Women, War and Suffrage, November 6, 1915

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WHEN the International Congress of Women at The Hague passed a resolution to hold a meeting "in the same place and at the same time as the Conference of the Powers which shall frame the terms of the peace settlement after the war, for the purpose of presenting practical proposals to that conference," they recalled the fact that at the Congress of Vienna, held in 1815, in addition to determining by treaty the redistribution of the territory conquered by Napoleon, the slave trade was denounced and declared to be "contrary to the principles of civilization and human rights," although, of course, the abolition of slavery was a matter for each state to determine for itself.

They further realized that within the borders of every country at war there is released a vast amount of idealism, without which war could never be carried on; a fund which might still be drawn upon when the time for settlement arrives. If the people knew that through the final negotiations Europe might be so remade and internationalized that further wars would be impossible, many of them would feel that the death of thousands of young men had not been in vain, that the youth of our generation had thus contributed to the inauguration of a new era in human existence.

It is, therefore, both because of the precedent in 1815 and at other times of peace negotiations when social reforms have been discussed, and because idealism runs high in the warring nations, that the women in The Hague congress considered it feasible to urge a declaration that "the exclusion of women from citizenship is contrary to the principles of civilization and human right," as one of the fundamental measures embodied in their resolutions for permanent peace.

But perhaps their hopes for such actions are founded chiefly upon the fact that the settlement at the end of this war may definitely recognize a fundamental change in the functions of government taking place in all civilized nations, a change evoked as the result of concrete, social and economic conditions, approximating similarity all over the world. The recent entrance of women into citizenship coming on so rapidly not only in the nations of Europe and America, but discernible in certain Asiatic nations as well, is doubtless one manifestation of this change, and the so-called radical or progressive element in each nation, whether they like it or not, recognize it as such. Nevertheless, there are men in each of these countries even among those who would grant the franchise to women in city, state, and national affairs, to whom it is still repugnant that women should evince an interest in international affairs. These men argue that a woman's municipal vote may be cast for the regulation of contagious diseases, her state vote for the protection of working children, and even federal congressmen, consider pure foods and the tariff on wool, but that international relations are so much a matter of fortified boundaries and standing armies that it is preposterous for women who cannot fight to consider them.

Furthermore, when war was practically man's sole occupation, no one had a voice in the deliberations of the nation save those responsible for its defense -- the king, the nobles, the nights. In the succeeding centuries, as other tests of social utility have been developed and the primitive test of fighting has subsided, the electorate has been steadily enlarged, the bourgeoisie, the workingman -- and last, the woman. Each group largely following its own interests as government took them over -- the regulation of commercial relations, of industrial conditions, of the health and education of children. Only in time of war is government thrown back to its primitive and sole function of self-defense and the many interests of which it is the guardian become subordinated to that.

In normal times, however, all modern governments, with any living relation to the great developments in commerce, industry, sanitary science, or a dozen other aspects of contemporary life, are coming to realize that the current type of government implies the frequent subordination of an isolated nationalism to a general international federation. It is hoped that this new approach to international relationships, typified by the international postal system and a hundred other semi-governmental regulations, will be vital enough to assert itself at the end of this war as over against the militaristic and "armed peace" relationships.

But because this primitive conception of the function of government has obtained during the long months of the European war, there is obviously a great need at the end of the war that women should attempt, in an organizing capacity, to make their contribution to that governmental internationalism between the nations which shall in some measure approximate the genuine internationalism already developed in so many directions among the peoples.

Some such organized and formal effort on the part of women would add but one more to that long procession of outstanding witnesses who in each generation have urged juster and more vital international relations between governments. Each exponent in this long effort to place law above force was called a dreamer and a coward, but each did his utmost to express clearly the truth that was in him, and beyond that human effort cannot go.

This tide of endeavor has probably never been so full as at the present moment. Religious, social, and economic associations, many of them organized since the war began, are making their contributions to the same great end. Several of them are planning to meet at "the Conference of the Powers which shall frame the terms of the peace settlement after this war," and such meetings are not without valuable precedent.

A federation or a council of European powers should not be considered impossible from the very experience of the nations now at war. The [page 2] German Empire, consolidated Italy, or the United Kingdom have been evolved from separate states which had previously been at war with each other during centuries. The response to the call of imperialistic England, during the last months, for more troops has shown that patriotic emotion can be extended to include the Boers of South Africa and the natives of India. Certain of these great federated states and empires have again formed alliances with each other and are fighting together against a common enemy.

Is it too much to hope that the good will and the consciousness of common aims and responsibility can be extended to include all the European nations and that devices for international government can be provided, able to deal in the interests of the whole with each difficult situation as it arises? The very experience of this war should demonstrate its feasibility; the analogy inevitably suggests itself that, as the states of Germany and Italy came together under the pressure of war, possibly this larger federation may be obtained under the same sense of desperate effort.

Out of the present situation which certainly "presents the spectacle of the breakdown of the whole philosophy of nationalism, political, racial, and cultural," may conceivably issue a new birth of internationalism, founded not so much upon arbitration treaties to be used in time of disturbance as upon governmental devices designed to protect and enhance the fruitful processes of cooperation in the great experiment of living together in a world become conscious of itself.

To such an experiment women's equal participation might conceivably be considered valuable.


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