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The Longest Living Women's Peace Organization in World History: The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, 1915 to the Present

Harriet Hyman Alonso

City College and CUNY Graduate Center


   From April 28 to May 1, 1915, a group of suffragists who deplored the outbreak of war in Europe met as the International Congress of Women at The Hague to address the issues of peace making, sustainable peace, and women's roles and rights within that framework. From that meeting came the International Committee of Women for Permanent Peace. In 1919, at the time of the Versailles peace meetings which officially ended World War I, the women regrouped in Zurich to form their permanent new organization, the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (or WILPF as it is known the world over). As the longest lived women's peace organization in history, WILPF has demonstrated that women are key to the global conversations on what defines peace and how to create and maintain it. The issues raised in 1915 are still relevant and most visible in the passage in 2000 of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 which, for the first time, positions women as peace makers and outlines ways to hold nations accountable for the victimization of women in local, national, and international conflicts.[1]

The Major Themes in WILPF's History

   The proceedings of almost all of WILPF's international congresses found in this database will make it possible for historians, peace activists, students, and, indeed, any interested party to be able to trace the history of this major women's peace organization. It will also give insights into the organization's debates over women's roles and responsibilities; the definition of pacifism and the influence it has had in the group's policies; the organization's collaboration with other peace workers and how specific groups were either chosen or rejected as partners, and, of great importance, WILPF's involvement in international affairs, including those issues which caused some conflict among its members.

   It will also be possible to trace the evolution of the organization and to document how it changed over time. WASM International also includes a small selection of other materials (branch statements, letters, fliers, books, articles, etc.) that offer a sample of the in-depth discussions and activities which occurred in the organization at specific moments in time. Some of these will be noted as this essay progresses. Further correspondence and papers of local WILPF branches and national sections rest in such archives as the Swarthmore College Peace Collection; the University of Colorado at Boulder; the New York Public Library; and Smith College in the United States, and several other institutions around the world including Aletta, Institute for Women's History in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Study of the international congress proceedings, however, opens up the way for a global approach to WILPF's history.

   Like any organization reaching its centennial, WILPF has had to shift and evolve with the historical times. However, throughout its years and its growth throughout the world, it has maintained its focus on specific themes, all of which add up to the necessity for human rights for all people. Wrapped into its basic feminist program is WILPF's belief in the end of racism, ethnocentrism, religious hatred, and any other means of dividing and oppressing the world's people. Of primary importance is the organization's commitment to ending violence against women from the personal to the global levels. WILPF women have always contended that violence against women has been a root effect of militarization and war. Violence, in this view, is not just physical. It is psychological, economic, political, and practical as well.

   Second is WILPF's belief that one of women's primary responsibilities is to see that children are protected. As in the case of women, it has addressed various forms of violence committed against children from modern-day slavery and exploitation to poverty and starvation.

   Third is the organization's belief that only through citizenship rights can women make an impact as peacemakers. Throughout its history, therefore, WILPF has supported such political advancements as women's right to vote, to receive an education equal to that available to men, to hold public office, and to be active participants and decision-makers in world affairs. In addition, WILPF has asserted that women must have the ability to support themselves economically.

   Fourth is the belief that all women have the responsibility to act upon their role as citizens. They have to be knowledgeable about local, national, and world affairs. Then they must put that knowledge to work by running for office, speaking for or against government policies, educating the public on issues of concern, and pushing for changes in local, national, and international arenas that will lead to a peaceful and just world.

   With these themes in mind, this essay will highlight some dimensions of WILPF's ideology and actions over time, although it will concentrate on specific concerns about women and children. Hopefully, these items will help guide those looking through the documents in the database in further exploring the life of the organization.

The Founding of WILPF, 1915 and 1919

   The women who gathered at the International Congress of Women at The Hague in the spring of 1915 knew each other well.[2] For the most part, they were suffragists who met every other year to share ideas on how to obtain the vote for the world's women. At that time, the "world" largely referred to women in the United States and Europe and perhaps upper-class or colonialist women living in South America, India, the Middle East, China, or Japan. This composition was reflected in the fact that for many years, each section of the WILPF international congress reports appeared in English, French, and German. Because the outbreak of the European conflict in August, 1914, prohibited the suffragists' planned meeting in Berlin, a few women, headed by Aletta Jacobs of the Netherlands, got together and planned a separate congress of the same constituency to address the war. The organizers asked Jane Addams, one of the most respected social reformers of her time, to chair the meeting, especially since the United States was neutral in 1915 and therefore, Addams's presence would represent the desire for the participants not to take sides. At the conclusion of the Congress, Addams was elected President of the newly-formed International Committee of Women for Permanent Peace.[3]

   As the Bericht-Rapport-Report of the International Congress of Women at The Hague, 28th April-May 1, 1915 reflects, the meeting was a great success. Well over 1,000 women (and a smattering of men) attended. There would have been more, but a contingent of English women were denied permission to attend; a group of French women refused to come as they felt it unpatriotic in a time of war; and several German and Austrian women also could not get to the Netherlands.[4] However, there were a number of women who participated by sending letters and proposals, all encouraging the congress to put forward a strong peace platform complete with protections of women embroidered into it. For example, included in the congress report was a poignant letter from Chicago, Illinois (USA) addressing the urgent concern about violence against women in time of war. It concluded, "We pray your conference to speak out, voicing the age-long horror and fear of women of America, Asia, Africa and Europe, in the hope that later, men gathered in official conference at The Hague may also condemn and take action to protect the mothers of men from outrage." (pp. 299-305, pp. 6-7 on line). It is well worth reading the entire letter as it articulates this most important WILPF concern. At the end of the few days of meetings, the congress voted to send two delegations to visit specific European leaders and then President Woodrow Wilson in the hopes that they could convince these powerful men to establish a structure by which to achieve neutral mediation.

   This founding WILPF congress established the future organization's themes: violence against women; the need to protect and educate children, especially about peaceful coexistence; the importance of the vote and participation in citizenship, and opinions about such foreign policy issues as self-determination, universal disarmament, and international law were all wrapped up in the resolutions. And so was the plan to reconvene at the end of the conflict at the same time and place that the world leaders met to write the peace treaty.[5]

   However, in 1919, the women were unable to obtain permission to meet at Versailles where the world's leaders were hammering out their peace treaty. As an alternative, they chose Zurich where once again they reiterated their 1915 Hague program. In an attempt to gain legitimacy in the new world order, they strengthened their original statements on citizenship, incorporating their other concerns under its wing. The Report of the International Congress of Women, Zurich, May 12-17, 1919, clearly shows this concern for citizenship rights. As the chair of the Swiss section and member of the newly-created Board of Officers, Clara Ragaz, said in her "Address of Welcome," "It is a debatable question even among us women, whether the enfranchisement of women will in itself be a weapon for the prevention of future wars. But even if we may hold different opinions on that head, it seems to me that one thing is undeniable, that is that woman can only come into her full inheritance in a state, or a community life, which is founded not on force but on justice, for where mere force dominates, the lesser part will always fall to her share."

   Resolutions representing the women's hopes about future work of the newly-created League of Nations included a wide variety of issues concerning women and children. At the top of the list was the demand that women be eligible for all positions in the League and that child labor be universally eliminated (#8, 9, 10, 13). In addition, a report specifically addressing "matters affecting the status of women"(pp. 256-258 in document, pp. 7-9 on line) called for a number of changes, including suffrage, equality, civil rights in marriage, child custody, education, job advancement, equal pay, an end to trafficking in women, pay for mothers, and the provision of food during war or labor strikes. What the women really wanted was for the League of Nations to include their proposals in a "Women's Charter" added to the peace treaty. This did not happen.[6]

   At the conclusion of the conference, the women officially changed their name from the International Committee of Women for Permanent Peace to the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF).

The Interwar Years

   Between World Wars I and II, there were many governmental and social movement efforts to establish structures to avoid war. In fact, this was in many ways a unique period in history as peace organizations flourished (especially in the 1920s); the popular voice expressed its horror over the death, mutilations, and destruction of the First World War; and governments attempted to establish treaties, set limits on arms production, and establish international protocols through the League of Nations and the World Court.[7] Although women could already vote in Australia, New Zealand, Norway, and Finland, after World War I women gained the vote in the United States, Great Britain (with qualifications), Denmark, Germany, Russia, and many other European nations. WILPF worked tirelessly during this period, joining the efforts of other recently-formed groups including the War Resisters International, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and socialist and/or communist organizations who wrapped peace into their platforms as part of a wider political cause.[8]

   It is interesting to note that during this period of escalating fear of the spread of fascism, communism, and imperialism, WILPF's language and program shifted from a rhetoric of feminist citizenship rights to one of human rights and disarmament. This change may have resulted from several factors, including the achievement of woman suffrage in the nations of WILPF's key leaders, the death of Jane Addams in 1935, and the growing conviction that a second world war was on the horizon making international politics more urgent.

   It was also during this period that WILPF established its international headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, the home of the League of Nations. Although Jane Addams was voted as its first president and, therefore, much of the organization's work was filtered through the United States, the fledgling organization began to grow. Addams, herself, made journeys around the world, finding particular support in Japan, the Pacific Islands, India, and the Americas. Local WILPF branches were established and communication networks developed through the Geneva office.

   A prime example of WILPF's effective outreach was the petition drive for universal disarmament which circulated for the League of Nations 1932 Disarmament meetings in Geneva. The six million signatures WILPF women collected for this meeting represented women from all over the world. Another good example was the "People's Mandate" campaign begun in September, 1935, by US WILPF. Women from many nations collected signatures for petitions calling for a reduction in arms. For a good example of this work as of May, 1936, see the document entitled, "People's Mandate to Governments, May 15, 1936, by Madame Camille Drevet (Paris, France)." Photographs of two WILPF meetings with League of Nations officials appear in "WILPF Presenting Peace Proposals to League of Nations, 1926" and "Presenting WILPF Peace Proposals at the League of Nations, 1931."

   In addition to involving itself in lobbying the League of Nations for arms control, WILPF also continued to actively encourage League of Nations initiatives regarding the sexual trade in women, workers' rights, citizenship and the vote, and, of course, the inclusion of women on League of Nations committees and as national representatives. Most of these efforts did not succeed because of misogyny on the part of the men in power and the growing threat of fascism and impending war, but they set the pattern for continued WILPF work after World War II.

   A brief look at three WILPF international congresses during this period will make the organization's evolving emphases clear. First is the 1921 Third International Congress, held in Vienna, Austria. (Note that The Hague congress of 1915 was the "first" and the Zurich meeting of 1919 was the "second.") Jane Addams, for example, maintained her belief in the power of the role of mothers as peacemakers. As she put it in her Presidential Address, "we venture to assert that war is not a natural activity for mankind; that it is very abnormal both from the biological and ethical point of view... . Because this world war mobilized not only armies but entire populations, the world has seen as never before, what war means in the lives of little children in every country of the world, not only those actually engaged in war. We, therefore, have a right to believe that the women of the world... will be roused to a sense of their age-long obligation to nurture children, to keep them alive, and to bring them to a useful living. When they realize fully that war destroys everything that mothers have begun, there may be unloosed a tremendous force against war."(pp. 2-3 in document, pp. 2-3 online)

   Equally reminiscent of the spirit of The Hague and Zurich congresses were the words of welcome spoken by Yella Hertzka of the hosting Austrian WILPF section. "We have experienced that it takes courage to remain faithful under all conditions to the most primitive human right, the right of good-will and peaceableness ... the women who are now in possession of political rights must use them above all for introducing the principle of love of humanity into politics."(pp. 15-16 in document, pp. 2-3 online)

   Much of the rest of the 1921 congress report echoed earlier concerns for disarmament, self-determination, and protection of the rights of national minorities. However, for the first time in an official document, WILPF voiced a definition of pacifism. This came out of a debate brought to the group by Fanny Garrison Villard, an influential U.S. WILPF member who believed in the philosophy of non-resistance and total non-cooperation with any military-like endeavor. "WILPF's resolution stated: This international Congress of Women, recognizing that a strike of women against war of all kinds can only be effective if taken up internationally, urges the National Sections to work for an international agreement between women to refuse their support of war in money, work, or propaganda." (pp. 260 in document, pp. 6 online) The following resolution accepted non-resistance as the organization's principle but stated it was by individual choice and not binding on national sections.

    WILPF's seventh congress, held in Grenoble in May, 1932, took place after the women's efforts peaked at the League of Nations Disarmament Conference in Geneva. The subject of the congress, "World Disarmament or World Disaster," illustrated the organization's growing panic over the direction of world affairs. The short seventy-four page report spelled out WILPF's identification as a women's organization (as opposed to a strictly women's rights organization) while placing primary emphasis on its role as a peace organization. In the Report of the Seventh Congress of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Grenoble, May 15 to 19th, 1932, the organization's "Principles" stated, "In the anxious days when the fate of the world seems to hang in the balance and violence is growing in many directions throughout the world..." women reaffirmed their belief "against violence and oppression of every kind; whether employed between different nations, classes or individuals and whether under the influence of Fascism or Communism or any other system of government ...

   "The WILPF aims at uniting women in all countries who are opposed to every kind of war, exploitation and oppression and who work for universal disarmament and for the solution of conflicts by the recognition of human solidarity, by conciliation and arbitration, by world co-operation, and by the establishment of social, political and economic justice for all, without distinction of race, class or creed."[9]

   Finally, the ninth congress in 1937 in Luhacovice, Czechoslovakia, addressed foreign affairs to the exclusion of any specific women's issues. Major topics included "Base of a New International Order," "Internationalisation of the Mediterranean," "Internationalisation of Civil Aviation," "State Sovereignty," "Development and Extension of International Arbitration," "Towards a Real League of Nations," and "Total and Universal Disarmament." The resolutions condemned the actions of Francisco Franco in Spain and urged the League of Nations to take a stand on the removal of all foreign troops from that beleaguered nation. The Italian invasion and occupation of Ethiopia, the Japanese invasion of China, the right of asylum for political refugees from Germany and Italy, and even the unjust treatment of the Scottsboro Boys in the United States were all addressed.

World War II and its Aftermath

   In September, 1939, war began in Europe. Although the next WILPF congress did not take place until after the war in 1946, the organization's members carried on, especially in the United States where members tried to assist WILPFers or acquaintances seeking escape from Nazi repression. The database includes several documents of interest, including a series of letters in 1939 between Emily Greene Balch and Ellen Starr Brinton about aid for three families in Czechoslovakia. Also of interest is Executive Director Dorothy Detzer's The Pacifist in Wartime published by WILPF/US in 1942 and Dorothy Hutchinson's "The War Record of a Pacifist: World War II Diary, Partial."

   World War II was a disaster for WILPF and other peace and justice organizations. In fascist-controlled countries in Europe and in Asia (especially Japan where WILPF had taken root), the organization was banned and its members persecuted. Some WILPF leaders met their deaths in Nazi concentration camps; others spent time in Japanese prisons; still others fled their homelands for safety in other countries. Often, their persecution was linked with WILPF; their suffrage, pacifist, and women's rights work, or their speaking out against human rights violations. In countries at war, membership declined, many women feeling it was disloyal and perhaps dangerous to work for peace when the nation was involved in a legally declared war. The small cadre of vocal members still brave enough to step forward did so, especially in the United States where, safe from invasion, women spoke out against racial discrimination in the military, the internment of Japanese Americans, and rejection of Jewish refugees seeking asylum.[10]

   Once the war was over, the organization began to rebuild. One of the most important developments was WILPF's involvement in the burgeoning United Nations in which it became one of the first NGOs (non-governmental organizations) with official observer status. In addition, WILPF was one of the earliest organizations, along with the U.S.'s SANE (Society for a Sane Nuclear Policy), and the British CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) to express its horror over the use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, 1945, and to warn of the dangers of a possible nuclear arms race and health effects of radiation poisoning.

   The Tenth International Congress of WILPF, held in Luxemburg in August, 1946, directly expressed the organization's concerns over "A New World Order?" As Emily Greene Balch, the Honorary President, put forward in her "Greeting," WILPF needed to face the future with strength, optimism, and a good dose of new and younger members. It should not concentrate attention "on the recent revelations of the depths of evil to which human beings can descend. To do so leads to stumbling feet, weakness and discouragement." Rather, members "must draw a deep breath and fill ourselves with the fresh air of courage and confidence, of a sober gladness, a love which is universal and all-embracing without losing its vivid personal quality."

   The most timely and important discussion at this congress took place after Mildred Scott Olmstead of the United States addressed the question, "Shall the W.I.L.P.F. continue or dissolve?" Olmstead posed a strong argument for the organization's continuation, stressing its already impressive history as a women's organization which utilized women's unique strengths to work for peace and justice for all people. As she stated: "1. Women are more important even than before---but not equally so in all countries. 2. Peace is more important even than before---but this is not equally recognized in all countries. 3. Work against oppression and exploitation between---nation and nation, race and race, class and class---is more essential even than before." Even though WILPF had "never been a very large organization and probably shall never be a mass movement," Olmstead pointed out, "we have an influence on women, on governments and on other organizations which is far greater than our numbers indicate." Finally, she reiterated WILPF's long-standing commitment, as what the initial organizers called "the mother half of humanity," to children: "Women ... are by nature more concerned than men with the conservation of life and the creation of conditions under which children may grow up safely and happily. An international organization which can bring the women of the world together to exchange information and ideas and to make plans is urgently needed."

   Needless to say, the entire group of Congress attendees-- over two hundred women from twenty countries--voted to maintain the organization and, especially, "to affirm its adherence to the necessity of firmly maintaining respect for the human rights of each individual, friend or ex-enemy alike, and its earnest desire that not only liberty but goodwill shall govern the action and thought of all national sections."

The 1950s through the 1970s

   The 1950s through the 1970s were unsettling decades in the world's history. It was a time when the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union took its true shape, especially after the USSR's successful atomic bomb test in October, 1949, made a nuclear arms race inevitable. With the Cold War came the repression of free speech in many areas of the world. Fear of being blacklisted or imprisoned in the United States, eastern and western Europe, and the Soviet Union silenced many activists and, therefore, the 1950s was not a good time for WILPF growth in these nations. However, work did not stop. In spite of the hostile international climate, women from opposing nations reached out to each other. The database's 1954 “Journey of Friendship” letters make for interesting reading on this subject. WILPF women spoke for the majority of people who did not want to see a possible nuclear war that could end the world or severely damage it or conventional wars serving as proxy actions between the two major super powers. Therefore, as in the past, disarmament, international arms agreements, and the end of military confrontations and interventions played an important role in the organization's program. Protesting the nuclear arms race became a particular mainstay of the group's work.

   Another aspect of the 1950s was the move of colonized nations toward independence. WILPF often spoke out in favor of these smaller nations, cultivating relationships with women leaders and organizations struggling for their freedom. The organization spoke out against colonial intrusion and military activity everywhere in the world, whether, in Asia, Africa, South America, South Asia, the Middle East, or Europe. In fact, in August, 1953, at its twelfth international congress, WILPF became one of the first international organizations to speak out against French and then U.S. intervention in Vietnam. In addition, WILPF lobbied in the United Nations for support through UNESCO and UNICEF for developing nations, especially in terms of providing food, shelter, and health care to children.

   After World War II, WILPF held international congresses somewhat irregularly. Rather, national sections were linked through correspondence, newsletters, and eventually through computer technologies. International congresses met every two, three, or four years, settling on Triennial Congresses as of 1970, the first year the group met outside of the "West." But the congress reports indicate that the organization remained alive and very active. During the early Cold War years, however, the organization's rhetoric clearly took on a human rights rather than women's rights tone, even to the extent that congress reports referred to "man" and "human rights for men" rather than using words which would not exclude women. The result was that WILPF became a women's organization without a particularly feminist program. One of the few times that women's rights were explicitly mentioned was in a resolution adopted by the Fourteenth International Congress which met in Sweden in 1959, which stated. "We regard as a matter of great importance the increased participation of women in governmental and community life, and accordingly urge immediate grant of the right of suffrage to women in those countries where they have no vote at present and the increased acceptance by women of their political responsibility where participation in government is possible. Women in government could not only make a real contribution to their nation's political life but should also have an especial interest in eliminating existing inequality and discrimination based on sex, and in ensuring that the rights of children are adequately safeguarded."

   The 1960s and 1970s proved a bit friendlier for WILPF organizers as people the world over joined movements for free speech, independence for small colonized nations, an end to imperialism, the cessation of above ground testing of nuclear weapons, and equality and justice for the many political prisoners the world over.[11] At this time, they were joined in their work by other women's international organizations, such as Women Strike for Peace which included a fair number of WILPF members in its ranks. However, as before, the organization took on the cloak of being a women's human right's organization. At the Seventeenth Congress that met in Denmark in 1968, the key topic was "The Right to be Human" and all the language literally concerned the rights of "man." Women's role within WILPF was "to study public policy, to make moral judgments based on imaginative identification with those who are victimized by inhuman public policies, and to educate ourselves and others for effective political action to change these policies. For 53 years, WILPF has stimulated, in countless thousands of women, faith in their own power to render public policy both more intelligent and more compassionate." An interesting WILPF document to view on human rights is the Report on a Special Project for Human Rights Year 1968 from the W.A. Branch (W.I.L.P.F. Prepared from the W.A. (Western Australia) State Committee for Human Rights for Submission to the Working Conference Between NGO's and the Government to Be Held at Bruce Hall, Canberra, from 21st-25th February, 1969.

   The 1970's congresses continued to emphasize economic and social justice and to stress the need for nations to establish structures and services to help women and children. In particular, the organization echoed the demands of the reinvigorated feminist movement's calls for women's equality in the professional world and at home. For WILPF, however, these years were most important for stressing the end of the arms race. At the Twentieth International Congress in 1977, for example, the women gathered in Tokyo, Japan, stated their overriding theme as "Disarmament and Development, Women's Priority: Building a World Without Weapons or Want." Here, as International President Katherine L. Camp, stated, they desired to make "explicit our belief that the raising of the consciousness of women to act upon this vital theme is essential to save the world's people from their self-destruction."

The 1980s to Today

   The global antinuclear movement gained in strength during the 1970s and 1980s, eventually leading to arms negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union and, then, the collapse of the latter by the early 1990s. WILPF participated in these global efforts including marches, demonstrations, participation in the women's peace camp actions in Europe and the United States, and lobbying through its own programs such as the Star Wars campaign. (Stop the Arms Race)[12]

   WILPF's presence at the U.N was well-recognized, and much of its program revolved around its participation as an NGO with official observer status at the UN and on its reaction to UN decisions. Over the years, WILPF members worked hard to influence UN policy. This is one reason why its feminist voice seemed to disappear. However, certain developments around women's issues began to take place in the 1970s which led WILPF back to its feminist past. It is valuable at this point to simply list some of these UN developments and activities and then to illustrate a few of the effects they had on the organization. Of great importance was the 1975 UN First World Conference on Women held in Mexico City, which was quickly followed by the UN announcement of its Decade for Women. During the next ten years, several initiatives were undertaken, including 1) the General Assembly's 1979 adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), 2) the 1980 Second World Conference on Women held in Copenhagen, Denmark, 3) the 1985 Third Conference on Women held in Nairobi, Kenya, 4) the 1993 General Assembly's adoption of the "Declaration of the Elimination of Violence Against Women" which led to the creation of the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), 5) the 1995 Fourth Conference on Women held in Beijing, China, 6) the October, 2000, passage of Security Council Resolution 1325 concerned with peace, security, and equality for women, and 7) the most important unanimous vote taken by the General Assembly in July, 2010, to create the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (called UN Women) of which UNIFEM became a part. In September of the same year, Michelle Bachelet, former president of Chile, was named the first Under-Secretary-General of UN Women. WILPF had a presence at all of the meetings named and participated in all NGO discussions on the UN's initiatives concerning women.

   These UN developments and the fervor of the global feminist movement greatly affected WILPF. For one thing, because of its outreach and support of women around the world, new national sections joined each year. As the WILPF Triennial Congress reports indicate, issues became more complex and debate more intense. In the "Introduction" to the 21st Congress of 1980 whose theme was "Today's Women Turn the World Toward Peace and Freedom," for example, Libby Frank noted, "It is clear that WILPF members do not have a unified position on national liberation movements and their use of military means to combat oppression ..." As in the past, WILPFers were willing and, indeed, eager to debate their points of view. Ideally, they would have liked to reach a consensus, but in such a varied and outspoken group, this was unlikely. Tolerance, however, was.

   It was important, as many speakers stressed, for the women of WILPF to learn about each other, about the politics of the world around them, and to be open to discussion, debate, and compromise. They especially needed to address violence against women and the role women had to play in the preparation of societies the world over to live in peace and equality. As Lucille Mair, Secretary-General of the World Conference of the UN Decade for Women, stated in her 1980 "Keynote Address," the organization needed to "spread into the issue of elimination of violence in all forms, not just political oppression and political violence, but even those more private and personal acts of violence against women."

   And it was also essential, as Mary Wade pointed out, that WILPFers be aware of the connectedness of women the world over: "coming out of the Decade of (sic) Women ... human rights involves everything that we do; it includes our entire lives. Until women, such as those in WILPF, take the position that we are ... going to be the vanguard of change, the human rights of all women and all people are going to be denied." (p. 14 in document, p. 5 online)

   WILPFers spent the next several years learning about the issues and about women in many parts of the world. Although they continued their antinuclear and antiwar work, their understanding of the global sisterhood of women which Jane Addams spoke about so much, grew dramatically. As a result, their rhetoric about governments and violence against women became more forceful. In 1983, the Twenty-third congress held in Sweden, had as its theme, "Women Save the World." But women had to save other women, and western women, in particular, had to recognize the responsibility their societies had in past exploitations. One of the resolutions coming out of that meeting stated, "Whereas the social injustices suffered by the people of the Third World, particularly women, can be attributed to certain activities and attitudes of the First World, tending to reinforce colonial values, such as are manifested in sex-tourism; prostitution; pornography and sexist advertisements; the exploitation of Third World women by the Transnational corporations as a cheap source of labour, exposing them to hazardous working condition and denying them their civil liberties; the dumping of dangerous contraceptives which are banned in the country of origin; the use of dangerous technologies in health care; and the export of Third World women to the First World as inter alia cheap domestic servants and paramedics ..."; resolved that WILPF sections are "to encourage and promote understanding among all women of the problems and issues that confront Third World Women ... and help combat the violence perpetrated against women in the form of pornography, sexist advertising, prostitution and sex-tourism..." (p. 92-94 in document, pp. 10-12 online)

   WILPF had indeed gone back to its roots of being a women's peace organization which gave a feminist voice to world affairs, but it was at the same time a women's organization which placed women's equality and well-being in the forefront of its ideas and actions, and, as in the past, violence against women took center stage. At the twenty-third Congress held in the Netherlands in 1986, Catharina J.M. Halkes addressed WILPF's perennial question ... "Why separate women's peace organizations?" Her response said it all: "It is not so important when ... we women start to discover the unholy trinity: rape, war, and genocide (as Mary Daly has called it). Whether this happens in a feminist group, in the ecology movement or in the peace movement, the crucial point is that we do start, and so make our discoveries and draw our conclusions. In becoming aware of the dominant structures and deciding to pull them down and offer better alternatives, we take the most decisive step as a women's peace movement."

   In 1989, at the first WILPF congress to be held in the southern hemisphere, women meeting in Sydney, Australia reported on research being carried out by the Youth WILPF members on violence against women and on WILPF's support of UNESCO's work with women and children. Again, the organization continued its original stress of the importance of a women's organization advocating for the human rights of children. Hélène Berthoz and Yvonne Sée reported that WILPF supported the work of preventing children "from being conscripted into the army, to find refuge or a shelter for them in time of war, to see that life in time of war should not have psychological consequences for them, and to see that children in refugee camps are not deprived of education." (pp. 53-54 in document, p.3-4 online)

   The Youth group also reported on its campaign on "Women vs. Violence," (p. 142 in document, p. 7 online) urging all local, national, and regional groups to take concrete action under such themes as militarism and sexism, war toys, sexual violence, racism, social economic factors, women and the military, minority rights, advertising, rights over one's own body, culture, and domestic violence. On this theme, the congress passed a resolution calling on all WILPFers to organize, educate, and take action. The first part of the resolution expressed the organization's anger in the strongest terms: "Whereas foreign intervention and militarization exacerbate violence against women in indigenous and developing countries by arrests, rape, torture, mutilation, forced sterilization, hamletting, separation from families, thwarting of education and cutting them from a 'normal' life. It further subjects them to poisonous gas, to infertility, impotence and sterility... . " (pp. 190-191 in document, pp. 13-15 online)

   In 1992 the twenty-fifth WILPF congress was held in Bolivia and emphasized the organization's frustration that the world powers and the UN had still done little to improve the situation for women. Stressing the need to educate themselves about indigenous women of the world (especially those in the Americas at this specific congress) and to move forward, the women made plans for the World Women's Conference to be held in 1995 in Beijing, China. As they stated: "In spite of decades of action to eliminate discrimination against women, against racism and racial discrimination, little progress has been made and what was achieved in the seventies and eighties is being fast eroded ... We are exposed to increasing violence, both physical and emotional, for being women, for asserting ourselves as women, for deciding on whom we want to share our lives with and how we want to live." (pp. 12-13 in document, pp. 6-7 online)

   The WILPF congresses up to the present have continued to stress the issue of women's human rights, adding specifically in 1998 those of lesbians. Work for the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 through the WILPF sponsored group, PeaceWomen, stressed the urgency of the resolution. Once it was passed in 2000, WILPF joined with other NGOs to pressure the UN and governments the world over to implement the measures that not only safeguard the rights of women but also include them in the peace process.

A Note on Historiography

It is apparent from this summary of WILPF's ideology and activism that there is a huge amount of history and historical analysis to be done (as well as sociological, biographical, peace and women's studies, international affairs, and political science studies as well). The endnotes document the research accomplished on the years from 1915 to 1945, but even for that well-researched period, there is more to be done, especially in terms of exploring international cooperation among women, the development of the organization in all nations except the United States and England, biographical studies, and studies of the internal workings of each local and national group as well as the international leadership. Additional works need to be translated into English so that historians, activists, and other interested parties can learn more about this incredible organization.[13]

   That said, the period from1945 to the present is ripe for researching.[14] Just the focused presentation on the international congresses in this essay hints at the extraordinary possibilities for scholars. Each international congress contains reports from WILPF national sections. These open up a world of information and questions about local as well as global issues that have concerned members over the years. For example, Israel/Palestine is often discussed as are the broader Mid-East tensions. Relationships between indigenous and "colonial" women of Africa, Asia, and Latin America are reported on as well as the relationships among nations. Capitalism v. socialism is discussed. All sorts of issues around militarization and nuclear weapons are on the table. Racism in all its manifestations----from apartheid in South Africa to racism and civil rights in the U.S. South---are there. Colonial wars in Korea, Vietnam, Angola... self determination in Cuba, Grenada, Bangladesh ... There is not a place in the world nor an issue one can think of that is not included in WILPF's program.

   Also of interest are the organizations WILPF created to address specific campaigns, such as the Jane Addams Peace Association (JAPA) formed in 1948 as the non-profit educational wing of the group. The Children's Book Awards which JAPA presents each year would make a great study as would the group's relationship with the larger WILPF structure. PeaceWomen, created in 2001, is very important to study, especially in terms of its united campaign with other women's NGO groups for the passage and implementation of UN SCR 1325. The group has been instrumental in organizing on the grassroots level, within nations, and internationally to see that the UN meets its commitment to ensure women's safety and equality the world over. WILPF's role as an NGO and its relationship with the official UN hierarchy needs analysis as does the group's role in the UN Decade for Women and its following conferences and meetings.

   In 2015, WILPF will celebrate its 100th anniversary. As of this writing in 2011, local and national WILPF groups are working on oral histories and branch histories. Hopefully, these sources will prove invaluable for researchers interested in telling WILPF's story. Until these projects are completed and made available, simply reading through the WILPF congress reports and other documents in the WASM International database will give researchers a good basic understanding of the broader picture of the longest-lived (and living) women's peace organization in the history of the world.



[1] Research for this essay was partially funded by a PSC-CUNY Research Award. I would like to thank Anne Marie Pois, Thomas Dublin, Kozue Akibayashi, Kazuyo Yamani, and Nagako Sugimori for advice, comments, and sources.

There are a great many articles and books that treat WILPF and/or WILPF leaders. The sources listed in these endnotes do not include all of this work, but are meant to help readers in their further search for WILPF material.

There are just a few books which cover long-term WILPF (and women's peace) history either nationally or internationally. These include Judith Porter Adams, Peacework: Oral Histories of Women Peace Activists (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1990); Harriet Hyman Alonso, Peace as a Women's Issue: A History of the U.S. Movement for World Peace and Women's Rights (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1993); Joyce Blackwell, No Peace Without Freedom: Race and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, 1915-1975 (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2004); Gertrude Bussey and Margaret Tims, Pioneers for Peace: Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, 1915-1965 (reprint, Oxford: Alden Press, 1980; originally published in 1965); Catherine Foster, Women for All Seasons: The Story of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1989); Betty Holt, Women for Peace and Freedom: A History of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom in New Zealand (New Zealand: The League: 1985); Jill Liddington, The Long Road to Greenham: Feminism and Anti-Militarism in Britain since 1820 (London: Virago Press, 1989; reprint, Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1991); Melinda Plastas, A Band of Noble Women: Racial Politics in the Women's Peace Movement (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2011), and the article, Edith Ballantyne, "WILPF History: Past, Present, Future," Peace and Freedom 64:2 (Spring, 2004), 10-11.

[2] For background information on the 1915 meeting, see Harriet Hyman Alonso, introduction to Jane Addams, Emily Greene Balch, and Alice Hamilton, Women at The Hague: The International Congress of Women and Its Results (New York: Macmillan, 1915; reprint, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2003), vii-xl.

[3] There are several biographies of Jane Addams, but none really concentrates on her work for peace. Since she received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931, this is most surprising. Of the many works on Addams, those touching on peace include Allen F. Davis. American Heroine: The Life and Legend of Jane Addams (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973); Jean Bethke Elshtain, Jane Addams and the Dream of American Democracy: A Life (New York: Basic Books, 2002); Louise W. Knight: Jane Addams: Spirit in Action (New York: Norton, 2010); and James Weber Linn, Jane Addams: A Biography (New York: D. Appleton-Century Company, 1935). An excellent article is Kathyrn Kish Sklar's "Some of us who deal with the Social Fabric: Jane Addams Blends Peace and Social Justice, 1907-1919," Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 2:1 (2003), 80-96. A review of books available by and about Jane Addams is Harriet Hyman Alonso, "Jane Addams: Acting Locally and Globally," Journal of Women's History 16:1 (Spring, 2004), 147-63. Other biographies of interest include Margaret Hope Bacon, A Passion for Freedom: The Life of Mildred Scott Olmsted (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1993); Kristen E. Gwinn, Emily Greene Balch: The Long Road to Internationalism (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2010); Mercedes M. Randall, Improper Bostonian: Emily Greene Balch, Nobel Peace Laureate, 1946 (New York: Twayne Publisher, 1964). An excellent portrait of Balch is Anne Marie Pois, "Peace Profile: Emily Greene Balch," Peace Review 16:2 (June, 2004), 231-39. A fascinating collection of letters which includes several WILPF women is Mineke Bosch, with Annemarie Kloosterman, Politics and Friendship: Letters from the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, 1902-1942 (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1990), available on WASM International. And an excellent collection of documents is Kathryn Kish Sklar, Anja Schuler, and Susan Strasser, eds., Social Justice Feminists in the United States and Germany: A Dialogue in Documents, 1885-1933 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998).

[4] Bericht-Rapport-Report: Report of the International Congress of Women at The Hague, 28th April-May 1st, 1915 (Amsterdam: International Women's Committee for Permanent Peace, 1915), 313-14.

[5] For more on The Hague Congress, see the most interesting Jane Addams, Emily Greene Balch, and Alice Hamilton, Women at The Hague: The International Congress of Women and Its Results (New York: Macmillan, 1915; reprint, 2003).

[6] For more on one British woman's experience during these early years, see Ethel A. Snowden, A Political Pilgrim in Europe (New York: George H. Doran, Co., 1921) in the database.

[7] There are several interesting publications in the database which illustrate WILPF interests during the 1920s, including Edith M. Pye's Notes on the Women's Movement in China, 1928 (London: Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, 1928) and Anna Aszkanazy, The Problem of Statelessness (People Deprived of Nationality): Some Facts, Arguments and Proposals Presented to an International Conference Called by the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (Geneva: Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, 1930).

[8] Much of the historical research on WILPF (and other organizations) concentrates on the years 1915 up through World War II. Some of this work includes Marie Louise Degen, The History of the Woman's Peace Party (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993); Carrie A. Foster, The Women and the Warriors: The U.S. Section of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, 1915-1946 (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1995); Erika A. Kuhlman, Petticoats and White Feathers: Gender Conformity, Race, the Progressive Peace Movement, and the Debate Over War, 1895-1919 (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1997); David S. Patterson, The Search for Negotiated Peace: Women's Activism and Citizen Diplomacy in World War I (New York: Routledge, 2008); Leila Rupp, Worlds of Women: The Making of an International Women's Movement (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997); Linda K. Schott, Reconstructing Women's Thoughts: The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom Before World War II (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997); Barbara J. Steinson, American Women's Activism in World War I (New York: Garland Publishing, 1982), and Anne Wiltsher, Most Dangerous Women: Feminist Peace Campaigners of the Great War (London: Pandora Press, 1985). Articles include Virginia R. Boynton, "Surviving Adversity: The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom during World War II," Mid-America: An Historical Review 75:1 (January 1993): 67-83; Blanche Wiesen Cook, "The Woman's Peace Party: Collaboration and Non-Cooperation," Peace & Change: A Journal of Peace Research 1:1 (Fall 1972): 36-42; John M. Craig, "The Woman's Peace Party and Questions of Gender Separatism," Peace & Change: A Journal of Peace Research 19:3 (July, 1994): 373-98; Frances Early, "The Historic Roots of the North American Women's Peace Movement," Canadian Woman Studies/Cahiers De La Femme 7, no. 4 (1986): 43-48, Melissa R. Klapper, "'Those by Whose Side We Have Labored': American Jewish Women and the Peace Movement between the Wars," Journal of American History 97:3 (December 2010): 636-58; Katherine C. Meerse, "Peace Activism and Social Justice: The Minnesota Branch of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, 1939-1940," Peace & Change: A Journal of Peace Research 23:4 (October, 1998): 500-513; Anne Marie Pois, "The U.S. Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and American Neutrality, 1935-1939," Peace & Change: A Journal of Peace Research 14, no. 3 (July 1989): 263-84; Rosemary Rainbolt, "Women and War in the United States: The Case of Dorothy Detzer, National Secretary Women's International League for Peace and Freedom," Peace & Change: A Journal of Peace Research 4:3 (Fall 1977): 18-22; Leila J. Rupp, "Constructing Internationalism: The Case of Trans-national Women's Organizations, 1888-1945," American Historical Review 99:5 (December, 1994): 1571-1600; Veronica Strong-Boag, "Peace-Making Women: Canada, 1919-1939," in Ruth Roach Pierson, ed., Women and Peace: Theoretical, Historical and Practical Perspectives (London: Croom Helm, 1987), 170-91, and Jo Vellacott, "A Place for Pacifism and Transnationalism in Feminist Theory: The Early Work of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom," Women's History Review 2:1 (1993): 23-56.

[9] These resolutions mentioned the persistent problem of the opium trade. For a look at WILPF's work in this area at this time, see Mona L. Segal, "Western Feminism and Anti-Imperialism: The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom's Anti-Opium Campaign," Peace & Change: A Journal of Peace Research 36:1 (January, 2011): 34-61.

[10] See Alonso, Peace as a Women's Issue, 141-46.

[11] It is interesting to take a look at Delia San Juan's booklet in the database: The Philippines: An Example of U.S. Imperialism (Philadelphia: Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Section for the United States, 1974).

[12] There are some excellent readings on this modern period, though they are not specifically about WILPF. Some of these include: Alice Cook and Gwyn Kirk, Greenham Women Everywhere: Dreams, Ideas, and Actions from the Women's Peace Movement (Boston: South End Press, 1983); Barbara Epstein, Political Protest and Cultural Revolution: Nonviolent Direct Action in the 1970s and 1980s (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), and Adrienne Harris and Ynestra King, ed., Rocking the Ship of State: Toward a Feminist Peace Politics (San Francisco: Westview, 1989).

[13] These include, for example, the following in Japanese: Nakajima Kuni and Sugimori Nagako, eds., Niju, Seiki ni Okeru Josei no Heiwa Undo: Fujin Kokusai Heiwa Renmei to Nihon no Josei (a series of articles on the women's peace movement in the 20th century---WILPF and Japanese women). Tokyo: Domesu Shuppan, 2006. Examples in Italian and French include: Maria Grazia Suriano, Percorrere la nonviolenza L'esperienza politica della Women's International League for Peace and Freedom fra la due guerre modiali (Rome: Arcane, 2011) and Mona Siegel, "Paroles féministes et pacifistes au temps de la Grande guerre" in Paroles de paix en temps de guerre., ed. Sylvie Caucanas, Rémy Cazals, et Nicholas Offenstadt (Paris: Éditions Privat, 2006), 195-204.

[14] Historian Lawrence S. Wittner has incorporated WILPF women into his trilogy: The Struggle Against the Bomb which includes three volumes: One World or None: A History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement Through 1953 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993); Resisting the Bomb: A History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement, 1954-1970 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997), and Toward Nuclear Abolition, 1971 to the Present (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003).