Women’s International Congress for Peace & Freedom

April 28th, 2015

On this day; 28th April 1915, a peace conference was convened in the Hague, Holland, at a time when the warring sides were, quite literally, entrenched in bloody conflict. Women from around the world gathered to promote the idea of an end to the war and a return to peace.

At the time America was maintaining its neutral status and 47 women from the USA attended the conference. Amongst the party were future Nobel Peace Prize winners Jane Addams and Emily Balch. Despite America’s neutrality, their trip attracted some opposition and former President, Theodore Roosevelt, called it “silly and base” referring to the women as cowards who sought peace “without regard to righteousness.”
The women’s hope and belief was that a united demonstration of feeling against the war could have a moral effect upon the warring nations. Around 1,200 delegates from 12 countries including Britain, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy, Poland, Belgium and the United States, met to promote a peaceful resolution.

The Congress was not attended by the French, whose government refused to allow delegates to attend as did Russia, Serbia and Japan. The British 180 strong party was largely prevented from travelling by the suspension of the regular commercial ferry service by the British government.
Although ‘unofficial’, the Congress was in fact the third peace conference at the Hague. The first International Peace Conference was convened by Tsar Nicholas II of Russia 1899. It aimed to calm down the rivalry and arms race between the European superpowers emerging at the time and to develop a new system to settle international disputes. The conference was attended by 26 countries.

The second International Peace Conference was in 1907 with 43 countries attending. The aim was again to establish of a system for the peaceful settlement of international disputes and rules on warfare, particularly naval warfare. However, attending countries were already dividing themselves in two power blocs, the Triple Alliance; Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy and the Triple Entente; the UK, France, and Russia.

When the 1907 conference was convened, its participants were already formed into the two opposing sides of the forthcoming war. Disputes between any of the main parties of the two blocs would draw in the others. Complicating things further, minor partners had treaties with the big players; Serbia counted on the support of Russia, and Serbia was an enemy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. War had already become almost inevitable.