Jane Addams: Chicago's Pacifist

1915 Carnegie Hall Speech

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Carnegie Hall 1896-1920

Addams Returns to the United States

Jane Addams and other members of the Women’s Peace Party return to the United States from the women’s peace conference in The Hague, Netherlands, and the subsequent tour of European capitals, to promote their peace plan.  Upon her arrival in New York City, Addams is warmly welcomed by supporters.  

She gives a speech about her experiences before an audience of thousands in Carnegie Hall, in New York City. “It is too much to hope to reach the mind of everyone in a huge audience like this,” she confides early in the speech, “but I should like to reproduce in the minds of some of you some of the impressions made by this pilgrimage of ours...” [1] She offers several main insights about her experiences in Europe.  First, in all the war capitals she and the other members of the delegation visited, Addams says public officials spoke of the righteousness of their countries’ cause.  Each country, she declares, claims to fight in self-defense and wants “to preserve its own traditions and its own ideals from those who would come in and disturb and destroy those high traditions and those beliefs.”  [2] Second, Addams underscores the desire of statesmen for a negotiated solution to the war; yet no one among them wants to call for it, fearing that their enemies might question their resolve, interpret their desire for peace as a sign of weakness, and seek to exploit this weakness at the negotiating table.  However, in their support for mediation, she stresses, the European statesmen are “unequivocal...”  [3] Third, internally the warring countries are dividing into two camps.  The “military party” wants a military solution to the conflict.  The “civil party” fears that the longer the war continues, the greater the harm will be done to society and the liberty of the people. “The people who represent the civil view of life,” she says, “in the midst of this patriotic fervor, in the midst of this devotion to the army, see that and long for some other form of settlement...” [4] Addams says she speaks for them.

America must lead

Addams maintains that the United States is uniquely positioned to lead a convention of neutrals – comprised of government officials and leaders from civil society, including business, labor, and science – to find a way to bring the war to an early end.  The United States is a country whose citizens make up a cross-section of the world’s peoples on both sides of the war.  It is also the only non-belligerent great power.  Hence the eyes of the world are focused on the United States, and Addams sets out in the speech to convince the American people – and President Woodrow Wilson – that the time for the United States to lead the world toward a permanent and just peace is at hand.  (Soon after the speech, Addams shares her experiences in Europe with President Wilson.)

Addams observes how the pervasiveness of militaristic ideas has degraded the human spirit of soldiers entering battle.  She writes: “The old notion that you can drive a belief into a man at the point of a bayonet is in force once more. It is quite as foolish to think that if militarism is an idea and an ideal, it can be changed and crushed by counter-militarism or by bayonet charge. And the young men in these various countries say of the bayonet charges: ‘That is what we cannot think of.’ We heard in all countries similar statements in regards to the necessity for the use of stimulants before men would engage in bayonet charges – that they have a regular formula in Germany, that they give them rum in England and absinthe in France; that they…give them the ‘dope’ before the bayonet charge is possible. Well, now, think of that.” [5]

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First Congregational Church, Evanston circa 1895

The "Bayonet Charge" Controversy

In what would become known as the “bayonet charge,” Addams is criticized in the press for alleging that British and French soldiers on the front lines of the war are cowards; so fearful are they of fulfilling their patriotic duty, that they can only face almost certain death by consuming drugs and alcohol. In a letter to the editor of the New York Times, Richard Harding Davis, an American journalist whose reporting on the war in 1914 and 1915 did much to shape public opinion in favor of Britain and France, takes Addams to task: “Miss Addams denies [British and French soldiers] the credit of his sacrifice.  She strips him of his honor and courage.  She tells his children, ‘Your father did not die for France, or for England, or for you; he died because he was a drunk.’” Addams’ statement, he continues, is “unworthy,” “untrue,” and “ridiculous.” “The contempt it shows for the memory of the dead is appalling; the credulity and ignorance it displays are inconceivable.” [6] In her memoir The Second Twenty Years at Hull- House (1930), Addams condemns Davis’ interpretation of her Carnegie Hall statement about the natural fear in the hearts of many men as they prepare for battle. “No charge, of course, in the wide world could have been better calculated to bring down upon me vials of wrath and righteous condemnation… I was presenting data, which to my mind indicated a revolt against war taking place in the midst of war itself.  I cited the loathing against their own use of the bayonet felt by a certain type of young men, to overcome which ‘We were told in several countries that stimulants were administered before a bayonet charge was ordered.’” She continues, “It never occurred to us who heard this statement nor to those who made it, that this was done because the men lacked courage.  It was taken for granted that the stimulants inhibited the sensibilities of a certain type of modern man, to whom primitive warfare was especially abhorrent, although he was a brave soldier and serving his country with all his heart.  The giving of stimulants was a quicker process than that incitation to reprisals and revenge which in actual warfare so often serves as an immediate incentive.” [7]

Fanned by her pro-war critics, widespread and strong negative publicity hounds Addams. Writes one critic in New York Topics, “Jane Addams is a silly, vain, impertinent old maid… who is now meddling with matters far beyond her capacity.”  Theodore Roosevelt, whose name Addams had placed into nomination for president of the United States, in Chicago in 1912, dismisses her call for mediation and calls instead for immediate steps for war preparedness.  He also refers to the leaders of the peace movement as “’amiable peace prattlers’ who uttered ‘silly platitudes.’”  [8] Roosevelt had earlier condemned The Hague conference, and a short time after Addams’ Carnegie Hall speech he singled out Addams, referring to her as “one of the shrieking sisterhood” and “poor bleeding Jane.” [9] The former president’s words were widely covered in the national press.  “The journalistic attack continued for week after week in every sort of newspaper throughout the country” and abroad, Addams recalls in The Second Twenty Years. “It also brought me an enormous number of letters, most of them abusive, but a minimum number from soldiers who had actually been through bayonet charges, and these letters, I am happy to say, were always sympathetic or corroborative.” [10]

Back in Chicago later that year, Addams receives chilly receptions to talks on her peace work before audiences at the Chicago Women’s Club and the First Congregationalist Church of Evanston.

Addams is Resilient

Popular approbation of her peace advocacy only intensified after the United States entered the war in April of 1917.  The fallout from the Carnegie Hall speech, she later reminisces, had “fortified” her for the firestorm ahead.  She writes in Second Twenty Years: “[I]t was [after Carnegie Hall] that I first learned to use for my own edification a statement of Booker Washington’s.  ‘I will permit no man to make me hate him.’” [11] Nevertheless, and especially because of the high regard the general public had held her for so long, Addams is shaken by the intensity of the attacks against her.

[1] Jane Addams, “The Revolt Against War.” The Survey 34 (17 July 1915).  Jane Addams’ Account of her Interviews with the Foreign Ministers of Europe, a speech delivered in Carnegie Hall, New York, 9 July, 1915.  In Marilyn Fischer and Judy D. Whipps, eds., Jane Addams’ Essays and Speeches (New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2005), 85

[2] Addams, “The Revolt Against War,” 85.

[3] Addams, “The Revolt Against War,” 85.

[4] Addams, “The Revolt Against War,” 86.

[5] Addams, “The Revolt Against War,” 94.

[6] Richard Harding Davis, “An Insult to War,” New York Times, July 13, 1915.

[7] Jane Addams, The Second Twenty Years at Hull-House. September 1909 to September 1929.  With a Record of Growing World Consciousness (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1930), 132.

[8] Louise W. Knight, Jane Addams: Spirit in Action (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010), 204.

[9] Allen F. Davis, American Heroine: The Life and Legend of Jane Addams (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2000), 223. 

[10] Addams, The Second Twenty Years at Hull-House, 133.

[11] Addams, The Second Twenty Years at Hull-House, 133.