War's Debasement of Women, May 2, 1915



Jane Addams Calls It the Greatest Threat Against Family, Reducing Woman to Tribal Stage of Childbearing to Fill Ranks.

By Edward Marshall.

"MANY women throughout the world have set their faces unalterably against war," said Miss Jane Addams of Chicago, just before she sailed for Europe to attend the International Congress of Women, now in session at The Hague, when I asked her to express what she conceives to be the views of American womanhood upon the European war and the unexpected task which it has placed before American womanhood.

This extraordinary woman occupies a remarkable place in many movements. Probably she is the best known woman in America.

Now she heads a movement planned to unite womanhood, in all parts of the world, in a great protest against Europe's saturnalia of slaughter. It is called the [Woman's] Peace Party and is international in scope.

It began its existence at Washington Jan. 10, and is increasing in membership with astonishing rapidity. She summarized for me its preamble, about like this, reading from it and condensing as she read:

…Planned for, legalized wholesale human slaughter is today the sum of all villainies.

As women we feel a peculiar moral passion of revolt against both the cruelty and the waste of war;…as women we are the custodians of the life of the ages and we will not longer consent to its reckless destruction; as women we are particularly charged with the future of childhood, the care of the helpless and the unfortunate, and we will not longer endure without protest that added burden of maimed and invalid men and poverty-stricken women and orphans which war placed on us.

As women we have builded by the patient drudgery of the past the basic foundations of the home and of peaceful industry; we will not longer endure…that hoary evil which in an hour destroys…or tolerate…that denial of the sovereignty of reason and justice by which war and all that makes for war today render impotent the idealism of the race.

Therefore we demand that our right to be consulted in the settlement of questions concerning not alone the life of individuals but of nations be recognized and respected, that women be given a share in deciding between war and peace.

"Among the articles of our platform are," Miss Addams continued, "limitations of armaments and the nationalization of their manufacture; organized opposition to militarism in our own country and education of youth in the ideals of peace; democratic control of foreign policies; the further humanizing of Governments by the extension of the franchise to women; 'concert of nations' to supersede 'balance of power'; action toward the gradual organization of the world to substitute law for war; the substitution of an international police for rival armies and navies; removal of the economic causes of war; the appointment by our Government of a commission of men and women, with an adequate appropriation, to promote international peace.

"In the manifestation of patriotism throughout the world, using the word in its highest and best sense," said Miss Addams, "women have played their important parts from the beginning. But the present European war is destroying the finer meanings of the word obtained through many centuries of effort; it is making a basic appeal to self-defense, the earliest and most primitive form of patriotism.

"The vast majority of the men now battling, bleeding, and dying in Europe are animated as they continue day after day, no matter what ideals may have sent them to the conflict, by the stubborn sense of combat; it is the archaic motive of self-preservation which keeps them at their desperate task. In the trenches, dealing death and risking it, they dare not give way to their more highly developed impulses, which even in the thrill of battle tend to assert themselves.

"In a few men of fine [fiber] the idealistic impulses may still persist, even in the heat of conflict; but to the average man, as has been fully testified to by the veterans of our own civil war, service on the battle line is destructive of delicacy, sympathy, and rational thinking.

"The appeal to the instinct of self-preservation, to self-defense, is the patriotism of the tribe; that which first led the men of one tribe to war upon the men of another who seemed to be threatening their territory.

"The nations now at war one by one have made this tribal appeal, going back to the earliest conception of patriotism, ignoring all the subtler motives, and finally swamping all the finer sensibilities of their citizens in this primitive emotion.

"Each nation is fighting to defend its territory, its ideals, its race integrity, from its neighbors who have grown large and threatening. But simply because morals cannot be cut up into sections, if the tribal appeal is so universally used to induce men to go to war, the tribal conception of duty is also gradually extended to the women and made the standard of their conduct.

"The reaction of this tribal conception of patriotism must of necessity tend to put women back into the position they occupied in the tribe, and in Europe they are therefore at the present moment rapidly losing much that they had slowly achieved through centuries of painful effort.

"It is the business of the tribal woman to bear men children who shall increase the power and prestige of the tribe. She has little right of selection as to the father of her children and little control over their future.

"At the present moment women in Europe are being told: 'Bring children into the world for the benefit of the nation; for the strengthening of future battle lines; forget everything that you have been taught to hold dear; forget your long struggle to establish the responsibilities of fatherhood; forget all but the appetite of war for human flesh. It must be satisfied and you must be the ones to feed it, cost what it may.'

"That is war's message to the world of women. Is it wonderful that they resent it, shudder at it?

"This war is destroying the home unit in the most highly civilized countries of the world to an extent which is not less than appalling.

"To cite one instance of what I mean: The French Chamber of Deputies, in anticipation of the effect upon the nation of the slaughter of its men, has passed a law declaring that during these war times there shall be no such thing as illegitimacy in France.

"War benefits go equally to the mothers who are married and those who are unmarried. The nation is chiefly concerned to make up the deficit of human beings!

"I am informed that in the French churches the 'foundling boxes,' which had been taken away by law, have been restored. Their purpose is to offer mothers of unwelcomed children an opportunity to dispose of them secretly, but still keeping them for the nation. This amounts to governmental and clerical encouragement of the dissolution of family ties.

"In Germany the same thing has occurred and, if reports seemingly from trustworthy sources are to be believed, has gone even further than in the sister nation with which she is at war.

"Every effort is being made throughout the German Empire to secure the children of their own soldiers for the strengthening of the nation's bleeding vitality, although it may mean the lowering of moral barriers all along the line.

"It is further reported that the German Government is preparing organizations of midwives and nurses to follow in the wake of the armies, to care for women who have yielded to the temptations of the time or have fallen victims of the lust of soldiers.

"Other provisions are being made openly for the removal from Belgium and France to Germany of as many children as possible. These are to be reared as Germans.

"Could there be a more definite and dreadful illustration of the tendencies of war to break down and destroy the family unit?

"But France and Germany are not unique in the effect which war has had within their boundaries upon the status of women. In the English training camps, upon home soil, I am informed that the authorities are conniving in the excesses of the soldiers, quite in keeping with the traditional provisions long made for English soldiers when in camp on foreign soil.

"In fact, all soldiers as they march away to war, even if they go no further than the training camp, march away from social control, from family and community restraint.

"Under the impersonal uniform, the men feel that freedom which lack of identification gives. The temptations which confront them in war time are stronger than any they have ever known, and they come to them at the very moment when customary restraints are abandoned.

"All such inevitable consequences of war mitigate against the age long efforts of woman to establish the paternity of her child and the father's responsibility for it. In the interest of this effort the State has made marriage a matter of license and record, and the Church has surrounded it by every possible sanctity. Under the pressure of war, however, both of these institutions have in a large measure withdrawn their protection.

"All that women have held dear, all that the Church has worked for and the State has ordered, has been swept away in a breath -- the hot breath of war -- leaving woman in her primitive, pitiable state of the necessity for self-defense without the strength with which to compass self-defense.

"I by no means argue that women are better than men; I never have maintained that, even in the heat of debates upon the suffrage question. But in certain regards they are more sensitive than men, and one of these concerns the sanctity of human life.

"Most of us really believed that war, with its barbaric violations of this sanctity, had become forever impossible among civilized nations and regarded the talk of war as the echoes of a vague horror of the past.

"But now women are faced with the tragic certainty that humanity must re-begin its climb toward that higher development which we supposed already had been practically achieved.

"So long as a State, through the exigencies of war, is obliged to place military authority above all civil rights, women can have within it no worthy place, no opportunity for their development, and they cannot hope for authority in its councils.

"Thousands of them in Europe, as in the United States, had become so thoroughly imbued with the idea that the recognition of the sacredness of human life had at last become established throughout the world that the news of this war came to them as an incredible shock.

"Women are entitled in all justice to some consideration in this matter of war making, if only because they have necessarily been paramount in the nurture of that human life which now is being so lavishly spent.

"The advanced nations know very accurately, and we had begun to know in America, how many children are needlessly lost in the first years of infancy.

"Measures inaugurated for the prevention of infant mortality were slowly spreading from one country to another.

"All that effort has been scattered to the winds by the war. No one is now pretending to count the babies who are dying throughout the villages and countrysides of the warring nations.

"Women long have been responsible for the conservation of human life -- for that sentiment which expresses itself in the State care of dependent children, in old age pensions; for that sentiment which holds every scrap of human life to be so valuable that the human family [page 2] cannot neglect the feeblest child without risking its own destruction.

"At this moment, none of the warring countries of Europe can cherish the aged and infirm. The State cannot give care to its dependents when thousands of splendid men are dying each day.

"And so little children and aged people are dying, too; in some countries in the proportion of five to every one soldier killed upon the battlefield. But the nation must remain indifferent to their suffering.

"The thousands of women whose ambitions are all [centered] in their children are definitely committed to the ascent of human life; that which leads a man to cherish the hope that the next generation shall advance beyond the generation in which he lives; that generous glow we all experience when we see that those coming after us are equipped better than we have been.

"We know that Europe at the end of this war will not begin to build where it left off; we know that it will begin generations behind the point it had reached when the war began.

"If we admit that this sensitiveness for human life is stronger in women than in men because women have been responsible for the care of the young and the aged and those who need special nurture, it is certainly true that this sensitiveness, developed in women, carries with it an obligation.

"The women do not believe that Europe really had reached a point at which the men of one nation necessarily had to kill the men of other nations or themselves be killed.

"We cannot admit that self-defense urged by the statesmen of each of the warring nations is valid excuse in every case.

"But, quite as each nation makes this plea, because Governments at last realize that offensive warfare will no longer be tolerated, and that it has become a thing of the past, many women throughout the countries of the civilized world are declaring that warfare itself is not to be tolerated.

"Never before in the history of wars has there been such a solidarity among women, such organization as has been achieved during the last century. Without a hint of sex antagonism women are availing themselves of the wider public knowledge concerning the reaction of war upon women and children, in order to make a clear indictment against war as such.  

"Once before in the history of the world, in response to this sensitiveness, women called a halt to the sacrifice of human life, although it then implied the abolition of a religious observance long believed to be right and necessary.

"In the history of one nation after another, it was the mothers who first protested that their children should no longer be slain as living sacrifices upon the altars of the tribal gods, although the national leaders contended that human sacrifice was bound up with the traditions of free religion and patriotism and could not be abolished. The women led a revolt against the hideous practice which had dogged the human race for centuries.

"Many of us believe that at this moment throughout this world of ours there are thousands of men and women who have become convinced that the sacrifice of life in warfare is unnecessary and wasteful. Women in Europe -- in the very countries which are now at war -- are solemnly protesting against this sacrifice. The [Woman's] Peace Party believes that we are endeavoring to express that which is grounded in the souls of women all over the world.

"Even as this war has horrors which no war ever knew before, so also has the public better knowledge of them than it ever before has had of the horrors of any war.

"All the censorships which the ingenious minds of military commanders have been able to evolve have not kept from women a very good idea of the actual state of things.

"While much which reaches us cannot be confirmed and certain horrors may have been exaggerated, enough has been confirmed beyond the shadow of a doubt to challenge woman's chivalry to her own sex.

"A change of woman's status always has been a by-product of war -- the continued wars of France made a great change in the position of woman there. This was the beginning of the operation of small industries and commercial enterprises which are now so generally known in France; quite as the Southern woman was forced into new activities after the civil war in America.

"It is possible that this European war may change woman's position not only in industry and agriculture -- which it is obviously doing -- but that it also will make a distinct change in her political position. Certainly, everywhere, women will have to help to rebuild what has been torn down. That the whole conception of government has been momentarily thrown back into one in which woman has no place does not mean that the nations will not eagerly avail themselves of her services to recover as quickly as possible their tremendous economic losses.

"The [Woman's] Peace Party was started in America somewhat as The Hague conference has been called by a group of European women -- that women might have a medium through which to express their reaction against war.

"I have here a collection of open letters written by women since the beginning of the war, from England, from Germany, from France, from Austria, from Denmark, from Ireland, from Russia, from Hungary -- all of them protesting against the insanity and waste of war, and declaring the solidarity of women in the midst of it.

"The business of making public opinion for peace is surely women's work, if only because they feel the horrors of war more keenly than men do, and respond less readily to the martial appeal.

"Women are realizing, as never before, their obligations to embody in laws and institutions those moral and social forces which insure stability, form sound public sentiment, and make for security against warfare. For many reasons it is easier for women than for men to urge better international relations, because women can talk peace without being challenged for cowardice."