Women and the Peace Movement

 

The Noordam, the ship which carried women delegates to the first International Congress of Women, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-71920

 

Women's Peace Party delegates, including Jane Addams, to the first International Congress of Women, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ggbain-18848

 

Women's International League of Peace and Freedom in Washington, DC,
Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-64236

As the threat of war loomed in Europe, women reformers increasingly involved themselves in the peace movement. Many women were involved in the American Union Against Militarism (AUAM), although it was a mixed-sex group. After the start of World War I, in 1915, Jane Addams, Carrie Chapman Catt, and other peace activists formed the Women’s Peace Party (WPP). Later that year, the WPP sent a delegation aboard the ship the Noordam to the first International Congress of Women, held at The Hague. The Congress created the Women’s International Committee for Permanent Peace, to meet after the war was over. In addition, the Congress voted to send delegations to the heads of neutral and belligerent countries. After meeting with officials from Austria-Hungary, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and Great Britain, the delegates developed a plan to broker peace among the warring nations. However, their plan was heavily dependent on the support of President Wilson, and Wilson refused to consider their proposals.

Many women were also involved with Henry Ford’s infamous “Peace Ship” undertaking. In 1915, Ford financed a ship to carry a delegation to Europe, to meet with others working for peace and convene a conference of neutrals to negotiate an armistice. Overall, the delegation was ineffective and heavily derided in the press.

In 1916, the AUAM and the WPP were able to stave off a war between the United States and Mexico. However, in 1917, the AUAM and the WPP were unable to prevent the United States from entering World War I on the side of the British and French. At this point, many peace groups splintered over whether to devote themselves to relief efforts or continue to oppose the war. Many pacifists, including Jane Addams, were attacked as unpatriotic traitors to the American war effort.

After the war, pacifists were hugely disappointed by the Treaty of Versailles and the failure of the United States to join the League of Nations. However, two important organizations did grow out of the women’s peace movement. With the support of Jane Addams, the AUAM developed into the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). In 1919, the Women’s International Committee for Permanent Peace developed into the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). Both organizations are still thriving today.

 

 

 

 

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