Women had been seeking the right to vote in the United States since the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848. In fact, the last sentence in the Declaration of Women’s Rights presented at the Conference was that “women should have the right to vote.” Slavery, child labor, sweat shops, poverty, lack of education and warfare were issues these suffragettes worked to end from the 19th Century until the start of the 20th Century. Interconnected with their desire for social change was obtaining the right to vote.
In 1915, when Europe went to war, Jane Addams organized a meeting in Washington, D.C. to establish a Women’s Peace Party that would call for peace in Europe, put a limitation on armaments and the nationalization of weapon’s manufacture and oppose militarism. Jane Addams and other leaders knew that females had to be franchised if the Reform Movement in the United States was to be effective in getting rid of government officials and politicians in Washington who supported an aggressive and military based foreign policy.
Three thousand women attended the conference in February, 1915. Those women produced a platform calling for extending suffrage to women and for a conference of neutral countries to propose the idea of an armistice followed by continuous mediation to settle the differences between the warring nations. The meeting was held at The Hague in the Netherlands in the spring of 1915. Although originally planned for neutral countries, women of Great Britain, France, Germany and Austria were invited to attend. The largest delegation was from The Netherlands. French, Russians, Serbs, and Japanese were not allowed to leave their countries. Only 20 of Britain’s 180 delegates were able to obtain passports. Of those 20 only three managed to get permission to attend.
There were 50 Americans, 12 Norwegians, sixteen Swedes, sixteen Danes and 28 Germans. Italy was not yet in the war, but only one delegate attended. There were also delegates from Poland, South Africa and Canada. The total number of attendees was 1,136. Dutch Chair Aletha Jacobs opened the Conference with these words: “With mourning hearts we stand united here. We grieve for many brave young men who have lost their lives on the battlefield before attaining manhood; we mourn with thousands of young widows and fatherless children, and we feel we can no longer endure in this 20th Century of civilization that governments should tolerate brute force as the only solution to international disputes.”
There was speech after speech from women delegates from all over Europe, but probably the most stirring was from Austrian Frau Hofrath von Leeher. She was an upper middle class housewife who nursed the wounded without food or dressings for their wounds. She asked the soldiers, “What are you fighting for?”
They replied, “We do not know; we were told to fight.”
Frau Hofrath continued, “I am not a strong and militant woman . . . all my life I have been dependent upon men. But I have seen our men dependent upon us weak ones. I have seen their strength wrecked. What are we women of Europe to do? Give us back our men.”
The Conference ended with a set of resolutions that Ms. Addams and other leaders were to take to all European capitals. The resolutions were as follows:
· That no territory should be transferred without the consent of the men and women in it and that the right of conquest should not be recognized.
- · That autonomy and a democratic parliament should not be refused to any people.
- · That the governments of all nations should come to an agreement to refer international disputes to arbitration or conciliation and to bring social, moral, and economic pressure to bear upon any country that resorts to arms.
- · That foreign politics should be subject to democratic control.
- · That women should be granted equal rights with men.
Although Woodrow Wilson did consider these proposals none of these were acted upon, including the plea for the right to vote. The carnage in Europe continued for another three years only ending when the United States entered the war and broke the stalemate. None of the resolutions proposed found its way into the Peace of Versailles – excepting one. The last of Wilson’s Fourteen Points was the establishment of a League of Nations to serve as a place where nations could come together and mediate disputes.
The Treaty of Versailles was never ratified in the United States because the country refused to join such a League, preferring isolation and the protection of the huge Atlantic Ocean. Because of the harsh terms of the Treaty imposed upon Germany, the conditions were set up to lead to Hitler rearming (against the Treaty) and taking over more and more land in Europe with the consent of the Allies to maintain “peace in our time.” The rest as we say “is history.”
Although women received the franchise in 1919, they had no real voice in making the peace and bringing about the fulfillment of the resolutions from the Peace Conference. Franklin Roosevelt listened to his wife, Eleanor, and near the end of World War II held a meeting in San Francisco to write the Atlantic Charter which would become the basis for the creation of the United Nations. Over the years the UN has become less and less effective and its purpose lost in the creation of more military alliances – NATO, the Warsaw Pact, and the Southeast Asia Alliance and on and on. It is time for the United States to take the lead and work through the agencies of the United Nations to rebuild third world countries instead of continuing to support authoritarian regimes that destroy the ability of people to live peacefully and productively in their homelands. We need to send in peacekeepers to get a handle of the chaos and unbridled violence along with doctors, farm equipment, and educators to create democratic governments operating free of foreign influence that keep the wealth in their countries. Tribalism that leads to unbridled jingoism must stop and a new Pangea must emerge from the tearing down of walls and the building of bridges.
Read more about this in “The Peacemaker” available at http://kentuckywoman.net