Presidential Address at the Third International Congress of Women, July 10, 1921



delivered by


July 10, 1921.

This is the opening of the Third Congress of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. The first one was held at the Hague in 1915 during the first year of the Great War. Women then came together from twelve different countries both to make a protest against war and to make such suggestions as they were able, to be considered at the Peace Conference, which we all believed would occur within a few months. At that time no one could possibly foresee that the war would last so many years.

The second Congress, in which women from 21 countries were represented, was held in Zurich in 1919. We then made our protest against the terms of the Peace Treaty and further made an appeal for a human consideration, at least for the women and children of all the belligerent countries; we took these suggestions and also others concerning the terms of the League of Nations to the Peace Commission, who were still sitting in Paris. The Third Congress, as you know, opens this morning.

For this Congress we were most happy to accept an invitation from the Austrian Branch to meet in this historic and beautiful old City of Vienna; we realize, as we come, that this country has suffered bitterly both from the war and from the terms of the Peace. But even here we hope that we may do something in the name of reconciliation; that the women who are assembled here, representing 30 countries, may be able to bring a touch of healing to this sad and complicated situation, which is felt not only in Europe, but in every country of the world. We hope we may give an impulse toward more normal relations between differing nations, differing races, and differing classes. The groups of women from various countries are still small, but we realize that every crusade, every beginning [page 2] of social change must start from small groups, composed of people who are convinced of the righteousness of their cause and who are willing to think carefully and to state the idea clearly. Such a convinced group is the mother cell, as it were, and the coming together of the groups is the natural process of growth. Our groups have come together and we hope they will be filled with that enthusiasm which arises from discussions, that they will receive the emotional momentum and sense of validity which result from encountering like-minded people of other lands. These groups will give their experiences and tell each other how far they have been able to put their convictions into action. We are, therefore, working by a natural method and the stars in their courses are with us.

In spite of pseudo-scientific teaching and although we are so near to the Great War with its millions of dead, we venture to assert that war is not a natural activity for mankind; that it is very abnormal both from the biological and the ethical point of view, that large masses of mankind should fight against other large masses. Mankind has been on the earth for a million and a half years, but war -- masses of men against masses of men -- is only twenty centuries old. We claim that mankind's natural tendency is to come into friendly relationship with ever larger and larger groups and to live a constantly higher and more extended life. This desire to come together torments mankind as an unappeased thirst torments a man in the desert.

Because this world war mobilized not only armies but entire populations, the world has seen, as never before, what war means in the lives of little children in every country of the world, not only those actually engaged in war. We, therefore, have a right to believe that the women of the world realizing that war inevitably means the starvation of little children, will be roused to a sense of their age-long obligation to nurture children, to keep them alive, and to bring them to a useful living. When they realize fully that war destroys everything that mothers have begun, there may be unloosed a tremendous force against war, a force much more primitive and more compelling than any of the motive power which war propaganda can use in war's behalf.

In this Congress, therefore, we wish not only to make the old challenge against war, not only to renew our protest against the unsatisfactory and iniquitous peace which followed this war. [page 3] We wish, as far as we are able, to loosen within our own members and in all people with whom we come into contact, those natural and ethical human impulses which once having their way into the world, will make war impossible.

We formally announce this Congress to be open and we welcome you to attend its meetings. We hope our deliberations in Vienna will partake of the courtesy and kindliness which has always [characterized] the people of this cosmopolitan [center].

The Congress will now receive a greeting from Frau Yella Hertzka, the distinguished President of the Austrian Branch which has made us so welcome to this beautiful city.