Year of the Woman: Money, war & women for peace Women’s Peace Movement 1919/2020

The Crestone Eagle • April, 2020

by M. Diane Bairstow

Every month we are following the ratification of the 19th Amendment and considering women’s issues then and now. In April 1920, only one state was needed to ratify the amendment, but no state signed on that month.

Women have been famously anti-war throughout history. In the Greek play Lysistrata  (411 BC) the women declared a sex strike to secure peace and end the Pelponesian war. They were successful, but they started another war between the sexes.

The Woman’s Peace Party

On August 14, 2019, in response to the outbreak of hostilities in World War I, 70-year-old Frances Garrison Villard organized the Woman’s Peace Parade. In deadly silence and wearing black dresses, 1500 women marched down 5th Avenue in New York City behind a white banner bearing a dove. The “crowds watched the parade in the spirit of the marchers, with sympathy and approval,” her son Oswald Garrison Villard later recalled.

Four months later, in January 1915, the Woman’s Peace Party was created at a convention held in Washington D.C. Their platform called for “a convention of neutral nations in the interest of an early peace,” the limitation of armaments, organized opposition to militarism, and the removal of the economic incentive.


Female delegates to the 1915 Women’s Peace Conference in The Hague, aboard the MS Noordam. April 1915. The delegates include: feminist and peace activist Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence (1867-1954), social activist and writer Jane Addams (1860-1935), and Annie E. Malloy, president of the Boston Telephone Operators Union. To the right of Malloy may be labor journalist and activist Mary Heaton Vorst (1874-1966) and the woman wearing a hat on the far right may be Lillian Kohlhamer of Chicago.

Through perilous waters

Again, 4 months later on April 28, 1915 the Women’s International Congress for Peace and Freedom was held in the neutral Netherlands. From America, the journey by boat was perilous, through mine-strewn waters and enemy combatants, but 47 intrepid women, including many members of the Woman’s Peace Party, boarded the Dutch cruise ship the MS Noordam and sailed to the Hague under a blue and white banner of Peace! They were held up for four days in the English Channel by the Royal Navy, and just barely made the opening ceremonies.

During the convention, the International Committee of Women for Permanent Peace was formed, and in 1921 it morphed into the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). The Woman’s Peace Party was absorbed into this larger group.

The WILPF is still at work today. It is a non-profit, non-governmental organization working “to bring together women of different political views and philosophical and religious backgrounds determined to study and make known the causes of war and work for a permanent peace.” It is in 37 countries and is headquartered in Geneva with an office at the U.N. in New York City.


Peace Women, an arm of the WILPF, has begun a media initiative, #MoveTheMoney.

Their key messages on social media are:

• You Get What You Pay For: Investing trillions in arms and pennies for peace leads to violence and war

• Guns don’t promote security; gender equality does

• Move the Money: Invest in gender equality and feminist movement-building for peace

This circles back to the 1915 Woman’s Peace Party platform, which included removing the “economic incentive” for war.

United States, the world’s biggest arms dealer

   These women have the right idea. In 2018, global military spending was at a record high of $1.8 trillion, and it rose an additional 4% in 2019. The United States alone spent $935.8 billion in 2019. America doesn’t have a Department of Peace, but our government contributed 28.4% of the U.N’s $6.3 billion peacekeeping budget which amounted to about $1.8 billion or .0019% of America’s military spending. The money spent on the U.N.’s peacekeeping force goes to buy military uniforms and weapons to keep the peace.

   The economic incentive is not only in building and killing, it is in selling. The United States is the world’s biggest arms dealer in the world. America’s share of global arms exports is 36%, and our biggest customer is Saudi Arabia.

   When will we ever learn?