1915 was a momentous year for women’s efforts for peace and suffrage. Jane Addams and others established the Women’s Peace Party (WPP), met at the International Congress for Women, formed the International Committee of Women for Permanent Peace (ICWPP), (known today as the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom [WILPF]), and held a massive Suffrage parade in New York City, N.Y. While they worked together for one ultimate goal — equality — they used a variety of methods, one of which was revisiting Ancient Greece.
With the establishment of the WPP in Washington, D.C., the leaders contacted prominent women involved in the peace movement to urge others to create their own branches to expand their influence. They attempted to sway President Wilson’s administration to call a conference of neutral nations. One approach they used to convince the public was by mounting a production of Euripides’ Trojan Women.
A Summary of the Trojan Women
Queen Hecuba was dethroned and was wasting away in a Greek camp, where survivors were held before their fates were decided. Odysseus enslaved Queen Hecuba, while her daughter Cassandra, became Agamemnon’s concubine. Cassandra was cursed to see the future but to have no one believe her. She knows once she and Agamemnon go to his home, his wife will kill both of them.
The tragic play was written by Euripedes in 415 BC. It follows the story of Queen Hecuba, Andromache, Cassandra, and other women of the city of Troy after their beloved city fell to the Spartans. Their families were killed and those who survived were taken as slaves.
Hecuba’s daughter-in-law Andromache comes in with her son, Astyanax, and confirms that another of Hecuba’s daughters is killed as a sacrifice. Andromache’s lot is to become Achilles’ son’s concubine, but Hecuba consoles her with the hope that Andromache might be allowed to raise Hector’s son, Astyanax, who could then become the future savior of Troy.
These hopes are quickly crushed when Herald of the Greeks Talthybius arrives and says Astyanax must be condemned to death. Towards the end of the play, Talthybius comes back with the body of Astyanax on Hector’s great bronze shield. Hecuba prepares herself for for the burial of the grandson and makes one last desperate attempt to end her life to avoid being a slave, but fails and watches her beloved city of Troy go down in flames.
The Trojan Women Tour: 1915
Trojan Women has been revered as one of the best anti-war plays ever written, as one reviewer claimed, “the most vivid, most poignant, and most beautiful presentation of the unmitigated evil and utter futility of war, particularly as war effects women and children.” In 1915, Addams announced that the Women’s Peace Party would sponsor a twenty-week tour of the play, which she said “poignantly expressed the agony of women and children in war.” Maurice Browne, the director of Chicago’s Little Theater, was put in charge of the production, which was funded by a $5,000 gift by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The play was translated by Gilbert Murray, a noted British professor of Greek theater.
The production began as Addams was preparing to travel to Europe for the International Congress of Women. It was almost stopped before it began because Browne employed a child actor to play Astyanax. Addams had long opposed using child actors, testifying against a 1911 bill that would exempt them from Illinois’ child labor protection. The production was shown in a number of cities between April and June 1915: Ann Arbor, Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Columbia, Detroit, New York, Oberlin, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Urbana, and Washington, DC, to generally positive reviews. All proceeds supported the work of the Women’s Peace Party.
This play is still performed today across the country and was turned into a movie in 1972. The message of the emotional play is a timeless one that still resonates with many today; peace is greater than war.
“Trojan Women Scene Outside Walls of Troy,” Richmond Item, March 27, 1915, p. 3.
To Try to End the War,” Sioux City Journal, March 2, 1915, p. 8.