Jane Addams: Chicago's Pacifist

1915 Tour of the European Capitals

The Conclusion of the Hague Peace Conference

At the conclusion of the Hague peace conference, the International Committee of Women for Permanent Peace (ICWPP) sends two delegations to European capitals to promote its peace plan among statesmen and peace activists.  In May and June of 1915, Jane Addams and Aletta Jacobs – the president and vice-president of the conference, respectively – visit the capitals of six belligerent countries – Britain, France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Italy – and three neutral countries, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the Vatican.  (A second delegation visits the capitals of Scandinavia and Russia.)  Though she concedes the statesmen of the belligerent countries are unlikely to agree to mediation, Addams sees her mission as a necessary and worthwhile one-in-a-thousand chance to find a way to bring peace.

The effort to promote a mediated outcome of the war has an inauspicious beginning.  On May 7, a German submarine sinks the H.M.S. Lusitania, a British vessel, off the coast of southern Ireland, at the tail end of a voyage from New York to England.  The German government had earlier declared a policy of unrestricted submarine warfare against British and allied shipping in the North Atlantic, and in advertisements in New York newspapers, the German embassy cautioned travelers from sailing on the Lusitania.  Among the 1,100 casualties are 128 Americans.  The British and American governments condemn the attack, and despite the German government’s claim that the ship is a legitimate target because it carries war munitions, the sinking is an unmitigated public relations disaster for Germany.  For Addams, the incident makes the already daunting task of winning support for mediation all the more difficult, because the attack reinforces the widespread public view in Britain, France, and especially the United States that the Germans are the clear aggressors and, because of their moral depravity, must be defeated on the battlefield.

Addams Meets Heads of Government, Foreign Ministers, and Citizens

Addams and Jacobs’ tour starts in Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands and the host nation of the ICWPP conference.  In early May, the women meet with Dutch Prime Minister Cort van der Linden and Foreign Minister John Loudon.  

On May 14 and 15, Addams and Jacobs are received in London by British Liberal party Prime Minister Herbert Asquith and Foreign Minister Lord Edward Grey.  The British statesmen reject the ICWPP’s proposal for a group of neutral nations to offer permanent mediation to end the war, arguing that the Germans had initiated the war and that together Britain and France were committed to Germany’s military defeat.

Addams is critical of the British government’s censorship of news about the war. In her opinion, it prevented voices opposed to the government’s war policy from being heard.  Furthermore, because the American press relies for its war news on the censored reports coming out of England, the American people’s thinking about the war is skewed.  Yet Addams is hardly despondent.  The intense patriotism that press reports produce among the people, she maintains, will not last, and eventually “international ideas” that offer hope for a mediated settlement of the war will no longer be viewed with “derision and contempt.”[1]  Peace advocates, she continues, have no friend in the press and few means to easily communicate with one another and the general public.

A week later, the Addams and Jacobs delegation arrives in Berlin and meet with German Foreign Minister Gottlieb von Jagow and Chancellor Theobald Bethmann-Hollweg.  The Chancellor declares that Germany will not request mediation, because doing so would be wrongly interpreted by England and France as a sign of German weakness.  

Addams and Jacobs also meet with German citizens.  Hamilton, who accompanied the women to Berlin, describes an impromptu encounter with a German military officer in the lobby of their hotel.  Echoing a criticism that Addams, as an American, regularly heard from many of the Germans she met in Berlin, fellow pacifists included, the officer is critical of the United States’ policy of selling munitions and foodstuffs to Britain and France and alleges that as a practical matter the United States is hardly neutral in the war.  Hamilton summarizes the German officer’s comments: “He was the first one to attack us on the subject of America’s sale of munitions of war to the allies, an attack to which we because wearily accustomed before we left Germany and Austria.  He was just back from nine days at the front and claimed that every shell which had fallen in that part of the line while he was there was an American shell.”[2]  Hamilton also recalls an encounter with an American woman who is the spouse to a German nobleman. “The American wife,” she writes, “told us that a widowed friend had come to see her with a bit of a shell which some soldier had sent her from the front, saying it was the shell that had killed her husband.  And the woman had shown her the ghastly thing, and said, ‘Look at it and tell me if it is an American shell’”?[3] Hence, in Germany, at least, there is widespread skepticism that the United States can serve as a trusted mediator between the belligerent states.

In Vienna, on May 26, Addams and Jacobs meet with Prime Minister Carl Strügkh and Foreign Minister Stephan Burian. Addams offers apologies for the visit, saying, “Perhaps it seems to you very foolish that women should go about this way,” referring to the Hague Peace Congress and the two delegations touring European capitals,” but after all, the world itself is so strange in this war situation that our mission may be no more strange nor foolish than the rest.” The prime minister's response surprises Addams. “Foolish? Not at all,” Stürgkh replies. “These are the first sensible words that have been uttered in this room for ten months.” “That door opens from time to time,” he continues, “and people come in to say, ‘Mr. Minister, we must have more men, we must have more ammunition, we must have more money or we cannot go on with this war.’ At last, the door opens and two people [meaning Addams and Jacobs] walk in and say, ‘Mr. Minister, why not substitute negotiations for fighting?’”  Offering a compliment to Addams and Jacobs, the Austrian minister concludes, “[You] are the sensible ones.’”[4]  Addams concedes that, while the prime minister has little influence on Austria-Hungary’s war policy, she stressed that his sentiments in favor of mediation were by no means isolated.  Further, she leaves the meeting firm in her conviction that a negotiated settlement to the war is possible if only the “right medium” could be found.  For her and the other Peace Congress delegates, that medium is a conference of neutrals led by the United States.

Several days later, Addams arrives in Budapest, the capital of Hungary, which, together with Austria, share one head of state, the Hapsburg Emperor Franz Joseph I, who directs both countries’ foreign policies. (Germany and Austria-Hungary are allies and both countries have been battling Russia on the Eastern Front since the previous August.  Addams meets with Hungarian Prime Minister Istvan Tisza.  Tisza has long expressed serious reservations about the war and, in the weeks following the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, he urged Franz Joseph to avoid a military showdown with Serbia so as to avert war between Austria and Russia and potentially plunging all of Europe into a quagmire.  Hamilton records Tisza as having spoken at length about the “senseless horrors” of war[5]. Later, Addams addresses a large audience in Budapest and is well received.

From there, Addams travels to the Swiss capital of Bern, where she rejoins Jacobs, who had gone to Switzerland after she and Addams departed Vienna.

Within days of Italy’s having declared war on Austria-Hungary, Addams and Jacobs arrive in Milan, where Addams observes strong, anti-Austrian sentiment among the Italians she met there.  In Rome, anti-German propaganda is prevalent, especially surrounding the German occupation of Belgium and the military’s violent response to the Belgian resistance.  Addams and Jabobs meet with Italian Prime Minister Antonio Salandra and Foreign Minister Sidney Sonino who decline to endorse the IWCPP’s plan for a conference of neutrals.

Also in Rome, Addams and Jacobs meet with Pope Benedict XV who, much to their satisfaction, endorses the plan and encourages the women to carry on in her peace advocacy.  The pope, writes Hamilton, calls on the United States to undertake a diplomatic effort to end the war. “It was a real audience with the Pope himself,” she writes, “for we sat for half an hour and discussed with him the war and the possibility of some action on the part of neutral nations to initiate negotiations between the warring countries.  He was in favor of this, and said more than once that it was from the United States, the greatest of the neutral countries, to make a move in which he would gladly cooperate if it seemed best.”[6]

From Rome, the delegation travels to Paris.  There is strong opposition to mediation in France.  The women meet with various government ministers.  Hamilton describes the meetings as “sometimes depressing, sometimes quite inspiring.”[7]  Most disheartening are the Addams and Jacobs’ meetings with French pacifists who were barred from attending the Hague conference.  French women express great bitterness toward Germany and blame the Germans for the war and the loss of life.  “One can understand why this is so,” Hamilton writes.  “France has been invaded, the richest part of the country is still in the hands of the conqueror, and her feeling is one of bitter resentment.”(8)  Addams deems the French government and the citizenry most critical of all to mediation.

The tour concludes with a return trip to London, England, and visit Oxford.

Diplomacy is the solution

Addams’ post-Peace Congress travels throughout Europe reinforce her commitment to a mediated settlement of the war.  She laments the opposition of the most powerful countries to mediation.  Though each side sees its actions as a legitimate response to the crimes perpetrated against them by others, Addams observes that the combined effect of these actions is a profound human tragedy.  Britain’s naval blockade of German ports, Germany’s harsh treatment of Belgian women and children, the introduction of flamethrowers and poison gas on the battlefields on the Western Front are indeed “hideous occurrences.” “[G]reat nations,” she cautions, “cannot conduct their operations from the standpoint of reprisals,” and the claim on both sides that “the continued existence of the enemy [is] a menace to civilization”(9) is a dangerous war mentality that breeds more unnecessary death and destruction.  The only solution is a diplomatic one.  Addams also alleges that militarists in all the belligerent countries – and the United States – have effectively shut down dissent, and she ponders how the peace community can better mobilize itself to promote its message of a mediated end to the war.  Yet Addams remains convinced that the statesmen of Europe will have a very hard time rejecting peace negotiations headed by a group of neutral countries if the alternative is continued bloodshed with no end in sight.  It is on this point where Addams believes women have an obligation to mobilize and serve as a vehicle to get their respective governments to commit to participating in a peace conference.

Addams sails from Liverpool, England, on June 26 and arrives in New York on July 5.

(1) -  Jane Addams, Emily C. Balch, and Alice Hamilton, Women at the Hague: The International Congress of Women and Its Results (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1915), p. 87.

(2) - Addams, Balch, and Hamilton, Women at the Hague, p. 24-25.

(3) -  Addams, Balch, and Hamilton, Women at the Hague, p. 28-29.

(4) -  Addams, Balch, and Hamilton, Women at the Hague, p. 96-97.

(5) -  Addams, Balch, and Hamilton, Women at the Hague, p. 44.

(6) - Addams, Balch, and Hamilton, Women at the Hague, p. 46.

(7) -  Addams, Balch, and Hamilton, Women at the Hague, p. 50.

(8) - Addams, Balch, and Hamilton, Women at the Hague, p. 47.

(9) - Addams, Balch, and Hamilton, Women at the Hague, p. 86-87.

This English translation of the map "European Alliances 1914" is by Wikimedia users Fluteflute & Bibi_Saint-Pol; original French map by Wikimedia user historicair. Used with permission via Wikimedia Commons according to the terms of the Creative Commons license CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0.