Each for Equal
This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #EachforEqual; an equal world is an enabled world. There are many women we could discuss today: Jane Addams, of course, for her work in the immigrant communities of Chicago, among many other areas she championed in the name of equality. Carrie Chapman Catt, who heavily campaigned for women’s suffrage rights. Lillian D. Wald, who taught women valuable skills out of the Henry Street Settlement. And Emily Greene Balch, a staunch supporter of peace as a central leader in the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. But there is, I believe, a group of women whom we often forget to include when discussing Addams, especially her work for peace — the women who aided Addams outside the United States.
It is easy to forget that many of Addams’s contemporaries were
located outside the United States. Dr. Aletta Henriëtte Jacobs, a Dutch physician and suffrage activist, had multiple achievements to her name, including her life-long struggle for women’s equality. Jacobs was the first woman to attend a Dutch university, inspired by her father, physician Abraham Jacobs. Jacobs became a pharmacy assistant, continuing on to University of Groningen. In 1879, Jacobs set up a practice in Amsterdam, offering free appointments to poor residents, struggling to maintain large families. In a controversial move, in 1882 Jacobs offered birth control advice at her clinic, the first clinic ever to do so in the world. She paved the way for Dutch women to seek an education outside finishing school, and control the size of their families, lowering the infant mortality rate and improving women’s health in the process.
Chrystal Macmillan was a British pioneer, one of the first woman to graduate from the University Edinburgh in 1896 then finishing her studies in Berlin and Edinburgh. MacMillan fought for women’s rights at Edinburgh University. When World War I began, Macmillan threw her energies into providing food for Belgian refugees. Her staunch pacifist views made her a leader in
the English movement against war, and brought her into the international drive to end war. Macmillan was one of only three British women who attended the 1915 International Congress of Women and throughout the war worked for peace and a negotiated settlement. In March of 1919, Macmillan attempted to lessen the surrender terms to be implemented for Germany in the Treaty of Versailles, but no changes were made. Chrystal Macmillan dedicated her life to the equality and fair treatment of women and oppressed peoples, regardless of their country of origin.
Rosika Schwimmer, a Jewish-Hungarian activist, was a powerhouse in the peace movement; her unswerving belief in peace and women’s equality were seen by some as abrasive and they found her difficult to work with. Before becoming a peace activist, Schwimmer worked as a governess, and bookkeeper, a correspondence clerk, and finally became president of the Nőtisztviselők Országos Egyesülete (National Association of Women Office Workers), in 1901. After an international mentorship with American suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt, Schwimmer returned to Hungary, founding the Hungarian Feministák Egyesülete (Feminist Association). Their goals included equality for women in education, employment, and healthcare. Schwimmer was a driving force in the efforts to stop World War I. She convinced Henry Ford to mount a peace mission in 1915, and attended meetings to the Women’s Peace Party and the International Congress of Women in 1915. Schwimmer fought against anti-Semitism and sexism during the early twentieth century to secure better living conditions for Hungarian women and beyond.
With so much history right here in the United States, it’s easy to push international affairs out of our minds, preferring to learn about our own country’s struggles. But, as Jane Addams and her contemporaries have shown, the fight for equality for women encompasses is an international fight and women need to keep working until equality has been secured for all. As Addams wrote: “The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.” This International Women’s Day, we remember the women working abroad for the equality of women worldwide.