#whitefeather diaries

British and German women meet to talk peace

Tuesday 3 November 2015

While John was becoming active in anti-war campaigns in Oxford, around Britain and across Europe the peace movement was growing. In 1915 anti-war women's groups from belligerent and neutral countries met in the Netherlands (which was neutral).

The International Congress of Women was held in The Hague from 28 April to 1 May 1915. Women from over 150 organisations in eleven countries attended.

The British government tried to stop women attending, and only three managed to do so, out of the 180 who had applied. The French and Russian governments prevented anyone leaving their countries to attend. All 28 German delegates were arrested on their return to Germany. But the conference received over 300 messages of support, from as far away as Brazil, India and South Africa. It was chaired by Jane Addams, a Quaker from the USA.

women's peace conference

Rosika Schwimmer, a Hungarian, was one of the main organisers. She described the emotion at the conference:

We had one who learned that her son had been killed – and women who had learned two days earlier that their husbands had been killed, and women who had come from belligerent countries full of the unspeakable horror, of the physical horror of war. These women sat there with their anguish and sorrows, quiet, superb, poised, and with only one thought: “What can we do to save the others from similar sorrow?”

Press reaction

British women who tried to attend were ridiculed in the pro-war press. The Daily Express described:

The Peacettes, the misguided Englishwomen who, baggage in hand, are waiting at Tilbury for a boat to take them to Holland, where they are anxious to talk peace with German fraus over the teapot.

After the event finished, The Times declared:

Doubtless amateurish peace proposals need not be taken too seriously, but the impression on some of the observers of the proceedings was that the governments of the world – both neutral and belligerent – would do well to put a quiet check on such schemes, lest they add to the embarrassments of the situation already difficult and delicate.

Evelyn Sharp, a British anti-war journalist who the government prevented from attending the conference, hit back at The Times:

These gentlemen do protest too much to carry conviction with them that 'amateurish peace proposals' are not to be taken seriously... It is fear that really runs through this outcry of the press – fear lest the women might perhaps be right, might perhaps impress their belief on the women of other belligerent countries, might perhaps make this war really “the last war”, instead of merely talking about it as an unattainable ideal very useful as a recruiting cry.

The world's governments did not take up the women's peace proposals, but the Covenant of the League of Nations, drawn up after the war, drew on the principles that the conference had outlined. Rosika Schwimmer later said that the greatest achievement of the International Congress of Women was that it had happened at all.

Sources: Daily Express, 28 April 1915; Jo Vellacott, Pacifists, Patriots and the Vote: The Erosion of Democratic Suffragism in Britain During the First World War (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007); Anne Wiltsher, Most Dangerous Women: Feminist peace campaigners of the Great War (Pandora, 1985)

Your Thoughts

Submitted by Karl Eberhard Sperl on
you write 28 German delegates were arrested on their return to Germany. Have you a document for this? Please let me know

Submitted by ElizabethP on
Hi Karl – The figure is quoted in a few different places. The sources our researcher used are at the bottom of the page. – Elizabeth

Submitted by Symon Hill on
Thanks for your question, Karl. The statement that 28 German women were arrested is made by Anne Wiltsher in her book 'Most Dangerous Women: Feminist peace campaigners of the Great War' (published by Pandora, 1985). I think she cites the source for this fact but I don't have a copy of her book to hand at present so I can't check.

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Tuesday 3 November 2015

For 19-year-old John Hoare, Oxford University was less lonely than boarding school – but only just. He was still struggling to find others who shared his views. The threat of conscription was round the corner and criticism of the war was suppressed. John discovered help in the form of the No-Conscription Fellowship and amongst Quakers (also known as Friends). He later looked back on this discovery.