Alice Hamilton to Mary Rozet Smith, May 19, 1919


Glockenhof, Zürich May 19th.

Dearest Mary. Your joint letter came last night and I am so grateful for my part of it. It did seem strange having nothing from you when two letters had come from Mrs. Bowen and I could not help fearing that Eleanor was ill & you too distracted to write. It was an awfully nice letter, full of the things I wanted to hear about and I am so thankful to hear that Eleanor is better. I am going to send her a song the Swiss girls sang for use at the banquet last night, for though the words are not much the music is an adaptation of an old Swiss folksong. It does seem strange to hear about Victory Loans. Mrs. Bowen's letter was enthusiastic about the beauty of Michigan Avenue with its Angels of victory. Somehow the last thing one would think of over here is an angel of victory, whether one is thinking of starving for many or desolate eastern France or the bloody wars in Hungary and Russia. The only suggestion of angelic things is here in this kindly, peaceful country that hasn't had any victory over anybody.

The Congress is over and was a success in every way. J. A. got in bed last night at some time after midnight and couldn't sleep for [illegible] an hour, partly from the excitement, partly from tiredness. She has had a wonderfully happy time, she has been just lapped around with enthusiastic devotion, she has carried through a very difficult piece of work -- handling a meeting of women from eighteen different countries and at least three languages -- with unvarying success, and she has had an intensely interesting experience not only in the [page 2] meetings themselves, but in between, talking to the women from all over Europe. Then the public success has been great. The Zurich people were dubious about that, for this city is in fear of radicalism and of anything that can be construed as unneutral, and also woman suffrage is a burning issue just now. But our four public meetings in the evening were crowded. They gave us first the big half of the University -- then when that was too small they gave us a big church & Miss Addams presided in a pulpit eighteen feet above her hearers. And last night there was a banquet with the Mayor and the Commissioner of Education making speeches & presenting J. A. with a book of prints of Zürich. She is tired now, of course, but she will rest for a few days before going back to Paris.

I suppose you are wondering what it has all amounted to. I think it has been tremendously worth while. [More] of us from the Allied Countries can help now doing all we can to get the food blockade raised & have the troops withdraw from Russia and Hungary. And it has done us good to be able to show the other women that we didn't feel toward them as enemies, to really speak out our detestation of the hatred and intolerance the war has brought. Of course I don't know that anything practical will come of it directly but then what comes from these great medical, or educational, or feminist congresses, yet they are very worth while. We did send two telegrams to Paris, one to Wilson signed by J. A., the other to the Big Four. The first protested against the food blockade and that one Wilson answered to J. A., sympathetically though not very hopefully, saying that the practical [page 3] difficulties were great. The other, protesting against the peace terms as a source of future wars, hasn't been answered. Of course Wilson's reply was a nice little addition to J. A.'s prestige here.

It is really amazing how little nonsense and even how little undigested radicalism was talked, when one considers all the newly enfranchised and revolutionary women there were here. Really the most foolish ones were the Australians who talked a good deal of half-baked nonsense, but luckily they arrived very late. There were some intensely interesting times, one when the women from Bavaria, Austria, Württemberg, Prussia, Hungary, described the revolution that they had themselves lived through. Another was when one of the German women told of the protests they had sent to the Government against the invasion of Belgium, the annexation of Belgium, the deportations, the Brest Litovsk Treaty and the offensive of 1918. Naturally they were silenced, no paper could publish the protest, their mail was held up, telephone service denied them and they could hold no meetings even in private, and had domiciliary visits of the police over and over again. But we were all so thankful that they did protest. Of course their tales of the hunger blockade have been heart-rending.

Nevertheless, to be quite honest, I must admit that they are a bit difficult, these German women. They may be excellent but the best of them are dense. All the first [page 4] days we Americans and the British were almost over-doing it in our eagerness to make them feel we were against the treatment being meted out to them since the armistice. We sympathized & we pitied & we passionately declared that our governments were cruel (this the British said) or culpably yielding (this we said). And then little by little the atmosphere changed. We grew a bit tired of having all the repentance on our side. The Germans lapped it up eagerly and begged for more, but never a word came from them of any "mea culpa" on their side. I don't think that in the nicest of them it was more than denseness but that it just it, the nicest are dense. The last day of the congress a French woman arrived, a lovely, sad-faced woman from the devastated regions. We gave her a great welcome, of course, and one of the Munich women stepped forward and gave her her hand and said "A German women gives her hand to a French woman and hopes that together they may heal the wounds the men have made." The French woman received her with gentle dignity & went on to make a really beautiful speech & we were all greatly moved, but if only the German woman could have put in a little of the other thing, if she could have said "help you heal the wounds our men have given you," people would have welcomed it. Then at dinner today a very sweet German woman from Wiesbaden said that they were now under French occupation & could realize at last how Belgium felt. Well, really, you know Wiesbaden is not Louvain. And one would have thought nice German women could realize it without a personal experience. Of course this isn't enough to give the least sense of friction, it is only that the Germans [page 5] just are different and one wishes they weren't.

Herr von Borosini is here & we have seen him twice & he comes again tomorrow. He looks shockingly, not ill, apparently he has not been really ill, that was all cleverly managed in a way well known to soldiers, but something has happened to change him from a happy-go-lucky boy to a really tragic looking man. We have always taken him rather as a joke and I should never have given him credit for deep feeling, but he has gone through very deep waters, nobody can look at his face & not know that. He did not suffer in his English camps, it isn't that, he was always liked & kindly treated. But it was something, perhaps just the loss of his liberty, perhaps his country's defeat. I hope his wife will go to him as soon as she can. He is working for the consulate now & has five hundred francs a month and he says it only costs him three hundred and fifty to live, the rest he spends on German prisoners. He is amazingly reticent, he really tells one almost nothing.

I think before you get this you may have had a cable about J. A.'s change of plans. This is the way it has come. She dined with Mr. Hoover in Paris & he told her if ever she wanted to go into Germany or Austria to help about food he could send her in and would be glad to. Then the Quakers saw him about feeding Russia & he told them they could not go to Russia now, but he would like to have them go into Germany & either he suggested J. A. going with them or they [page 6] suggested it & he took it up. Anyway the Quakers are to go in & facilitate the selling of food at a low price & the distribution of clothing. Hoover cannot give away food there, Congress won't let him, but the Quakers have money & Hoover will sell them the food & deliver it. The thing to do is to get it into the hands of Germans who will distribute it rightly. There are to be two Quaker women, Mrs. Lewis & Miss [Carolena] Wood, and us, if we go. I want very much to do it. It will be a great comfort to feel one is helping even if ever so little to bring food to starving people. Of course, if I can do it as I go, I will find out all I can about aniline poisoning, but after all that isn't as vitally important. When I was over here before, the going around Europe was only an exciting adventure, but this would really mean something, and I know I should always be glad I had done it. Then too, one can speak about it in quite a different way if one has really seen it and I shall want to speak of it when I get back home. We go to Paris Wednesday probably, for J. A. and quaint old Mrs. Despard and the efficient Miss Macmillan & an Italian & a Swiss lady, have to present our Congress' resolutions to the Big Four. There we shall see Mr. Hoover & talk it all over & I'll write you positivity. I don't know how long it will take, but I shouldn't be back by July 1st as I hoped. However my family does not really need me, though I do want terribly to be with them for a good long summer.

J. A. has just come to call me to a meeting. [Goodbye] & much love.