Preface to Proceedings of the Fourth International Congress of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, 1924



The following pages report the proceedings of the Fourth International Congress of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.

Of the twenty National Sections which had made up the League nineteen were represented, only New Zealand being lacking; and during the sessions four Sections were admitted: Belgium, [Czechoslovakia], Haiti, and Japan, all represented except Haiti. There were besides delegates from affiliated countries, fraternal delegates, members, and visitors.

There was perhaps less discussion than at previous Congresses owing to the fact that most of the European delegates met with a small committee from the United States in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, for a week preceding the Congress. During this time while the program of the Congress was being prepared, many of the League's policies were fully discussed and afterwards were presented as resolutions to the Congress with the recommendations of the Executive Committee. Such resolutions represented the findings of a group of fifty people including the Consultative Members from eighteen different countries.

In every organization essentially federal in type its congresses are the critical moments in its life when it reports its achievements and decides upon its policies. The importance of a federal congress is especially emphasized in an organization which is international. Its members are widely scattered during the intervening years, and they inevitably react to very dissimilar social and political surroundings. Such dissimilarities have been very marked during the period of upheaval following the great war, especially in those countries whose political and territorial bases have been fundamentally altered by post-war events. Because of these difficulties inherent in the very structure of international organizations many such bodies since the great war have debarred from their congresses any discussion of political questions. On the other hand the Women's International League from the very nature of its aims is committed to a consideration of these [page 2] subjects. The League strives to arrive at its conclusions not by the easier methods of eliminating difficult topics nor by suppressing full debate nor even by an effort to compromise between differing opinions, but by the bolder processes evoked when the stimulus-response formula is applied to a group and results in genuine collective activity, or to use the Quaker formula, by a patient effort to obtain the consent of the meeting through an integration of all points of view. The attempt to apply such a method to the consideration of the post-war situation is naturally much easier for the members of a group like ours who through all the years of war propaganda succeeded in keeping themselves free from animosity. Our delegates had the added advantage that they had come together in their first congresses -- at The Hague in 1915 and at Zürich in 1919 -- under the pressure of a war psychology essentially alike in all countries, and almost identical in its reaction upon the individual opposed to war itself as a human institution. The delegates to the Washington Congress in 1924, as those to the Vienna Congress in 1921, therefore encountered the effects of their widely differing experiences obtained since the war, with a settled background of identity of war experience added to their consciousness of fellowship.

The Women's International League has always avoided in its congresses a mere repetition of first principles, and has tried to proceed from the place in which it has found itself at the time of its meetings. Obviously each congress cannot begin at the beginning and formulate anew the points of its continuing program. And yet we have discovered that always to assume that the fundamentals of our position are well known is to take too much for granted. For this reason it was decided to prepare a Manifesto for the Washington Congress restating the general principles for which the Women's International League stands, and at the same time to focus the Congress upon a consideration of what sort of an international order, stated in the light of the experiences and opinions of our National Sections, we should agree upon as one which would make war both unnecessary and impossible. All of our members have found it hard to see society settling back into the old grooves which had so surely led to the great catastrophe. Many of them felt that the time had come when nothing could be more useful than to try to visualize an organization of the world in which the economic, social, and psychological causes of war as well as the political ones would [page 3] be eliminated by the release of positive influences and by the substitution of more human motivations for those which had so miserably failed.

Most of the addresses were devoted to different aspects of this New International Order, and the program or "Cahier de la Paix" -- reported after devoted work by a committee with headquarters in Paris to whom the matter had been referred -- was received with great interest and was submitted to the National Sections for their consideration. The "practical" Americans were careful not to overweight the discussion by availing themselves of the advantage which, owing to the accident of geography, gave to Canada and the United States the largest delegations. But even those least inclined by temperament to abstract and theoretical considerations could not fail to remember how largely the war was kept going by abstract and theoretical slogans; they could but recall what an opiate to scruples as well as a stimulus to continued military activity was offered by the dream of world reconstruction which would more than make good the unspeakable ravages of war.

The Congress was followed by a Summer School held in Chicago from May 17 to 30. Its undoubted success was due to the organizing ability and devotion of the Chicago Branch of the United States Section. The New International Order was continued as the subject of the Summer School. As its prospectus promised, "every effort was made to emphasize those fields in which agreement has been obtained and to set forth the constantly widening range of international cooperation." Only the program of the School is given in this report, but it is planned to issue separate lectures from time to time as bulletins from the Geneva office, beginning with one by James Weldon Johnson, Secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, upon The Race Problem and Peace; also one by Frau [Auguste Kirchhoff] of Bremen upon Anti-Semitism -- an Aftermath of War.

The widest publicity and certainly the most pronounced opposition to the efforts of our League came in connection with the "Pax Special," a private car with a perhaps unfortunate name, which accommodated twenty-five of the foreign delegates who with Miss Amy Woods, Secretary of the United States Section, and Mrs. Nelson Trimble as organizer, went from Washington to Chicago, and after the Summer School from Chicago to [page 4] Montreal, the port from which many of the European delegates sailed. The "Pax Special" stopped at various cities en route, for public meetings had been arranged in twenty cities of the United States and Canada as an essential part of the plan for the Washington Congress.

There was no marked opposition in the press to those meetings which were held in New England and in New York before the Congress nor to those held in Baltimore and Philadelphia immediately following it. The opposition became pronounced after the "Pax Special" left the latter city, and culminated in the state of Ohio. Some of the opposition doubtless rested upon honest misunderstanding of the purposes of the organization and of the Washington Congress. Much of it, however, was obviously manufactured, and the identical preposterous misinformation was sent from one city to another. Striking items of this misinformation, furnished by a librarian employed in the Chemical Warfare Department of the War Department in Washington, were sent out in such a way as to appear to have the sanction of the government although the Secretary of War had definitely repudiated it to the League of Women Voters who were somewhat involved in certain of the misstatements. Heated opposition to the idea of the meetings of the Women's International League was naturally thus aroused in one city after another. In no city, however, in which a public meeting for the international delegates had been planned was it altogether abandoned, although it was sometimes necessary to modify its form. It was interesting to observe that the opposition vanished as soon as the speakers appeared and delivered their sane and helpful messages of good will and international cooperation. The reports in the press of the actual meetings were strikingly unlike the prognostications headlined in the same newspapers for days preceding the meetings. The twenty cities which heard the group of international speakers -- in addition to Swarthmore, Washington, and Chicago, where official meetings were held -- were New York, Boston, Worcester, Springfield, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Detroit, Cleveland, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Wheeling, Cincinnati, Dayton, Indianapolis, Buffalo, Niagara, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.

It is hoped this volume will reach readers who have known nothing of the Women's International League, but it is unfortunately impossible to give its history here. Such readers can [page 5] get full information at the offices of the National Sections most conveniently reached (for addresses see page 161), or from the International Office, Maison Internationale, 6 rue du Vieux-Collège, Geneva, Switzerland. It may be well to explain that the Maison Internationale is a charming old house with a garden, in the heart of Geneva (within three minutes' walk of the hall where the Assembly of the League of Nations holds its sessions), and that it not only provides international headquarters for the Women's International League, but makes rooms with board available to friends -- not necessarily members -- visiting Geneva and interested in making international connections.