History

1915: The first International Congress meeting in the HagueWILPF (the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom) was founded in April 1915, in the Hague, the Netherlands, by 1,300 women from Europe and North America, from both countries at war against each other and neutral ones. They came together in a Congress of Women to protest the killing and destruction of the First World War that was then raging in Europe.

They issued 20 resolutions, some of immediate importance (to end the conflict and negotiate the differences) and some with long-term aims to reduce conflict and prevent war and lay the foundations for a permanent peace. They called on neutral governments to press the belligerents to stop fighting and settle their differences by negotiation. They called for immediate steps to establish a conference of neutral states and offer continuous mediation (such as asking each belligerent to put forward their grievances and suggest remedies, and make their suggestions to each equally).

They also called for a conference of women to take place at the same time and same place as the ‘conference of powers’ that would meet at the end of the war to frame the terms of the peace settlement, and submit to the participating states their practical proposals to meet the conditions for a lasting peace. They also resolved to send ‘envoys’ to carry the messages contained in the resolutions of the Congress to the neutral and belligerent states in Europe and to the President of the USA.

In the event, small delegations visited 14 countries during May and June 1915. Jane Addams, elected President of the Congress and of the International Women’s Committee (which was beginning of WILPF) the Congress established, met with President Wilson who, according to the records, said that the Congress’s resolutions were by far the best formations for peace which had been put forward until then. Again, according to the records, Wilson ‘borrowed’ some of their ideas for his own peace proposals he later made.

As for long-term proposals, the resolutions called for disarmament, for equality between women and men and among nations, for a world institution that would provide continuous machinery to mediate arising conflicts to prevent them from growing into war. The women of the Hague sought an end to the war system and the transformation by non-violent means, from (as we say today) ‘a culture of militarism and war to a culture of peace and non-violence’. As resolved at the 1915 Congress, the International Women’s Committee, convened a conference to decide on proposals to put forward to the governmental peace conference convened in Versaille in 1919.

Because the French government refused permission to the German women delegates, the women’s conference was held in Zürich. A small group of delegates sat in Versaille to receive the submissions from Zürich and get them to the participants in the governmental conference. The women’s congress (in Zürich) denounced the final terms of the peace treaty as a treaty of revenge of the victors over the vanquished, sowing the seeds of another world war. They decided to make the International Women’s Committee a permanent organization and called it the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). Its aims and objectives were and still are ‘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’.

Jane Addams Emily Green Balch
Jane Addams (left), Emily Greene Balch (right)

WILPF was founded as an international organization to work globally, with its arms in individual countries and towns. We are not a federation of national organizations or national affiliates. Two of our founding members, Jane Addams and Emily Greene Balch, both US citizens, received the Nobel Peace Price, respectively in 1931 and in 1946 for their peace efforts and international work.