WHAT THE WOMEN DID
THREE facts stand forth [preeminently] as I look back upon the International Congress of Women held at The Hague, Holland, April 28 to May 1, to formulate and express the responsibility of womanhood with reference to the world cataclysm that is becoming more terrible every day:
First -- Though the nations are engaged in a titanic struggle, the solidarity of woman has held. Delegates from five of the warring and ten of the neutral nations met in solemn conclave for three days with never a sign of national hatred.
Second -- The 1,150 women, assembled from fifteen nations, conducted their debate with a restraint and decorum that sorely disappointed a score of newspaper correspondents who came in the hope of witnessing an hysterical outburst, but that made possible the perfection of a conservative, forward-looking program for which we can firmly stand.
Third -- Deep though the emotion of the women was, and heartrending though the scenes were that some had themselves witnessed in conquered sections of the war area, their sympathies were those born of revulsion against the whole war system and its attendant wrongs to humanity at large, rather than of mere selfish concern for their own kin.
Only those who have been close to the theater of war and have learned at first hand something of the constant fear of the smaller states lest they, too, be engulfed, can appreciate the magnitude of the undertaking. It was not difficult for the American delegation to speak and act. We are the enfant terrible, as it were, in the family of nations. Even this world war has not put any particular restraint upon us. Not so with the people of Norway or Sweden or Holland or Denmark. With both parties to the European conflict constantly trying to draw the smaller powers into the maelstrom, every neutral citizen must weigh carefully every word that he says that bears upon the international situation.
Then, too, there was the ridicule which many of the "peacettes," as certain British papers contemptuously called the splendid English women, 180 in number, who tried in vain to get to the congress, had to face on every side.
It was not surprising, then, that the first day of the conference concerned itself more or less with platitudes protesting against the barbarity of war, pledging woman's support toward the creation of a better world-order and demanding that women be enfranchised in order to bring their forces to bear against the savagery of warfare. The delegates hesitated to discuss specific problems. They were timid in their utterances. We of America, accustomed to unbridled speech, had, because of four days' delay off Dover, England, arrived later than the other delegations and had not yet become acclimatized.
But pretty soon one delegate would venture a bolder assertion, and then another and still another, until by the end of the congress such intricate problems as commerce and investments, world-organization, armaments, and the terms of settlement had been discussed and disposed of with ringing resolutions that stirred the hearts of all. Never before have I attended an international meeting in which the participants so visibly grew in breadth of view, in bold assertion of the truth and the recognition of wrong, even though that wrong be committed by one's own country. To cite but a single instance, our American delegates did not hesitate to denounce the pernicious activities of investors who now for over a year have tried to draw us into a conflict with Mexico, nor did they hesitate to assert that the Panama Canal, together with other highways of world communication, should be neutralized.
One of the delegation proposed to submit a general resolution against the shipping of arms from the United States to belligerent nations, but the chair was obliged to rule the matter out of order, as it fell under the standing orders adopted at the opening of the congress that neither the causes of the present conflict nor its conduct should be discussed at its meetings, and this ruling prevailed.
The educative value of the conference is beyond estimate. The evening sessions were thrown open to the general public, and one saw the vast galleries of the "dierentuin" sprinkled at first with a lone man here and there, who had probably come out of sheer curiosity, the second night filled with a larger and less skeptical male attendance, and finally, on the third night, crowded to the limit with earnest, eager men, some of them in military uniforms, but for all that ready to applaud vigorously as the system of force was assailed.
The congress was not lacking in touching incidents. The heart of the delegates was revealed when, amid high feeling, the generous offer of the Dutch women was accepted to send shiploads and carloads of the beautiful hyacinths, tulips and other flowers for which Holland is famous to the wounded soldiers in French, English, Belgian and German hospitals. The Dutch Government franked these flowers, sent with the card of the International Congress of Women as far as the frontier of Holland, and formal arrangements for their reception had been made with the various countries to which they were sent. This secured from every belligerent nation a certain official recognition and at least ensured that they knew that such a body as the International Congress of Women was meeting at The Hague. We have already heard from friends of the pleasure given by these flowers in various countries.
Again, a tremendous ovation was given to the five Belgian delegates, who arrived a day late, after delays along the frontier, and a German delegate -- in fact a recognized leader of the German group -- moved a special resolution of welcome and requested that the Belgians be given a place of honor on the platform. Impressive also was the minute of absolute silence during which the great assemblage rose in tribute to the departed soldiers and to the millions of mothers and wives left behind.
The congress was not satisfied with resolutions and pious wishes. It acted. It voted to [dispatch] delegations to the capitals of Europe and of the United States, to lay before the governments the following program adopted by the congress:
"This International Congress of Women of different nations, classes, creeds and parties is united in expressing sympathy with the suffering of all, whatever their nationality, who are fighting for their country or laboring under the burden of war.
"Since the mass of people in each of the countries now at war believe themselves to be fighting, not as aggressors, but in self-defense, and for their national existence, there can be no irreconcilable differences between them, and their common ideals afford a basis upon which a magnanimous and honorable peace might be established. The congress therefore urges the governments of the world to put an end to this bloodshed, and to begin peace negotiations. It demands that the peace which follows shall be permanent and therefore based on principles of justice, including those laid down in the resolutions adopted by this congress, namely:
"That no territory should be transferred without the consent of the men and women in it, and that the right of conquest should not be recognized.
"That autonomy and a democratic parliament should not be refused to any people.
"That the governments of all nations should come to an agreement to refer future international disputes to arbitration or conciliation and to bring social, moral and economic pressure to bear upon any country which resorts to arms.
"That foreign politics should be subject to democratic control and women granted equal political rights with men.
"This International Congress of Women resolves to ask the neutral countries to take immediate steps to create a conference of neutral nations which shall without delay offer continuous mediation. The conference shall invite suggestions for settlement from each of the belligerent nations and in any case shall submit to all of them, simultaneously, reasonable proposals as a basis of peace."