Excavating the History of Women and the Peace Movement

The peace movement dominates Jane Addams’s work from 1914 until her death in 1935. Working through the Woman’s Peace Party, the International Committee of Women for Permanent Peace, and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Addams worked with her counterparts in many nations in a global movement to bring about peace, social justice, and equality.  She also served as the de facto leader of the American women’s peace movement.

Our detailed focus on the content of the documents and our efforts to identify the people mentioned in them yields a different kind of history than one that only focuses on the leaders of movements.  As we have begun publishing WILPF documents from both the United States and abroad, we are finding the names of early adherents, donors, and activists and adding them to the project’s database.

We know about Emily Greene Balch, Crystal Eastman, and Lucy Biddle Lewis, who were Addams’s coworkers for peace in the United States. But what about the rank and file? The women whose dollar donations funded the work of the WILPF? It turns out that within Jane Addams’s correspondence, we can learn about them too.

Eleanor Daggett Karsten, the secretary of the Woman’s Peace Party and then the United States Section of the WILPF, updated Addams every few weeks in 1920 with information about the women joining the new league, founded in 1919 at the International Congress of Women. As a document to add to our edition, I have to admit that each time I saw one of these multi-page columnar lists, I sighed, knowing that this one document might take a week or more to completely enter into our system due to the number of names. Thankfully, most of these lists contained street addresses, which made it easier (though not always easy!) to identify the women.

It didn’t take long to realize that instead of drudgery, adding the names of the early members of the WILPF was historical excavation of the best kind. Our biographical work is carried out in two steps. First the student or editor who enters the document into our system tries to link the name on the document to an existing name in our database. We use an Omeka-based system and a plug-in called Item Relations, to search the more than 12,0000 names in the system. When the person is not there, we add them. In this stage, the goal is to simply identify the person so that we are sure they are not duplicated and that we have verified their basic information.

We strive to add birth and death dates, full names, and a short biography, which we don’t publish until the second stage, when a student researcher does more in-depth work and drafts a full biography. Our goal is to then create relationships between the people in the edition and the organizations and events they participated in. This social network of Addams’s world being built slowly document by document, is one of the results of the project that we are most excited about. It will take time to build the data up, but it is time well spent.

For women, that means that “Mrs. Jerome H. Frank on 168 Hamptondale Road in Hubbard Woods, Illinois,” becomes “Florence Kiper Frank (1887?-?)” A draft biography, that isn’t publicly available yet notes that she was a member of the United States Section of the WILPF and was married to lawyer Jerome H. Franks and had a daughter named Barbara. Much of this comes from census records (having a street address on these lists is an enormous help),  local newspapers, and other web-based resources to get accurate information.  We create a bibliography pointing to the sources used so that others can follow our trail.

It is extremely exciting to find a photograph of the women, often in the U.S. Passport Applications that we access via Ancestry.com. Though the images are not of the best quality, hopefully we can add scanned originals at some point in the future.  We have also found that having even these short biographical stubs accessible on the web means that family members can find the project and see the associations that their ancestors had with Addams and peace. We have already received some photographs and biographical information from family members and hope that this will increase as we add more names.

Some of the more challenging research revolves around women who worked for peace outside the United States. There are many complicating factors—misspelled or partial names, the lack of genealogical resources for most non-English speaking countries, lack of language skills among our staff to read and search foreign-language resources (Google Translate only helps so much!), and often a lack of detailed geographical  information about where they lived.  Many of these peace activists are hard to trace through World War II, as records of pacifists and peace organizations often did not survive the war.

But adding them, even with partial names and limited dates, accomplishes something. As we enter more documents and move into the 1920s and 1930s, we uncover the names of those who participated in the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and in time we will learn more about their lives as well.