How to Feed the World, February 13, 1919

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↑Victory Dinner Feby 1919 Washington DC.↑


Miss Addams. Madam Chairman: I feel as if I had an overwhelming subject “How to Feed the World”, but as it was given to me by a discriminating committee I am sure that none of you are taking it too literally.

Doubtless the reaction from vital and generous experiences such as the Great War embodied, is a tendency to experiment and to modify existing conditions. Such a moment “is characterized by reaching forward into the unknown, by a tendency to make a connection with the future”. In addition to this [illegible] ↑[moral?]↓ the world just now is under a sense of moral compulsion to redeem the promises made to the millions of men who have subordinated their individual lives and welfare to a social ideal which they knew could be attained only in a future lying far beyond their own participation. Men and women in a score of nations are cherishing personal memories of this heroic sacrifice of their own sons ↑for↓ “No matter what a man’s frailties otherwise may be, if he has been willing to risk death in the service he has chosen, that fact consecrates him forever.”

After other great wars similar influences have challenged governmental institutions to reveal their finer meaning and have made the world discontented with its former achievements. It was at the Congress of Vienna in 1815 after the Napoleonic wars that the populations of the many nations represented there, insisted that the diplomats should make international provision against the future trading in slaves and that they should create international machinery designed to prevent all future wars. This was not so much a reflection of war weariness as an overwhelming demand for a more highly moralized future. It was, therefore, perhaps not surprising that one of the earliest propositions made to “The Congress of the Holy Alliance” in its first session at [Aachen] in 1818, should have been made by Robert Owen, who of all human creatures ↑then↓ living at that moment felt most poignantly [page 2] the untoward conditions surrounding working people in the then new factories, in an effort to utilize the moral imperative of the moment.

In the diplomatic intercourse between the nations through the century which following the Peace of Vienna the ↑each↓ nations ↑[productivity?]↓ became as concerned with ↑[illegible]↓ their ↑its own↓ self-interests, that they evolved no method for genuine [cooperation]. Various attempts at international action failed because the diplomats entangled in the 18th century conception of political prestige would not give up their nationalistic aims and ambitions. For instance, each time an epidemic of [illegible] Asiatic cholera invaded Europe after 1851 [illegible] “An International Diplomatic Conference” was called, but for forty years united action was impossible although the dread disease entered Europe six times. The last European epidemic of the century broke out in 1892 and even as late then “national prestige” and other abstractions dear to the hearts of the [illegible] representatives ↑diplomats↓ confined the quarantine regulations signed by 13 states to ↑one small area --↓ ships passing through the Suez Canal; the governments hoping thus to provide a barrier against disease at the point where the streams of pilgrim traffic and Asiatic trading crossed each other.

It was certainly of vital interest that cholera should not be allowed to spread into Europe, but these genuine interests to the very end of the century were sacrificed to a so-called foreign policy. In the meantime, however, the [pragmatic] old world had gone on its way and had developed a great new sense of responsibility for public health. Doctors and scientists in all the nations had combined into international organizations. In fact there were so many of these that a “Permanent International Commission of International Congresses of Medicine” was finally established. Such organizations were doing all sorts of things about cholera which the governments themselves were afraid to do lest national [sovereignty] be impaired.

The governments apparently ↑were slow to↓ never realize that certain issues require international action in order to secure national salvation and that a situation may [page 3] arise in which the interests of one particular nation can only be served [illegible] through common action with other nations. 

The great Peace Conference meeting in Paris has before it many such questions, but this Conference has an enormous advantage over any [illegible] previous great international conferences because during the war there has arisen between [illegible] the allied nations not only a sharp necessity for conserving public health and for feeding dependent peoples, but great international organizations have also been consummated to carry out those purposes. The Allied Nations seriously tackled the problem of producing with the utmost economy of human labor the largest possible amount of food and of distributing that food to the points of greatest need, they were forced to make international arrangements for its distribution, exactly as intelligently as they produced war supplies and sent out soldiers to fight in an international army. It is no small achievement to have devised a workable method for this collective purchase of food, to ↑have↓ prohibited profiteering in “the precious stuff that men live by”, even for the duration of the war. The Food Administrator for the United States certainly reported progress a year ago when he said “Our food exports are directed towards but a few hands on the other side of the water. The European governments have been compelled to undertake, as the consequence of shortage in supplies, the single-handed purchase of their supplies both for civil and military purposes. There has grown up an enormous consolidation of buying for a hundred and twenty million European people -- a phenomenon never before witnessed in the economic history of the world.”

This was said before the formation of The Inter-allied Food Administration, which is a “going concern” at this moment. Whether or not a League of Nations is organized in Paris -- and we now know for a certainty that it will be formed -- there is existing a League of Nations at this moment for distributing the food of the world to the points of greatest need. We are even told that the Inter-allied Food Administration it possesses a flag of its own for it has been found advantageous by to put upon [page 4] ↑to↓ designate the ships carrying food under international auspices ↑by↓ a flag consisting of two horizontal blue [stripes] with a white stripe between. This flag is unfurled ↑has evolved↓ in the administration of a definite function growing out of a de facto situation.

It is quite understandable that there was no place for woman and her possible contribution in the old international relationships, under the 18th century conceptions of government, they were indeed not “woman’s sphere.” But is it not quite possible that as women entered into city politics when clean milk and sanitary housing became matters for municipal legislation, as they have consulted state officials when the premature labor of children and the tuberculosis death rate became factors in a political campaign, so they may normally be concerned with international affairs when these are dealing with such human and poignant matters as food for the starving and the rescue of women and children from annihilation. It is possible that a motive power new in the relations between nations is being evolved in response ↑to the relief of wide spread [famine]!↓

A generous response on the part of the modern woman to these ↑human↓ [illegible] needs may afford an opportunity to lay over again the foundations for a wider international morality, as the primitive woman in her concern for feeding her children made the beginnings of an orderly, domestic life. We are told that when the crops of grain and roots so painstakingly produced by primitive women began to have a commercial value that their production and exchange was taken over by men, as they later took over the manufacturing of pottery and other of woman’s early industries. Such a history, of course, but illustrates that the present situation may be woman’s opportunity ↑to regain her old status on a modern scale↓ if only because foods at this moment are no longer being regarded from their money-making value but from the point of view of their human use. Women in response to this great crisis may be able to so extend their sympathies and to so enlarge her conception of duty that the consciousness of the world’s needs ↑may↓ become the actual impulse of her daily living. The women and children in Belgium, in [Serbia] and in [Romania] cannot be allowed to starve to death, but no child in any of these countries can be fed save through the international administration of foods. [page 5]

to hunger and dependence. It is ↑certainly↓ becoming clear that nations cannot oppose their political frontiers as an obstacle to free labor and exchange ↑of foods↓ without suffering themselves and causing suffering; that the world is faced with a choice between freedom in international commerce or international conflicts of increasing severity? Under this new standard of measurement, preferential tariffs inevitably disappear because the nation denied the open door must suffer in its food supplies; the control of strategic waterways or interstate railroad lines by any one nation who might be tempted to consider only the interest of its own commerce, becomes unthinkable. All that then would be necessary to secure the internationalization of the Straits of Bosphorus would be a demonstration of the need in Western Europe for Russian wheat, which is now exported so capriciously; the international building and control of a railroad into Mesopotamia would depend, not upon the ambition of rival nations, but upon the world’s need of the food which could again be secured from the capacious valley of the Euphrates by the restoration of the canal system so long ago destroyed. [Serbia] [illegible] be assured a railroad to the sea through a strip of international territory, because ready access to seagoing ships is so necessary to a nations' food and because one of the principal causes of the economic friction that so often lie behind wars is the fear of countries that have no ports lest the neighboring country through which their export and import trade has to pass should hamper and interrupt the transit.

It is possible that the more sophisticated questions of national grouping and territorial control would gradually adjust themselves if the paramount human question of food for the hungry be fearlessly and drastically treated upon an international basis. [illegible]

It was this ministration to genuine human need which was lacking in the Peace of 1815 and was also lacking at the meetings held at The Hague in Europe from time to time. There was no great economic and social impulse back of these meetings which swept the diplomatic beyond the old ideas regarding the function of the ↑of↓ state↑craft↓ [page 6] into a great human endeavor. There are many aspects of this food question which will be taken up in connection with the labor standards shortly to be considered in Paris, if we may take seriously the announcement put out a week ago. Among those standards is a prohibition of night work for women and it ↑the new approach↓ affords an interesting contrast to the old methods. During the last twenty years whenever this matter of the prohibition of night work for women on an international basis was discussed at all, it was by a handful of reformers who met from time to time to compare the progress made in their individual countries. They met in Switzerland in 1908 [illegible] under the auspices of the “International Association for the Promotion of Labor Legislation” and four years later thirteen of the European powers agreed that no women within their borders should be allowed to work between 10 o’clock at night and 6 o’clock in the morning, and this was finally ratified by an economic treaty between these powers. All this was done ↑in a↓ round-about way through the ↑by↓ individual ↑reformers who appealed to their respective↓ Parliaments. The United States could not even come in because we have no way of making such a law on a federal basis. But the whole thing could have been done much more simply ↑& [swiftly]↓ through a League of Nations if ↑[illegible]↓ the representatives of the various countries had come together with some sort of diplomatic standing.

There are many other things greatly in need of international direction and interpretation. Only the other day in Chicago a woman stood before me holding by the ↑with one↓ hand [a] little boy of five and in ↑the↓ other hand a little boy of three. Her husband had recently died and she could get a pension for the little boy of three because he had born in the United States, but could get nothing for the little boy of five because he had been born in Italy. She was given a mother’s pension so that she might give her attention to the care of her child, but there stood a little scrap of five whom she was obliged to support, to the neglect of the care of the little scrap of three. If some sort of standard is set up in Paris in regard to child labor and [illegible] an arrangement by which the national of one country shall be under the protection of the laws of the country in which they are working, such discrimination [page 7] [would] ↑will↓ be done away with and the whole standard of life, not only for men and women, but for little children, would ↑will↓ be put upon an international basis.

I do not wish to be misunderstood when I talk about this new internationalism. There is a feeling abroad that an international arrangement implies an abrogation of national loyalty and patriotism. Nothing could be more absurd. National feeling has never been [illegible] so definite and so intense as at the present moment, but if the smaller nations are to be preserved, and their very existence must be guaranteed by international action. Take the situation of Belgium. When the Germans so illegally invaded that small country they took a ↑desperate↓ chance. They did not believe that England would intervene and they felt quite sure that Italy would not. If there had been a League of Nations, however, no single military power, however strong, would have ventured to disturb Belgium’s neutrality because the ↑resulting↓ punishment and the result would have been absolutely certain. That is the kind of protection which only a combined international arrangement can give. It will protect not only state boundaries and national honor; it will also maintain standards of life and labor which have to do with the very existence of the human race, which are so basic that they must never be allowed to fall below that which the civilized world has proclaimed as essential.

What did this nation do when it broke away from its long isolation and came into European affairs? We all certainly admire the reaction upon our narrow national existence when an American army was sent to fight in an international cause. But at the same time our isolation was [illegible] broken in another way. Every person in these United States who produced more food or who saved food in order to keep from starvation the millions of [illegible] Europeans who had become dependent upon America, developed a sense of participation in a great cause. They enlarged their sympathies and stretched their imaginations [by?] was the old method of doing the will and learning the doctrine.

It was no slight undertaking to make this synthesis. It was probably the most compelling challenge which has been made upon woman’s constructive powers [page 8] for centuries. American women exerted all their human affection and all their clarity of mind in order to make the great moral adjustment which the situation demanded.

All we need now is a continued organization, the sustained urge of work under high motives, a consciousness of being essential to the future of [illegible] the world. (Applause)

The Chairman. Now, we are to have this subject open to discussion, and the discussion is to be led by Mrs. Martha Bensley Bruere, who will have ten minutes, and then the subject will be open to discussion from the floor.