Democracy for Women and Democracy for Peace: A War on Two Fronts

One of the most interesting things about transcribing for the Jane Addams’ Papers Project is reading about people’s ideas or dreams of the future. The feeling is analogous to reading a book where you already know the ending. In a letter, post marked, October 3, 1917, Bristow Adams enclosed a writing he wished to have published, called “Naming the War.” Bristow Adams was an American journalist and professor at Cornell University. While studying English and drawing at Stanford University in 1898, Adams established the Stanford Chaparral, one of the first college humor magazines. He took on a variety of jobs after college including forestry, free-lance writing and journalism, and working as vice-president for the H. M. Suter Publishing Company. His many careers helped shape his eventual employment as a professor for Cornell University’s Agricultural department in 1914. 

Excerpt of Bristow Adams’ “Naming the War.”

In his article to Jane Addams, Bristow Adams considered how and what the “Great War” should be named. If not named by historians in the future, then what name should be assigned to a war unlike any other? Adams concluded the war should be named the “war for peace.” He echoed the sentiment of many citizens at the time, who believed that this will be the war to end all other wars. Newspapers like The Times Dispatch, printed articles that characterized the overseas conflict as a “good war for a good peace…It is a war for democracy.”

Bristow Adams

The means, however, seemed to contradict the desired result. As described by Adams, peace must be achieved not through “cessation of the fight. It might be argued that to have peace all that would be necessary would be to stop fighting. But that would leave the world no nearer lasting peace.” The “only right way out of the present war is to carry it forward,” according to Adams. America was fighting for the safety of the world against militarism. His words are haunting, given our own contemporary knowledge of this era. Adams regarded the “war for peace” as an opportunity to show “that neither Germany nor any other power would again dream of recourse to the forces of destructive conquest.” This, however, would prove an unachieved reality as America would enter World War II just a few decades later in 1941. But Addams believed that the “safety for democracy” would only be secure through the continuation of war and ultimate victory of the Allied Powers. This same determination, however, was unacceptable when women fought for their right to vote as United States citizens.

Dora Lewis being assisted from jail after five days on a hunger strike, August 1918
Dora Lewis being assisted from jail after five days on a hunger strike, August 1918

A few weeks after Adams’ letter, Jane Addams received word from a woman in New York, whose own right to democracy had yet to be attained. Dora Lewis, a suffragist and member for the National American Woman Suffrage Association, requested Addams’ help in pressuring President Wilson to address the abuse received by jailed suffragists in the Occoquan Workhouse. Lewis was one of several women who petitioned in front of the White House asking President Wilson, ‘When will women have the right to vote?’ The Occoquan Workhouse was established for petty felons, not political offenders. The design of the Workhouse experimented with the idea that open-air and physical labor would reform criminal behavior. The Workhouse became infamous with the imprisonment of militant suffragists, like Alice Paul, who were arrested for protesting outside the White House gates and “obstructing traffic.” Lewis and several others including Ada Louise Kendall and Lavinia Lloyd Dock, were jailed a month or two prior to Paul’s arrest and their charges of abuse were published nationally through the press. Drawing from a letter written by some of the jailed picketers, the Daily Appeal reported the inedible meals given to the women, such as “wormy” cornbread. The article also noted physical abuse by the Superintendent, in which the women could hear a woman being kicked in the cell over from them. Lewis cited these in her letter, as well as indicating the futility of any investigation by the government since the “investigation that was recently held was secret, and held by the very people who appointed the superintendent who was under fire.” Just 15 days after writing this letter, Dora Lewis was jailed again for picketing. Lewis would continue protesting for suffrage, going in and out of jail three more times, until the vote was won in 1920.

The timeliness of this letter, arriving 23 days after Bristow Adams, offered an interesting analysis. The irony of the United States’ war for democracy abroad, when half of its population at home could not vote, is not a new concept. This theme would resurface again in the 1960s-1970s as United States entered the Vietnam War under the premise of ‘containing’ communism and preserving democracy. Jane Addams was straddling the frontiers of the war for democracy abroad and the war for suffrage at home. Bristow Adams’ “war for peace,” expressed a belief that peace and democracy go hand in hand, and he requested Addams help in publishing this article.  Dora Lewis appealed to Jane Addams with the hopes that she would back the suffragists’ protests at the hypocrisy of their nation’s democracy.  The two letters contribute to a micronarrative of a much larger reality. Jane Addams’ need to balance the democratic idealism of the war with her own position as a disenfranchised woman is representative of the nation’s two democratic war fronts.

“Adams, Bristow (1875-1957),” Jane Addams Digital Edition, accessed December 13, 2018,

Adams, Bristow, “Bristow Adams to Jane Addams, October 3, 1917,” Jane Addams Digital Edition, accessed December 13, 2018, 

Adams, Bristow, “Naming the War,” Jane Addams Digital Edition, accessed December 14, 2018,

“Bristow Adams Papers,1853-1970, 1862-1957.” Cornell University. Accessed December 9, 2018. 

“For Peace and Liberty.” The Times Dispatch. December 1, 1917. Accessed December 10, 2018.

“Lewis, Dora (1862-1928),” Jane Addams Digital Edition, accessed December 13, 2018, 

Lewis, Dora, “Dora Lewis to Jane Addams, October 26, 1917,” Jane Addams Digital Edition, accessed December 13, 2018, 

“Martinets Complain of Food They Receive in Jail-Some of it is Wormy.” The Daily Appeal. September 5, 1917. 

“Mrs. Lawrence Lewis Dora Lewis of Philadelphia on release from jail after five days of hunger striking.” Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States, 1918. August. Photograph. Accessed December 11, 2018.

“Workhouse Museum at Lorton.” Accessed December 5, 2018. Page Break.

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