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Women and Peace - Overview

Some of the great philosophers of peace, such as 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Gandhi, have seen hope for a peaceful world in the future because of the softening of masculine force by the feminine qualities of love, service, intuition, and moral power.

The women's movement is well on the way to healing a society so afflicted by militarism that it teeters on the brink of mass destruction.

Whereas war used to be a masculine "sport" for warriors, in the twentieth century the percentage of civilian deaths in war has steadily increased until now everyone is imperiled by the threat of nuclear holocaust.

At the same time women have become increasingly involved in actively working for peace, responding instinctively to nurture the human race for the sake of its survival.

In the late sixteenth century six Indian tribes were confederated into the Iroquois League for the sake of peace.

Nevertheless the warriors' desire for individual glory led to much fighting.

On at least one occasion the women organized a non cooperation campaign to stop a war in the same way that Aristophanes had dramatized it in his play Lysistrata.

Many people came to America for reasons of conscience and religious liberty, such as Roger Williams and later the pacifist Society of Friends.

In Boston Ann Hutchinson spoke so persuasively about conscience and inner spiritual guidance that she was brought to trial and banished from Massachusetts.

In 1657 this colony outlawed the Society of Friends.

Several Friends disobeyed the law and taught about the "Inner Light" in Massachusetts. Three of them were hanged for this "crime," including Mary Dyer.

Prior to the American Civil War many women were leaders in efforts to abolish slavery and attain women's rights.

The New England Non-Resistance Society formed in 1838 included Lucretia Mott, Sarah and Angelina Grimke, Lydia Maria Child, Maria Chapman, Abby Kelly, and Ann Weston.

Lucretia Mott was the mother of six and a strong Quaker.

She criticized conservative attitudes in the Religious Society of Friends and advocated not using the products of slavery.

When in 1833 William Lloyd Garrison organized the all-male American Antislavery Society in Philadelphia, Lucretia organized the Philadelphia Female Antislavery Society four days later.

Angelina and Sarah Grimke joined; as they began to address "mixed" audiences, the "woman question" arose.

The controversy erupted at the First Annual Convention of Antislavery Women on May 17, 1838 when a mob, angry that black and white-women were meeting together before a "promiscuous" audience of men and women, burned the new Pennsylvania Hall to the ground with the apparent approval of the mayor and the police.

From there the mob went to attack the Motts' home, but someone led them in the wrong direction.

Lucretia Mott had led the evacuation of the hall, suggesting that the women link arms in pairs of one white woman and one black woman.

She calmly awaited the mob at her home with her husband and their guests.

The next day the women met again and decided to increase their efforts.

At the following year's convention Lucretia refused police protection and ignored advice to keep the races apart on the streets.

A few months later, her bravery prevented an abolitionist friend from being tarred and feathered in Delaware.

She declared, "Take me, since I am the chief offender. I ask no favor for my sex."

In 1840 Lucretia Mott went to London for the World Antislavery Convention; even though she represented two organizations, she was not admitted.

However, she met Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and in 1848 they organized the Seneca Falls Convention for women's rights.

Lucretia Mott spoke always for the equal and balanced empowerment of women and men harmoniously blended so that "there would be less war, injustice, and intolerance in the world than now."

She remained an active Non-Resistant and pacifist even during the Civil War, supporting conscientious objectors and recommending only moral force.

Abby Kelly had an equal partnership with her husband, Stephen S. Foster; they alternated going on speaking tours and taking care of their child and the farm.

Once when they were both arrested in Ohio for handing out antislavery literature on the Sabbath, Abby refused to cooperate and was carried to jail.

After the Civil War they refused to pay taxes on their farm because women were not represented in government.

Civil disobedience was used by Susan B. Anthony and fifteen other women when they voted illegally in the election of 1872.

The National Woman's Suffrage Association, led by Anthony, encouraged tax refusal and public demonstrations as well as civil disobedience.

In England the suffragist movement was led by the militant Pankhurst family, using increasingly violent methods, such as burning buildings and planting bombs.

However, those in the non-militant National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies believed that nonviolent political pressure was a better method than falling into the "might is right" tactics of either side. When the world war broke out, most of the militants supported the war. Then many of the non-militants saw even more clearly how society was based on force. They decided that the work for women's rights was inseparable from peace. Many of these women joined Jane Addams at The Hague in 1915 to work for peace and international order.

Alice Paul managed to extract a militant but nonviolent approach from the Pankhursts' methods and taught it to Americans when she returned from England in 1910.

She formed the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage in 1913 and was chairperson until 1917 when it merged with the Woman's Party to become the National Woman's Party.

In January of that year she began the first major demonstration in front of the White House to demand that President Wilson keep his promise to work for a woman suffrage amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The vigil continued until May 22 when the police arrested 218 women.

The 97 imprisoned demanded to be treated as political prisoners, refusing to work and going on a hunger strike. In 1923 Alice Paul, who had three law degrees, wrote the first women's equal rights amendment to be introduced to Congress. In 1938 she founded the World Women s Party for Equal Rights which was able to get equal rights for women included in the United Nations Charter.

Jane Addams was born on September 6, 1860 in Cedarville, Illinois.

Her mother died before she was three, and she was raised by her father, who believed in Quaker principles and served eight terms in the Illinois Senate.

Illness interrupted Jane s medical studies.

Traveling to Europe she was impressed by Toynbee Hall in the slum of London.

In September 1889 she and her college friend, Ellen Gates Star, founded Hull House in Chicago to provide a social center for the poor working people in the neighborhood.

This was the beginning of the social settlement movement in the United States.

Hull House became a focal point for social reforms in child labor laws, protection of immigrants, labor unions, and working conditions as well as a meeting place for educational and cultural activities.

Her excellent book Twenty Years at Hull House describes this experience.

In Newer Ideals of Peace, published in 1907, Jane Addams criticized the militarism in city government, the inadequate responses of legislation to the needs of an industrial society, the lack of immigrants and women in local government, the inadequate protection of children, and the social problems in the labor movement.

Based on her experience in working with immigrants from various countries, she developed a cosmopolitan attitude which she called "cosmic patriotism."

She became an ardent internationalist and hoped that people could move beyond their narrow nationalist orientations toward a more universal human effort and affection.

Jane Addams was vice-president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association from 1911 to 1914; but when the war broke out in Europe, she devoted all her energies to working for peace.

In September 1914 Rosika Schwimmer, a Hungarian journalist and suffragist, came to America and spoke to President Wilson, Secretary of State Bryan, and then the general public about the United States intervening to negotiate a peace settlement.

Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, an English feminist, spoke at a suffrage rally in Carnegie Hall about organizing a woman's peace movement.

Crystal Eastman formed a woman's peace committee and suggested that Pethick-Lawrence contact Jane Addams in Chicago.

Carrie Chapman Catt also wrote Jane Addams a letter complaining that "the present management of the peace movement in this country is overmasculinized."

Addams agreed that women were the most eager for action, and she and Catt called a national conference of women's organizations.

They gathered in Washington on January 9, 1915 and formed the Woman's Peace Party with a very insightful program.

To stop the current war they suggested a conference of delegates from neutral nations or at least an unofficial conference of pacifists.

To make sure that the settlement terms would not sow the seeds of new wars they recommended self-determination and autonomy for all disputed territories, no war indemnities unless international law had been violated, and democratic control of foreign policy and treaty arrangements.

To secure world peace for the future they suggested the following: a "Concert of Nations" to replace the "balance of power" with an international congress, an international police force, and courts to settle all disputes between nations; an immediate and permanent League of Neutral Nations with binding arbitration, judicial, and legislative procedures and an international police force for protection; progressive national disarmament protected by the peace program; until disarmament is complete the nationalization of munitions manufacture; protection of private property at sea; international and national action to remove the economic causes of war; and the extension of democratic principles of self-government, including woman suffrage.

The national program for the United States included approval of the Peace Commission Treaties that require a year's investigation before any declaration of war, protest against the increase of armaments, and a recommendation that the President and U.S. Government set up a commission of men and women to work for the prevention of war.

Three thousand people attended the mass meeting, and Jane Addams was elected chairman. National headquarters was established in Chicago, and within a year 25,000 women had joined.

Crystal Eastman felt that the reason for having a Woman's Peace Party "is that women are mothers, or potential mothers, therefore have a more intimate sense of the value of human life and that, therefore, there can be more meaning and passion in the determination of a woman's organization to end war than in an organization of men and women with the same aim."

In an article for Survey Crystal Eastman explained how the Woman's Peace Congress at The Hague was organized by the Dutch suffragist Aletta Jacobs, "one of a group of 'international' women who are challenging public opinion with the idea of world union for peace."

The Woman Suffrage Alliance meeting scheduled for Berlin had to be canceled because of the war.

Instead, Dr. Jacobs called a meeting in February 1915 at Amsterdam to plan a larger congress of individuals to focus on methods of bringing about peace.

Leaders from Belgium, Germany, and Britain met with their Dutch hostesses and issued a call for an international Congress of Women at The Hague on April 28; they invited Jane Addams to preside.

Representatives of over 150 organizations from twelve countries gathered that spring of 1915. 1 136 women voted to adopt twenty resolutions.

These were similar to the program of the Woman's Peace Party.

In addition they decided to urge the neutral countries to offer continuous mediation for a peace settlement between the belligerent nations, and they selected envoys to approach the different governments.

Jane Addams, Aletta Jacobs, and the Italian Rosa Genoni went to Austro-Hungary, Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland. Emily Balch, Chrystal Macmillan, Cor Ramondt Hirschmann, and Rosika Schwimmer were sent to the Scandinavian countries and Russia. In Sweden alone 343 meetings were held on June 27, and The Hague resolutions were signed by 88,784 women. In August Jane Addams met with President Wilson who said that the resolutions were the best formulation he had seen so far.

Leaders of the belligerent governments declared that they had no objection to a conference of neutral nations, even though they could not ask for mediation. Three out of five neutral European nations were ready to join in such a conference, while the other two were still deliberating. By fall, all the leading belligerent nations were willing to cooperate in a Neutral Conference, and the neutrals Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Holland were eager to participate if the conference were to be called by the United States. Unfortunately the U.S. declined for the reasons that Latin American countries could not be ignored nor was there room for many of them to participate and that the Central Powers had the technical military advantage at that time. Another neutral country would offer to call the conference if the United States would attend, but this made no difference. Even 10,000 telegrams to President Wilson from woman's organizations were of no avail.

In January 1916 the Woman's Peace Party became the United States section of the international organization which came to be named the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. Henry Ford donated a chartered ship to take women to Europe for a private Neutral Conference which was held in Stockholm on January 26. They formulated further appeals to the neutral and belligerent nations to begin mediation.

Crystal Eastman started in November 1915 the "Truth About Preparedness Campaign" sponsored by the Woman's Peace Party and the American Union Against Militarism. She revealed the economic exploitation behind the industrialists' propaganda for military increases through public debates and numerous articles. In the summer of 1916 AUAM's private investigation of the facts in Mexico and massive publicity campaign prevented the United States from entering into a misguided war with Mexico. In 1917 Crystal Eastman and Roger Baldwin founded the American Civil Liberties Union to protect human rights. After America entered the war, Eastman and other radicals struggled for an early peace, opposed conscription, universal military training, and other repressive legislation; they sponsored classes led by pacifists such as Norman Angell and Emily Green Balch. Disappointed by Wilson's entering into the war, Jane Addams turned her efforts to the struggle for food. She urged international cooperation and demanded that food blockades, still in place after the armistice, be immediately lifted. She felt that women could do much for international organization especially in regard to such a basic issue as food for survival.

In 1919 the International Congress of Women held in Zurich criticized the peace terms for sanctioning secret agreements, denying self-determination, giving spoils to the victors, creating discord in Europe, demanding disarmament only for the losing side, and condemning a hundred million people to poverty, disease, despair, hatred, and anarchy because of the economic proposals. They welcomed a League of Nations, which four years earlier had seemed so unrealistic to many, but they criticized the plan for varying from Wilson's fourteen points.

As the League of Nations was forming, the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) established its headquarters in Geneva where they kept a close watch on the League of Nations Assembly and Secretariat. WILPF helped to publicize its proceedings and offered frequent criticism. In lectures Jane Addams urged the United States to participate in the World Court. In 1924 WILPF suggested that governments agree to the compulsory jurisdiction of the Permanent Court of International Justice. Their Congress held in Washington that year also recommended better education to avoid mass-suggestion, the abolition of capital punishment and the improvement of prisons, and a better balance of influence between men and women.

The 1929 WILPF Congress in Prague warned that modern warfare threatened civilian populations and that the only way to safety is disarmament. The Zurich Congress of 1934 formulated aims that became WILPF policy for the next quarter century. The primary goals read: "Total and universal disarmament, the abolition of violent means of coercion for the settlement of all conflicts, the substitution in every case of some form of peaceful settlement, and the development of a world organization for the political, social and economic co-operation of peoples." In addition they committed themselves to studying and alleviating the causes of war by nonviolent social reform.

When Chamberlain appeased Hitler in 1938 at Munich, WILPF issued this strong response:

It is a sham peace based on the violation of law, justice and right. It is a so-called 'peaceful change' dictated by four Powers and forced upon a young and small State, which was not represented when its dismemberment was finally decided upon.

The International Chairmen of WILPF sent out an appeal to help Czechoslovakia financially and economically. In it they declared that pacifism is "not the quietistic acceptance of betrayal and lies" but the struggle for truth, right, clear political aims, and the "courageous initiative for a constructive policy of just peace."

In 1951 WILPF considered a plan for a nonviolent national defense along Gandhian lines to deter aggression without the disadvantages and dangers of armaments. They discovered that the following nonviolent principles must be understood by the people before this can work on a national scale:

Recognition that violence breeds violence; upholding truth before prestige; acceptance of the principle of equal rights; freedom of conscience and of information; strengthening of altruistic rather than materialistic values.

In recent years WILPF has supported the United Nations, and criticized the Korean War, nuclear arms and testing, civil rights violations, the Vietnam War, and the nuclear arms race. In March 1983 WILPF representatives visited the NATO governments to protest the deployment of more nuclear weapons in Europe. WILPF remains perhaps the largest, most international and influential of all the women's peace organizations.

Another great peacemaker and social reformer was Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker. Dorothy was born in Brooklyn on November 8, 1897. A scholarship helped her to attend the University of Illinois where she joined a socialist group. Her family moved back to New York, and she was soon mixing as a writer and activist with Eugene O'Neill, John Reed, Louise Bryant, and Max Eastman. She wrote for The Masses until it was suppressed.

In 1917 she went to Washington to picket the White House with the suffragists. She was arrested and bailed out. When the thirty-five of them appeared in court, they were convicted; but their sentencing was postponed. That afternoon they picketed and were arrested again, going through the same procedure. The third time they refused to pay bail. The leaders were sentenced to six months, the older women to fifteen days, and the rest, including Dorothy, to thirty days. They demanded to be treated as political prisoners and went on a hunger strike for ten days until their demands were met.

For many years Dorothy Day worked as a free-lance writer. She published a novel and even sold its movie rights. She raised her daughter, and in 1928 she became a Catholic. She and Peter Maurin began the Catholic Worker movement in the depths of the depression. They began publishing a newspaper called The Catholic Worker in May 1933. About twenty people moved into a house on the west side of New York; they fed the hungry and clothed the needy. Soon "houses of hospitality" were being started in Boston, Rochester, Milwaukee, and other cities. They lived in voluntary poverty, practicing Christ's teachings.

During World War II Day wrote in The Catholic Worker about the immorality of conscription, and she urged Catholics to be conscientious objectors. In 1955 she organized a civil disobedience protest against New York City's compulsory air raid drill. Each year a small group spent a few days in jail for this purpose. "We wanted to act against war and getting ready for war: nerve gas, germ warfare, guided missiles, testing and stockpiling of nuclear bombs, conscription, the collection of income tax-against the entire militarism of the state." They did this every year until in 1961, after 2,000 people refused to take shelter, the city decided to drop the requirement.

On April 22, 1963 the Mothers for Peace, a group made up of Catholic Workers, members of Pax, Women Strike for Peace, WILPF, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and others, met with Pope John XXIII to plead for a condemnation of nuclear war and the development of nonviolent resistance. Dorothy Day also participated in the civil rights movement at this time, traveling to Danville, Virginia to pray, march, boycott, and suffer imprisonment for the rights of black people. During the Vietnam War she inspired the radical Catholic Left to protest. She continued to oppose conscription and taxes for war, and in 1965 she spoke at a draft card burning. At the age of 75 she was arrested for picketing with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers Union and spent twelve days in jail. The continuing Catholic Worker movement is her great legacy.

The tremendous influence of feminism on the peace movement in the sixties and seventies is perhaps best typified by Barbara Deming. Writing for The Nation and Liberation magazines she described her participation in various nonviolent protest movements. She visited Cuba and North Vietnam and reported the viewpoints of the other side. She explained the philosophy and methods of the Committee ,for Nonviolent Action (CNVA) and their recommendation of unilateral disarmament to all countries including the Soviet Union. In her account of the San Francisco to Moscow walk the mirror images of Russian and American fears and defense policies were revealed. At the same time the person-to-person effectiveness of nonviolent direct action was eloquently portrayed. By walking for peace in the South she combined the quest for civil rights and justice with peace and nonviolence. She was arrested for civil disobedience in Birmingham, Alabama and Albany, Georgia. During the Vietnam War she lectured and wrote about the atrocities the United States was perpetrating against the Vietnamese people. She particularly pointed out the Lazy Dog bombs that are ineffective against the "steel and concrete" targets but are designed to enter flesh. She told of how schools, hospitals, and homes were being bombed unmercifully.

Barbara Deming became a strong advocate of nonviolent revolution as the most effective way to transform a violent and oppressive society. Although she sympathizes with revolutionaries who feel the need for violent methods of liberation, she argues that in nonviolent struggle there will be fewer casualties. She acknowledges that in standing up to violent power, some suffering is inevitable. Yet she believes that the nonviolent action of assertive noncooperation with the oppressors can be as strong and effective as violent struggle while maintaining the respect for everyone's human rights. She writes, "This is how we stand up for ourselves nonviolently: we refuse the authorities our labor, we refuse them our money (our taxes), we refuse them our bodies (to fight in their wars). We strike." She goes on to recommend blocking, obstructing, and disrupting the operation of a system in which people are not free. At the same time the adversary is confronted, his rights are respected, and he is made to examine his conscience about what is just. A violent response to a nonviolent action further reveals the injustice and loses sympathy from allies and supporters. Deming believes that nonviolent methods have barely begun to be used with their full power.

Like Andrea Dworkin, Deming came to believe that nonviolence must be combined with radical feminism, for the patriarchal male dominance over submissive women pervades the entire society in deeply ingrained ways. Women and everyone in the peace movement must insist on the equality of the sexes and live the revolution in their personal lives. Feminism and pacifism have much in common. Caroline Wildflower describes how feminism has improved the peace movement. She describes how in the sixties the male leaders were reluctant to give women shared leadership. Instead, women were assigned to secretarial work. When the Women's Movement started raising the consciousness about these injustices in society, changes began to happen in spite of the resistance of habit. Not only were the authorities and hierarchies of society being challenged, but the same structures within the peace groups were being scrutinized and criticized by empowered women. The results of this continuing evolution are that the group processes are becoming more egalitarian, jobs are rotated so that everyone is broadened, women are expressing an equal voice with more emotional power, men are becoming more sensitive to their own feminine qualities, and a more healthy overall balance is emerging.

In the eighties the military buildup under President Reagan is stimulating the peace movement to mobilize. Women, minorities, and the poor have been neglected while the Pentagon budget accelerates. The issues have become especially obvious to women when increased expenditures on nuclear weapons, missiles, bombers, submarines, aircraft carriers, etc. are compared to decreases in education, health, job training, family aid, food, housing, energy, civil rights, environmental protection, etc. The five-year military budget for the U.S. alone is projected at 1.6 trillion dollars. World military expenditures average $19,300 per soldier while public education spending averages $380 per student. The governmental budgets of the Western powers allot four times as much money to military research as they do to health research. The world in 1982 spent 1800 times as much on military forces as it did on international peacekeeping. In April 1982 the Women's Pentagon Action Unity Statement included the following:

Our cities are in ruin, bankrupt; they suffer the devastation of war. Hospitals are closed, our schools deprived of books and teachers. Our Black and Latino youth are without decent work. They will be forced, drafted to become cannon fodder for the very power that oppresses them. Whatever help the poor receive is cut or withdrawn to feed the Pentagon which needs about $500,000,000 a day for its murderous health.... We women are gathering because life on the precipice is intolerable.

Many women, such as Ann Davidon, speak about breaking through the "macho mental barrier" and demilitarizing society by shifting resources to useful production. Sally Gearhart believes "the rising up of women in this century to be the human race's response to the threat of its own self-annihilation and the destruction of the planet." She calls upon the world's women to take the responsibility for sustaining life.

The women's peace movement is truly international. In October 1981 over a thousand women from 133 countries met in Prague, Czechoslovakia on the themes Equality, National Independence, and Peace. They all agreed that the nuclear arms race must be stopped and that women and men of good will can prevent nuclear war. The Women's International Democratic Federation (WIDF) reports on the activities of the women's peace movement in Europe and the Soviet Union. Hundreds of thousands of women are protesting the danger of war, not only in western Europe but in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union as well. The Soviet Women's Committee reports that during the last week of October 1982 Action for Disarmament was celebrated in the USSR by fifty million people with over 80,000 events in protest of the arms race. According to WIDF, in the spring of 1982 women demonstrated for peace in Angola, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Finland, West Germany (800,000 citizens), East Germany (77,000 women), Great Britain (100,000), Greece, Italy, Japan (30,000 in Tokyo on Easter), Jemen, Mauritius, Mozambique (20,000 women), Nicaragua (100,000), Netherlands, New Zealand (20,000 women), Poland, Soviet Union, Sweden, and the USA. Women's peace camps have been established at Greenham Common in England and at Seneca, New York.

If men through their aggression, power urges, and rigid stubbornness have caused war after war, then women through their love, nurturing, and flexibility can help us to learn how to prevent wars in order to save our civilization. Western civilization in the twentieth century has become pathologically destructive, endangering all life. Much therapy and healing is needed to cure the disease of masculine militarism. Feminist nonviolence is clearly the remedy recommended by the greatest of the peacemakers. Our society as a whole and each person individually must learn to revere the loving, sensitive, caring, empathetic qualities of our being. Women are excellent teachers of peace in this process that will evolve into a balanced, healthy, integrated, and just society. Feminism has enabled women to take their rightful place in the anti-nuclear movement, thus strengthening the power and health of the peace movement.