 1950 when Gladys D. Walser became US. Section observer to the United Nations. For several years, her apartment served as the WILPF office in New York. In 1953, space was rented in the Carnegie Building at United Nations Plaza, to be used by the WILPF observer to the United Nations, and by the Committee for World Development and World Disarmament. The Jane Addams Peace Association also used this office from 1955 to 1959.

WILPF was the first international organization of women devoted to efforts to establish permanent peace. Throughout its history, WILPF members have sought to work by nonviolent means for the establishment of those political, economic, social and psychological conditions throughout the world that can assure peace, freedom, and justice for all.

The object of the U.S. Section, as stated in its 1919 constitution, was "to promote methods for the attainment of that peace between nations which is based on justice and good will and to cooperate with women from other countries who are working for the same ends." Membership was open to all women who substantially supported the platform of the U.S. Section and who paid the prescribed dues. Men became eligible for associate membership in 1921.

Statements of principles and policies reiterated through the years have stressed the interdependence of peace, freedom and justice.... Through educational and legislative campaigns, WILPF has supported total and universal disarmament, measures to remove the economic causes of war, pacific settlement of international disputes, and the establishment of legal machinery for such settlement. WILPF members have stressed the importance of education for peace and have campaigned against militaristic toys. The following paragraphs provide a brief summary of some of the specific issues that were of concern to the U.S. Section between 1919 and 1959, but they are not intended to provide a complete historical account of all the U.S. Section attempted to do or actually accomplished during this period.

In January 1920, WILPF appealed to the State Department for the release of political prisoners and conscientious objectors, protested against the deportation of those designated as "reds," and opposed compulsory military training as a feature of plans for the reorganization of the U.S. Army. The U.S. Section also urged that the U.S. government recognize the Bolshevik government of Russia and take measures to alleviate the suffering and starvation caused by the prolonged blockade of that country.

The Fourth International Congress of WILPF was held in Washington (DC) in 1924. Following the congress, many of the European delegates went on a speaking tour on the "Pax Special" train [see photograph collection]. They visited 23 cities, holding meetings and making speeches in an attempt to arouse sentiment for a "New International Order." Amy Woods, national secretary from 1922-1924, stated that "the opposition to all forms of peace work which has recently shown itself throughout the country is the symptom of our growing strength."

In the period 1925-1927, the U.S. Section focused attention on the problem of economic and financial imperialism. Members succeeded in having drafted and introduced into both houses of Congress a bill that was devised to prevent the United States from becoming involved on behalf of citizens' investments in foreign countries. IN 1926, a goodwill mission was sent to investigate conditions in Haiti, under the sponsorship of WILPF and with the cooperation of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the American Friends Service Committee. Its recommendations to President Coolidge, published under the title Occupied Haiti, eventually led to an official inquiry under President Hoover which resulted in the withdrawal of all Marines and new treaty arrangements. A nationwide campaign by WILPF and other groups in 1926 1927 against intervention in Mexico was followed by a reversal of State Department policy and the turning back of the U.S. Army near the border of Mexico. WILPF also was effective in influencing U.S. government policy in regard to Cuba, Nicaragua and Liberia.

Sine 1919 the U.S. Section had supported the idea of democratic world government but had reservations about whether the United States should enter the League of Nations. After lengthy discussion, a resolution was finally passed at the Annual Meeting in 1927, stating that the WILPF "desires to see the United States enter the League of Nations, providing only that it does so with the understanding that the United States is exempt from any obligation to supply military forces or to join in exerting military pressure in any case."

In the late 1920s, WILPF sought to develop support for treaties that would outlaw war as a means of settling international disputes. At the request of WILPF, Professor Francis B. Sayre (of the Harvard Law School) drafted a model arbitration treaty that was widely circulated. Also in 1927, WILPF presented a petition bearing 30,000 signatures asking President Coolidge to initiate treaties to outlaw war. WILPF actions helped to lay the foundation for the acceptance of the Kellogg-Briand Pact for the Renunciation of War, signed in August 1928 by fifteen countries and ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1929.

During 1931, Jane Addams was selected for several significant awards. She received the Bryn Mawr Award for Distinguished Service and the Pictorial Review Prize as the most famous woman in America. In December 1931 it was announced that the Nobel Peace Prize was to be awarded jointly to Addams and to Nicholas Murray Butler, president of Columbia University. Addams announced that her part of the award would be used to further the projects of the Geneva office of the WILPF.

When the World Disarmament Conference at Geneva was convened in 1932, peace advocates presented over 8 million signatures on petitions for disarmament. Of these, 6 million, for total and universal disarmament, had been collected by WILPF members in many countries. The U.S. Section organized a Peace Caravan from Los Angeles (CA) to Washington (DC) that traveled 10,000 miles across the country, holding meetings and gathering signatures [see Photograph Collection].

For a number of years, WILPF had sought to find a way to curb private profit and traffic in the weapons of war. At the 1933 Annual Meeting, the U.S. Section adopted a resolution urging President Roosevelt to propose a senatorial investigation into the private manufacture of arms. Dorothy Detzer is credited with influencing Senator Gerald P. Nye to introduce, in January 1934, a resolution to investigate the manufacture of armaments. WILPF supported this investigation and helped to give nationwide publicity to the influence of arms manufacturers in precipitating international and civil war and in preventing world disarmament. The Nye Commission proposed a comprehensive program of interlocking legislative measures to maintain peace and to safeguard the rights of U.S. citizens. The Neutrality Bill, providing for an embargo on arms and loans to nations at war, was the only legislation even partially enacted into law, an dit was not passed in the form proposed by the Nye Commission. The U.S. Section continued to seek amendments to strengthen the Neutrality Act.

In 1934, legislative also was passed to give independence to the Philippines, a goal for which WILPF had worked since 1921.

The U.S. Section had long advocated that the United States join the World Court, stating in 1922 that "the establishment of the World Court on a permanent and secure basis offers a medium for the transfer of international disputes from the battle field to the court of law." The issue came before Congress in 1935 but was defeated by a tiny margin in spite of lobbying efforts by many peace groups, including WILPF. The U.S. finally joined the world Court at the end of World War II.

WILPF celebrated its 20th anniversary in 1935. A banquet was held in Washington (DC) on May 02, 1935, to honor Jane Addams. Eleanor Roosevelt was one of the main speakers. The following day, an around-the-world broadcast was arranged, the first of its kind, during which ambassadors and statesmen paid tribute to the League and to Addams as one of its founders (she died just three weeks later).

The Peoples Mandate to Governments to End War was one of the last projects approved by Addams before her death. This campaign grew out of the work of WILPF's Disarmament Campaign Committee, a petition drive begun in 1931 and managed by Mabel Vernon. The Peoples Mandate was launched as an international campaign on September 07, 1935, the 75th anniversary of Addams' birth. The purpose of the Peoples Mandate was "to express such overwhelming opposition to war that governments will not dare resort to it." The goal was to secure 50 million signatures from citizens in 50 countries and to present the mandate to the Council and Assembly of the League of Nations. The Peoples Mandate Committee for the Western Hemisphere and the Far East was established as a separate organization in January 1936. Later the name was changed to the Peoples Mandate Committee for Inter-American Peace and Cooperation [see DG 109: Peoples Mandate for more information]. Mabel Vernon served as the director of the mandate campaign in the United States.

Also in the mid-1930s, WILPF joined with some forty other national organizations to set up the National Peace Conference, as a way of unifying and coordinating the efforts of various groups interested in world justice and peace. In 1936-1937, WILPF participated in the Emergency Peace Campaign, a nationwide effort to keep the United States out of war and to promote world peace [see DG 012: Emergency Peace Campaign for more information].

During the late 1930s, WILPF members sought to give aid to refugees from Nazi persecution in Europe, some of whom were women they had met at WILPF international congresses. A Committee on Refugees was established in 1938 to promote WILPF efforts in this regard, particularly in securing affidavits of support for refugees.

As the situation in Europe deteriorated, it became apparent that differences of opinion existed within the WILPF membership concerning WILPF policies. Early in 1939 the National Board agreed to conduct a "poll of opinion" among WILPF members. Material on two patterns of political and economic action that the United States might follow, described as the "collective security" position and the "proneutrality" position, was sent to the membership for discussion. Results indicated that 75 percent of the members favored the proneutrality position of the WILPF, based on a program calling for mandatory neutrality, the war referendum, a peacetime embargo on all munitions, and similar policies.

An emergency meeting of the National Board, held on December 10, 1941, issued a statement that said, in part: "The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, which was born in the throes of the first world war, has devoted 26 years to the task of working for those political and economic arrangements on which alone a lasting peace would have been possible. The war in which we find ourselves today is the inevitable result of a world organized for war and not for peace.... Finally, we would point out that the entire breakdown of political efforts into active warfare convinces us anew that neither the United States nor the rest of the world can ever be truly free until the conditions of peace have been established for all nations and all peoples. Mankind must some day be released from the violence and suffering and waste of this recurring tragedy. For us, war remains the final infamy."

When the United States entered the war, the opportunities for WILPF action necessarily changed. During the war, the WILPF program stressed mediation, the establishment of a peace aims commission, the importance of democratic world government, and the protection of civil liberties. Members continued to do what they could to assist European refugees and to combat active anti-Semitism. They befriended and helped to resettle Japanese-Americans evacuated from California. They opposed conscription of women and of 18- and 19-year-old men, and supported me who were conscientious objectors. WILPF also worked for federal anti poll tax legislation and for the abrogation of the Chinese Exclusion Act.

At the close of the war, WILPF observers followed closely the discussion from Dumbarton Oaks to San Francisco as the charter of the United Nations was developed. The participation of WILPF and other organizations in the San Francisco Conference established a precedent that later led to the formal recognition of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) at the United Nations.

In the early postwar period, the U.S. Section urged a vast program of reconstruction aid to countries devastated by the war. Many WILPF members participated in relief activities, packing food and clothing to send abroad, although they stressed that efforts to create a world in which people could live together in peace were far more important in the long run than short-term efforts to relieve suffering.

In August 1946, the 10th International Congress of WILPF was held in Luxembourg on the theme of "A New World Order." Thirteen sections were able to send representatives; ten were not. Exhausted and disillusioned by their experiences during the war, some had lost their enthusiasm for peace work and thought that the League should not continue as a separate women's organization. A motion for dissolution by the Dutch section was introduced but was overwhelmingly defeated. Resolutions were passed on many aspects of peace and international relations, and the League again pledged itself to try to organize a world in which the rights and liberty of all human beings were assured.

The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Emily Greene Balch, international president of WILPF, and to John Raleigh Mott, in December 1946. Balch and Jane Addams are the only American women to have received the award.

By 1948 support for the United Nations had become a major part of WILPF's program. Members of the U.S. Section believed that the weakness and inadequacy of the United Nations was due to the climate of fear and distrust among member nations. They sought to create a climate in which states would cooperate to strengthen the international organization, gradually transforming the United Nations into a world government. WILPF International was granted consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council in 1948, and in later years similar status was granted by UN agencies such as UNESCO, FAO, and UNICEF. Soon the U.S. Section appointed an accredited observer to the United Nations, and established a separate office in New York City for work with that body.

A Special Committee for World Reconstruction and World Disarmament was organized in 1950 to do research, offer publications, and conduct widespread community meetings, conferences, and workshops on these issues. In 1952, the name of the committee was changed to the Committee for World Development and World Disarmament. The New York office of WILPF served as the headquarters of this committee. The work of CWDWD was funded by the Jane Addams Peace Association (JAPA), incorporated in 1948 to pay for educational projects undertaken by the U.S. Section. Tax-exempt status was granted by the federal government in 1951 [see DG 069: CWDWD for more information]. Other projects carried out under JAPA include Art for World Friendship [see DG 066: Art for World Friendship for more information], the Jane Addams Children's Book Award, and a variety of international conferences and scholarship programs.

Disarmament has been a major focus of WILPF activity through the years. In the 1950s, the U.S. Section advocated a bold program for total universal disarmament under the supervision of the United Nations. They supported measures leading toward this goal, such as cessation of nuclear weapons testing and the neutralization an eventual demilitarization of tension areas in Central Europe, the Middle East, the Far East, and Latin America. The U.S. Section supported international economic development to relieve human suffering and international problems caused by the low economic status of so much of the world. They preferred aid programs carried on through the United Nations and its specialized agencies, because they furnished safeguards against economic exploitation and lessened the fear of imperialistic aims.

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