Emily Greene Balch


Emily Greene Balch was born to a prosperous Boston family. She went to private schools, graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 1889, and used a European Fellowship awarded by Bryn Mawr to study economics in Paris in 1890-1891 under Émile Levasseur and to write Public Assistance of the Poor in France (1893).  She completed her formal studies with scattered courses at Harvard and the University of Chicago and with a full year of work in economics in 1895-1896 in Berlin.

In 1896 she joined the faculty of Wellesley College, rising to the rank of professor of economics and sociology in 1913. An outstanding teacher, she impressed students by the clarity of her thought, by the breadth of her experience, by her compassion for the underprivileged, by her strong-mindedness, and by her insistence that students could formulate independent judgments only if they combined on-the-spot investigation with their research in the library. During these years she was a member of two municipal boards (one on children and one on urban planning) and of two state commissions (one on industrial education, the other on immigration).  She participated in movements for women's suffrage, for racial justice, for control of child labor, for better wages and conditions of labor.  Most notably, she published Our Slavic Fellow-Citizens (1910), a study of the main concentrations of Slavs in America and of the areas in Austria and Hungary from which they emigrated.  A pioneer of field work, the book reflected Balch’s personal commitment of thousands of dollars spent traveling in Eastern Europe and in Slavic settlements in the United States.

Although Balch had always been concerned with the problem of peace and had followed carefully the work of the two peace conferences of 1899 and 1907 at The Hague, she became convinced after the outbreak of World War I in 1914 that her lifework lay in furthering humanity's effort to rid the world of war. As a delegate to the International Congress of Women at The Hague in 1915, she played a prominent role in several important projects, including founding an organization called the Women's International Committee for Permanent Peace (later named the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom).  She also prepared peace proposals for consideration by the warring nations and served on a delegation of Americans who went to the Scandinavian countries and to Russia to urge their governments to initiate mediation offers. 

With Jane Addams and research physician Alice Hamilton, she published Women at The Hague: The International Congress of Women and Its Results (1915). Although Balch was not a member of Henry Ford's 1915 “Peace Ship,” she was a member of his Neutral Conference for Continuous Mediation, based at Stockholm.  She presented a position paper there, “International Colonial Administration,” proposing a system of self-governance for colonies that was not unlike the “mandate” system later used by the League of Nations.

Returning to the United States, Balch campaigned actively against America's entry into the conflict. She asked for an extension of her leave of absence from the faculty of Wellesley College, but the trustees in 1918 decided instead to terminate her contract. She accepted a position on the editorial staff of the liberal weekly, the Nation; wrote Approaches to the Great Settlement; attended the second convention of the International Congress of Women held in Zurich in 1919 and became secretary of its successor, the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF).  She moved to its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, which would be the center of her work for the next three decades. It was to the WILPF that Balch would donate her share of the Nobel Peace Prize money when she won that prize in 1946.

During the period between the wars, Balch put her talents at the disposal of governments, international organizations, and commissions of various types. She helped in one way or another with many projects of the League of Nations - among them, disarmament, the internationalization of aviation, drug control, the participation of the United States in the affairs of the League. In 1926 she served as a member of a WILPF committee appointed to investigate conditions in Haiti, garrisoned then by American Marines, and wrote most of Occupied Haiti, the committee's report. In the thirties she sought ways to help the victims of Nazi persecution.

Indeed, the Nazism caused Emily Balch to change her strong pacifistic views and to defend “fundamental human rights, sword in hand,”1 during World War II.  She also concentrated on generating ideas for peace, most of them characterized by the common denominator of internationalism; for example, the internationalization of important waterways, of aviation, of certain regions of the world.

In 1946, Emily Balch became the second American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.  At age 79, she continued, despite frail health, to participate in the cause to which she had given her life. She maintained her association with the WILPF, acting often in an honorary capacity; in 1959 she served as a co-chairman of a committee to mark the centenary of the birth of Jane Addams, a good comrade of days past and the first American woman to win the Peace Prize (in 1931).

She died at the age of ninety-four years and one day, demonstrating that she was as persistent physically as she was intellectually.

A member of the Society of Friends (Quakers), Balch was a delegate to the International Congress of Women, The Hague (1915), and she helped found the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, of which she was secretary-treasurer (1919-22, 1934-35). For opposing the United States' entry into World War I, she was dismissed from her professorship at Wellesley in 1918. Realizing the intractability of Nazi Germany and Japan, she approved U.S. participation in World War II. Her writings on peace include Approaches to the Great Settlement (1918).  An important collection of her work, Beyond Nationalism, was published posthumously in 1972.


Works Cited:

  • Emily Balch Greene. Our Slavic Fellow Citizens, (New York: Arno Press, 1969).
  • Mercedes M. Randall. Improper Bostonian: Emily Greene Balch, Nobel peace laureate, 1895-1977, (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1964).
  • Gayle J. Hardy. American Women Civil Rights Activists : Bibliographies of 68 leaders, 1825-1992, (Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland, 1993).