Mary Guthrie Kilbreth to Jane Addams, April 28, 1924

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Open Letter to Miss Jane Addams, Regarding "Slacker Oaths"

The following letter to Miss Jane Addams, of Chicago, international president of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, from Mary G. Kilbreth, president of the Woman Patriot Publishing Company, covers the subject of "slacker oaths":

April 28, 1924.

Miss Jane Addams, President,
Women's International League for Peace and Freedom,
Headquarters, 1403 H Street, N.W., Washington, D.C.

Dear Madam:

In a statement issued by you to Miss Ella Boynton, chairman of the Chicago branch of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and published April 27, by Miss Constance Drexel, a newspaper writer who was herself a delegate to the International Congress of the Women's International League at Zurich, May 12-17, 1919, you are quoted with the following assertions: 

"I am very happy to reply to your request for a statement in regard to any 'oath' taken by our Women's International League. The subject of a pledge against action in time of war was brought up at the international congress held in Vienna, in June, 1921, and was fully discussed from the floor. The motion was lost.

There is, therefore, no possible basis for the assertion that members of the Women's International League are committed to an oath or pledge of any sort." -- (Washington Post., April 27, 1924.)

Your reported statement is inaccurate.

As the official proceedings of the Second and Third International Congresses of Women at Zurich, 1919, and at Vienna, 1921, over both of which you presided, as president of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, appear to have slipped your mind, I beg to recall them to your attention.

First, I remind you of what took place at Zurich.

The official report of the Second International Congress of Women at Zurich, May 12-17, 1919, issued by the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, contains the following record of your proceedings:

Page 156:

"Pledge to Work for Peace.

"Emily Balch stood, and raising her hand, invited all present to join her in pledging themselves to do everything in their power towards the ending of war and the coming of permanent peace.

"International Resistance of Women to War.

"The whole assembly rose and pledged themselves.

"Yella Hertzka moved, seconded by Madeline Doty, the following resolution:

"The International Congress resolves that the National Sections be urged, in case of the threat or the declaration of war, to organize women to refuse their support in money, work, or propaganda."

Page 160:

"Martha Larsen moved the following amendment:

"This International Congress of Women recognizes that a strike of women against all kinds of war can only be effective if taken up internationally. This Congress, therefore, urges the National Sections to take up work for an international agreement between women to refuse their support of war in money, work or propaganda."

Page 161:

"Yella Hertzka accepted Martha Larsen's amendment.

"VOTED, to accept the Resolution, as amended (BX 37)."

Thereupon, it was voted to send a delegation to the Socialist Congress at Lucerne, with this resolution for an international strike against war. The proceedings show:

Page 161:

"DELEGATION TO SOCIALIST CONGRESS AT LUCERNE.

"Dr. Anita Augspurg presented the following Resolution:

"Der International Frauenkongress richtet an den internationalen Sozialistenkongress im August, 1919, in Luzern die Aufforderung -- wenn moglich durch personlichs Vertretung -- dasselbe ernste Gelobnis abzulegen, wie dieser Internationale Frauenkongress es getan hat; dass die internationale Sozialdemokratic niemals wieder den Ausbruch eines Krieges dulden will, sendern bei jeder Gefahr einer Storung des Welffriedens in jedem Lands einmutig ihre Unterztutzung des Krieges versagt durch Streik, Dienstverweigerung, Kreditverweigerung, und andere verfugbare Mittel."

"VOTED, to accept Dr. Augspurg's proposal of a delegation to the Socialist Congress at Lucerne, and to present there the Resolution already adopted as proposed to Martha Larsen, in regard to an international agreement to refuse all support of war."

At page 262 of your official report of the Zurich Congress, the resolution (No. 37), with a very slight alteration in text, but not in meaning, from the Larsen resolution, reads:

"37. International Organization of Women Against War.

"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."

Second, I remind you of what took place at Vienna.

The official report, Third International Congress of Women, Vienna, July 10-17, 1921, issued by the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (also during your presidency, and at which you presided) contains the following: [page 2]

Page 260:

"RESOLUTIONS.

"II. Pacifism in Practice.

1. Individual Opposition to War.

"This Congress expressly declares that it abides by Resolution 37 of the Zurich Congress, namely, that:

{Resolution 37 quoted in full text exactly as at page 262, Zurich official report.}

"For the further prosecution of this aim, it declares:

"All Sections are united as to the necessity of individual opposition against war.

"Every Section, is, however, free to work for the attainment of this aim by any means which appear to it most suitable."

"VOTED.

2. Non-Resistance.

"Whereas, we believe that wars will never cease until human life is held sacred and inviolable, it is hereby resolved that we adopt the principle and practice of Non-Resistance under all circumstances.

"A majority voted for this Resolution after the chair had ruled, in response to a point of order, that the vote was an expression of individual opinion and purpose, and was not to be taken as binding the Sections."

Thus it is indisputable that pledges were taken at your Congress of Zurich and Vienna.

As to the nature of these pledges, Mrs. Pethick-Lawrence, of England, who is the first woman mentioned in the official "Outline History" of your League, has described the pledge taken at Zurich as a "solemn vow." In an address to the National Woman's Party, Washington, D. C., October 26, 1920, Mrs. Pethick-Lawrence said:

"Instantly, all the delegates who were assembled from the twenty-two nations united in the League, rose to their feet and solemnly swore a vote never again to support any war by direct or indirect help. Thus a great international strike of women against war was unanimously agreed upon. -- (Suffragist, November, 1920, page 281.)

I also recall to your memory the fact that, at the meeting of the United States Section of the Women's International League, Washington, April 28, 1922, you declared yourself, while in the Chair, that the pledge taken "was in the nature of an oath."

The real nature of this "SLACKER OATH" obligation which your League is urging women to take is clearly expressed by Mrs. Harriet Connor Brown, chairman of the Research Committee of the Women's International League, and a member of the Board of Directors of your League, in "America Menaced by Militarism" (a booklet circulated from and sold by the National Headquarters of your League in Washington), at page 25, where she declares that women may say to Congresses and Parliaments:

"Go to war, if you want to, but know this: we have pledged ourselves not to give you our children, not to encourage or nurse your soldiers, not to knit a sock, or roll a bandage, or drive a truck, or make a war speech, or buy a bond."

"America Menaced by Militarism," by Harriet Connor Brown (sold and circulated by your headquarters in Washington), concludes with the following appeal:

"Send a Pledge of Passive Resistance to War and the Preparation for War with 25 cents, to the U.S. Section of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom."

There follows the pledge blank:

"Believing that true peace can be secured only through reconciliation and good will and that no cause justifies the organized destruction of human life, I urge immediate and universal disarmament and promise never to aid in any way the prosecution of war.

Name

Address"

The above form of the pledge is the one usually circulated by the United States Section.

Further documentary evidence on this is contained in the official report of Miss Emily G. Balch, Secretary-Treasurer of the W.I.L., to the Vienna Congress (pages 195-196), under "Our Object, the Pledge Against War," and also in the official Report of the United States Section to the Vienna Congress (page 251), as follows:

"Pledge Not to Aid War.

"So many members desired that a pledge against war be circulated that it was decided to send out a formula with a note that the signing of this pledge is not a prerequisite to membership in the League.

"The pledge as circulated read as follows:

{Pledge quoted as in "America Menaced by Militarism."}

It is true that Zurich Resolution No. 37, reaffirmed at Vienna, and the pledge circulated by the United States Section, as attested at page 252, Vienna Congress report, are not so offensive in language as the version given by Mrs. Brown at page 25 of "America Menaced by Militarism."

Nevertheless, a pledge "never to aid in any way" in the defense of your country in time of war, or refuse support "in money, work, or propaganda," means exactly the same thing as a pledge not to nurse a soldier, knit a sock, roll a bandage, etc.

It appears that the circulation of these SLACKER OATHS under "various forms" is deliberate.

Miss Emily G. Balch, Secretary-Treasurer, W.I.L., in the Vienna Report, page 196, says:

"It is very gratifying to learn of the success of the various forms of the pledge not to take part in war, which have been circulated in different countries by members of our own and other organizations."

Furthermore, the current "Pax" folder officially issued by the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Headquarters, Section for the United States, Washington, for the Fourth Biennial International Congress, Washington, May 1-7, 1924, opens with the following summary of "Resolutions of Women's International League for Peace and Freedom": 

"Attitude Toward War.

"The Hague -- The Congress protested strongly against the horrors of war and its futility as a means of settling differences between peoples.

Zurich -- It took the same position, and in order to make opposition effective, urged international agreements among women to refuse their support of war in money, work, or propaganda. [page 3]

Vienna -- It expressly declared its acceptance of the Zurich resolution and, in addition, urged the necessity of individual opposition."

So long as these official proceedings stand as the action of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, every citizen of this country is justified and accurate in describing these pledges as "SLACKER OATHS."

Now that I have recalled the official proceedings at Zurich and Vienna, and the summary of these resolutions given in the current "Pax" leaflet issued by the Women's International League Headquarters, at Washington, I trust you will see the necessity of correcting your statement that no "oath or pledge of any sort" has been taken.

Very truly yours,

(Signed) MARY G. KILBRETH,

President, Woman Patriot Publishing Company.

The International Women's Congress appeals to the International Socialist Congress in Lucerne in August 1919 with the request -- if possible through personal representation -- to make the same serious vow as this International Women's Congress did; that the international social democrats never again want to tolerate the outbreak of a war, send unanimously their support of the war fails by strike, refusal of service, refusal of credit, and other available means at every danger of a disturbance of the world peace in every country.