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International Congress of Women

And you can only say as you go from one country to another, you can only say for yourself and say it to the citizens as you have opportunity, that if this war is ever to be settled through negotiations, and some time it must be -- heaven knows when, but some time men must stop fighting and return to their normal existence -- you say to those men, why not begin now before the military becomes even further entrenched? Why not begin now when you still have enough power to hold them to their own statements, to hold them to their own purposes, and not allow them to rule and control the absolute destinies of the nation. -- Jane Addams, The Revolt Against War, July 9, 1915.

World War One was a devastating and unprecedented conflict that tore Europe apart and killed an estimated 17 million people. As soon as the war began, Addams and other people tried to end it, calling for neutral nations to step in and negotiate a peace. Both men and women supported these efforts, but it was the woman's peace movement that grew rapidly and quickly turned toward international efforts. Jane Addams, Carrie Chapman Catt, and Fanny Garrison Villard founded the Woman's Peace Party at a meeting of over 3,000 women in January 1915. Within a month, Addams was invited to an international conference of women representing peace organizations around the world.

Addams had long been an advocate of arbitration as the best means to solve disputes. In 1907, she published Newer Ideals of Peace, where she saw peace as more than the absence of war, but as a social process by which people from different walks of life could create a fair and just society. She believed that this held true in neighborhoods, at the national level, and could potentially create an international society ruled by law and justice rather than by might.

In the spring of 1915, some 1,300 women risked wartime travel to meet at The Hague. Many were from neutral nations, such as the United States, but there were also representatives from countries at war. Jane Addams' ideals and diplomatic skills were tested as she sought to reach consensus with women who held strong views on war and the best way to achieve peace.

The International Congress of Women met from April 28th to May 1st of 1915 at The Hague. Organized by Addams and Dutch pacifist, Aletta Jacobs, the Congress gave women a public voice to call for a negotiated end to the war. As president, Addams gave a keynote speech, and presided over sometimes contentious discussion. The Congress created a list of resolutions to advance the end of the war that they believed would to creating systems that could secure permanent peace. Many of Addams' ideals were in the resolutions, that arbitration rather than armed conflict was preferred, that neutral nations would held to resolve issues, and that all citizens, including women, should not only have the vote, but have a say in the decisions made by their nation. 

Addams was a capable diplomat who was willing to listen to other ideas. One of the resolutions that came from the Congress was the creation of delegations tasked with visiting heads of state to discuss ways to secure a negotiated end to the war. Addams was not in favor of the idea at the start, but she allowed it because many other delegates wanted to do it. She headed one delegation that traveled to Italy, France, Britain, and Germany, and on her return to the United States met with President Woodrow Wilson as well. 

The International Congress of Women was the start of a movement, led by women, to foster relations between nations built on law and justice, rather than by military aggression. The fight was long and hard, and is not over yet, but the ideals promoted at the Hague influenced the creation of the League of Nations and the United Nations. The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, the organization that was founded from this early group of pacifists, still operates today.

Primary Sources:

  1. Jane Addams, "Women to Appeal to Chief Capitals," New York Times, May 2, 1915, p. 5.
  2. Emergency Peace Federation Executive Committee, To the People of America, Peabody Gazette-Herald, March 11, 1915, p. 8.
  3. Jane Addams Down on Roosevelt Plan, New York Sun, March 6, 1915, p. 3.
  4. Jane Addams, Woman's Position in War Worse Than Hellish, Keynote of Peace Congress, Indianapolis Star, April 29, 1915, p. 1.
  5. Congress of Women Favors Arbitration, Dallas Morning News, April 30, 1915.
  6. International Congress of Women, Report of the International Congress of Women (1915) - contains the list of resolutions.
  7. Jane Addams, "Presidential Address at the International Congress of Women," Congress Report (1915), pp. 18-22.
  8. Jane Addams, Impressions of the Congress of Women, Manchester Guardian, May 14, 1915, p. 3.
  9. Aletta Henriƫtte Jacobs to the International Committee of Women for Permanent Peace, July, 1915
  10. Now is the Time to Make Proposals of Peace, Says Jane Addams, Fresh from the Battlefields, New York Tribune, July 6, 1915, p. 3.
  11. Jane Addams, Address at Carnegie Hall, July 9, 1915.
  12. International Congress of Women, The Women's Manifesto, October 15, 1915.
  13. Jane Addams, Emily Greene Balch, and Alice Hamilton, at The Hague, the International Congress of Women and Its Results (1915)

Additional Resources:

  1. No Glory in War 1914-1918 (website)
  2. Feminist Pacifism, International Encyclopedia of the First World War.
  3. Jane Addams: Chicago's Pacifist (Lake Forest College)

Suggested subject searches:

Addams, Jane, and peace movement

peace movement, activities of

peace movement, international

peace movement, organization of

peace movement, women and

World War I, opposition to

World War I, peace negotiations

People, organizations and events (with links to documents)

Balch, Emily Greene

International Congress of Women (1915)

International Committee of Women for Permanent Peace

Jacobs, Aletta Henriette

Macmillan, Chrystal

Schwimmer, Rosika

Woman's Peace Party

Photo credits

(top) Jane Addams and the American delegation to the International Congress of Women, April 1915 (Library of Congress)

<(bottom) The American Delegation, International Conference of Women, 1915 (Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Swarthmore College Peace Collection).

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International Congress of Women