A Peace Message from Women of Europe
British, French and German Delegates Tour America with Word of a New Understanding
By MAY MURPHY
WHEN the International Congress of Women met at The Hague April 25, 1915, and delegates from Great Britain, Germany, the United States, Switzerland, Belgium, Spain, Brazil, Denmark, Russia, Poland, Italy, Austria-Hungary, Sweden and Norway spoke words of friendship instead of hatred, there was a storm of ridicule, and worse, from the [pro-war] elements of all these countries.
Even the devoted delegates, perhaps, had little real hope of ending a conflagration which blood alone quenched; but the courage they displayed in insisting upon the philosophy of love, as offering a better way to the pursuit of happiness than the doctrine of conquest, was thus characterized by Professor Balch of Wellesley College, who was a delegate:
"What stands out most strongly among all my impressions of those thrilling and strained days at The Hague is the sense of wonder at the beautiful spirit of the brave, self-controlled women who dared ridicule and every sort of difficulty to express a passionate human sympathy, not inconsistent with patriotism, but transcending it."
With the coming of peace the great organizations which were built up to sustain the war spirit have gradually disintegrated. Disillusionment has replaced Teuton dreams of conquest. The wounds of war are found to be as great (perhaps even greater) in the victors as in the vanquished.
And while the world contemplates the ruin that has been wrought, the voice of the same women that in 1915 spoke for passionate human sympathy instead of hatred is raised again, with the same message: and may we not hope the world is more ready to hear it?
The International Congress, following The Hague meeting, organized a permanent committee of two women from each country called "The Women's Committee for Permanent Peace." In 1919 this became known as the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, with Jane Addams of Chicago as president. In each country the central committee delegates have organized sections. This year the American section invited delegates from France, Germany and England to visit the United States. Mlle. [Thérèse ] Pottecher-Arnould, Fraulein [Gertrud] Baer and Mrs. Annot Robinson accepted, and together they have made an extensive tour of this country.
[image] Mlle. [Thérèse] Pottecher-Arnould of France, Mrs. [Annot] Robinson of England and Fraulein [Gertrud] Baer of Germany
What They Represent
THOUGH holding no official position in their governments, these women represent the opinion of at least a large portion of voters in two of their respective countries (Great Britain and Germany). It is quite possible that they, or representatives of their opinions, will soon be represented in foreign governments. In considering the possibilities of new conditions in world government to be brought by the influence of women, the tour of these three delegates is an object lesson.
Suppose a British, a German and a French ambassador, speaking a message of love and cooperation, traveling together as friends, visited the United States. Would it not alter the present world outlook in many ways, especially if all were united in friendship and sympathy with Russia as well as with each other?
No one can tell what ten years may bring forth, if the women who vote shall think in politics as women think at home, and insist upon their views sharing authority in world society, as in their own families.
In the League of Peace and Freedom as elsewhere women are discarding methods used by men and are working in their own way. The great Pan American Conference held at Baltimore in April characterized the sort of accomplishment through which they are seeking to establish natural, friendly, human relationship between neighboring nations. Mlle. [Thérèse ] Pottecher-Arnould, Fraulein [Gertrud] Baer and Mrs. Annot Robinson attended the annual meeting of the American section of the Peace and Freedom League held in Washington in April, following their visit to the Pan American Conference of Women in Baltimore. They traveled thereafter through the east, middle west and some of the southern states, talking to audiences in universities, normal schools, high schools, women's clubs, churches, ethical culture societies and to mass meetings in several of the large cities.
In Chicago they were interviewed for WOMAN'S WEEKLY. In the minds of all three, who were interviewed together, it is desirable that people be shown that women can come together for peace. The French delegate, Mlle. Pottecher-Arnould, said: "We must never judge a people by their government. We speak of Germany, of England, of America doing this or that. But what we [criticize] are the autocratic acts of politicians. We should remember that a people should never be judged by their government, because governments are not yet democratic enough to represent them."
That a new economic basis for society and a new consciousness for democracy is coming, is already started in Europe, was agreed by the three. They are trying to make known to America that the people, especially the women, in their respective countries really desire to extend sympathy and understanding.
"We now have an article in our constitution," said Fraulein Baer in speaking of the new spirit in Germany, "which states that we shall bring up our children to love their own country, but also to advocate reconciliation between nations. This is important, because our teachers are now able to base education of children on a broader foundation and there is possibility of giving them a broad understanding. We can't begin too early to teach these things."
That a new and progressive state of affairs exists in spirit in Germany may be gathered from the following facts, not emphasized by our press or by the general comments on Germany, but reported by Fraulein Baer:
"We have had equal suffrage in Germany since 1918 for all persons twenty-one or over. There are forty women members in the Reichstag, and a great many women members in all the other parliaments. There is absolutely no obstacle to any state position for women. There are no more exceptional laws in existence concerning sex."
All Workers Favor Peace
SAID Mrs. Robinson of England: "The great mass of ordinary people are desiring to widen the citizenship of our country to humanity; I feel that the persons who work, not only with hands but with brains, everywhere are yearning for peace. In England the hand and brain workers are uniting to promote peace."
To see these women together, clearly enjoying each other as well as the work which brought them, is evidence of the honesty of the relations women are trying to bring about. There is no thought of diplomacy, of pretense, of rivalry such as usually come to mind when we hear exponents of nations talking of their theories and aims. There is no notion that now we must "read between the lines," that presently we shall have to make allowance for some ancient prejudice, or that we should have remembered a few minutes back that one or the other's country always had desired some procedure mentioned in order to further certain of her own commercial ends. Simplicity and genuineness, common sense and good will are the impressions given by the trio. There is no need at all to seek for motives or to wonder about any. They are, as the great organization of women they represent would want them to be, simply representatives of humanity wanting human understanding to be increased in whatever place or country it may be needed.
The message the visitors gave varied with different audiences. There was no particular line of facts they aimed "to put over." They feel it quite essential that the young shall be given some conception of the new spirit of democracy that has come into the world, and to students as to adult hearers they tried to show that [page 2] women are ready and able to unite, no matter where they may live, in order to promote a unity of good feeling and human purpose. Something of the character and type of their talks may be gathered from their message at the University of Chicago, a message well worth spreading, as it gives facts of present day conditions in England, France and Germany too little emphasized here.
Mademoiselle Pottecher-Arnould spoke of the historical background of the two currents of thought which grew in France from the French Revolution. One believed in intervention, one didn't. From this she pointed out how it was that France has no suffrage law. There has been little agitation for such a law until recently, she said. Nevertheless women have been particularly active since the war. They were among the first to enter the League for Peace and Freedom and to study the real causes of war. They did this even during the war in spite of much prejudice and when an intense nationalistic spirit prevailed.
"We have false notions of what nationalism will do for us," she said. "We fail to realize what sort of national spirit it is we want, and that ultimately all nations want the same things -- peace and freedom."
She explained that France is now in the hands of a very reactionary government. She says this government is not representative of the people, that it is the result of political trickery, and that the working people, particularly, are not back of it. She discussed the continuance of the blockade, the suffering in Germany and Austria, the lack of trade and currency and told how this situation was brought to the notice of French women. The league work of these women was carried on by committees, for the most part organized in Paris, who undertook relief work in Germany, Austria and also Russia. She mentioned the general misunderstanding of Russia. She told of the Soviet Government's propaganda spread in France for the express purpose of keeping relief out of Russia, but said that this was overcome in some circles and committees were organized for the Russian work. She told of the international school held last summer, and the one planned for this summer, schools of much significance which are products of the league.
Fraulein Baer said that in Germany at present there are three forward looking forces at work -- the wealthy, the women, and the younger generation. Strange to say, the university students in Germany are not looking forward at the present time. She accounts for it by the fact that when the students returned from the war they couldn't get food and books and had no income. They resented this, and a prejudice was established among them. However, she has hope in the movement of youth and freedom among the younger generation, which is a reaction against the awful machinery of the old regime which made it possible for only the wealthy out of all the great mass of German people to go to universities. Under a democratic government the young people upholding this new movement believe they can do what they want with institutions, and she thinks that through this movement the attitude and prejudice in the universities brought on by the blockade will fade away.
One thing these young people are bringing about is the exchange of books and periodicals with other countries. There is much militarist reactionary literature in Germany, and understanding persons sponsoring the movement are trying to put into the hands of the youngsters something which will lead them to democratic thought. The masses in Germany realize they were used as tools by an autocratic government. They favor a democracy because in general it is a more peaceful form of government and does away with the likelihood of continuity in power which can keep an idea going until it is worn out.
Mrs. Robinson spoke from the point of view of trade. She outlined conditions on the continent and in England. A slight trade boom occurred directly after the armistice, but immediately declined, leaving in England 2,000,000 unemployed, who are still idle, although the situation has been alleviated somewhat. The cause, she said, was that England is a manufacturing nation, selling to other countries, while the Germans, Russians, Poles, Slavic peoples and French are without money. China, cut off from the Russian market, has no security and can't trade at all. "This is international economics," she stated. She characterized the peace treaty as a poor piece of economics, made by militarists and politicians who boasted that they knew no economics. Previous to the war, she pointed out, there was also trade in art, ideas, literature, but the suffering from lack of trade now is mainly economic and results of the peace treaty and the blockade. Few signs of improvement have been seen to the present.
She mentioned the clause in the peace treaty which provides for part payment of reparations by Germany in coal. Coal was accordingly shipped to France, and immediately a mass of French miners were thrown out of work. Likewise in England the reparations coal arrived and was so cheap that English miners couldn't compete with it. They had work in one out of two or three weeks, and the standard of living fell. Again she said simply, "This is international economics."
In Germany miners suffered too, for they had to work for practically nothing, since they were paid in German currency, which is low in value. The effects also have been apparent in America. Thus the world's markets were practically wrecked. Modern nations, she concluded, are economically interdependent and more than national good citizenship is essential. She defined two kinds of citizenship -- national citizenship and international citizenship. Her summary was, "We are living in a new era and we might as well wake up and realize it."