A Proud History of Women Advocating for Peace

By Safstrom, Sarah V. | National NOW Times, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

A Proud History of Women Advocating for Peace


Safstrom, Sarah V., National NOW Times


As the United States government moved closer to the position that war with Iraq was their only solution, NOW and Code Pink, an anti-war organization run by women, worked hard to gain support for peaceful alternatives to the war-hungry Bush posture.

Women have a long history of taking a stand against militarism and the culture of violence. Many women have spoken up and influenced the war machine by founding organizations that encourage peaceful demonstrations and pacifist philosophies. While the legacy of women's peace movements over the last century is inspiring, it is not well known or well documented. The NO W Times presents here a piece of that history.

Leading the Way

Jane Addams-a social reformer, pacifist and founder of Hull House-was appalled when she heard of the outbreak of World War I. In 1914, she led a women's peace parade in New York and encouraged women to stand up against those supporting the war.

In 1915, Addams and Carrie Chapman Catt, a central figure in the final years of the U.S. suffrage campaign, joined other pacifists in Washington, D.C., to rally support for the abolition of the war. Together they formed the Women's Peace Party and created a program for mediation between nations. Later that year, at a women's peace conference, what would eventually be called the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) was formed. They rejected the idea that war was inevitable and worked on plans to lay a basis for permanent peace worldwide.

Addams and other members of the newly-formed Women's Peace Party were attacked in the press by Theodore Roosevelt who described them as "hysterical pacifists" and called their proposals "both silly and base." Even today, conservatives and war hawks are not above name-calling, painting proponents for peace as un-American and Saddam-sympathizers.

Addams was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1931, for her work as a peace advocate. At the time people said she was "the right spokesman for all the peace-loving women of the world." In more modern terms she is the model for all people who believe in a world of peace through communication and understanding.

The Radicals

WILPF paved the way for the new organizations such as the Women's Committee for World Disarmament, formed in 1921. The Women's Committee was considered to be more radical than WILPF and was key in organizing coalitions and gaining public and financial support for disarmament.

The Chair of WILPF, Emma Wold, wrote a letter in August 1921 to Emily Balch, secretary of WILPF: "As women, we do not like to take to ourselves too much credit for what has been accomplished thus far. It is true, however, that at a time when men felt the futility of doing anything on the question of disarmament, the women took hold.... It rests with them to carry on the work so well begun."

Historically interesting, the Women's Committee for World Disarmament worked out of the Woodward Building in Washington, D.C., which is the current location of the NOW Action Center and also Code Pink.

Another radical organization, The Women's Peace Union (WPU), was also formed in 1921. The WPU pledged noncooperation with any war effort. In 1926, the members of the U.S. section of the WPU drafted an amendment that would make the waging of war unconstitutional. Tracy D. Mygatt, another absolute pacifist, worked with the WPU from its inception and was instrumental in advocating against the draft from 1939 to 1940.

Opposition to War Increases

Also in 1921, the women and men of the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) stood out in their opposition to war when they lobbied for peace to be taught in public schools so that children would learn of peaceful and non-violent solutions to world issues.

This year, in January, the San Francisco Unified School District unanimously approved a resolution condemning any U.S.-led war on Iraq and urged all schools to host a "public day of discussion" on the topic. …

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