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Chapter 15: a woman's peace crusade

I had felt a great opposition to Louis Napoleon from the period of the infamous act of treachery and violence which made him emperor. The Franco-Prussian war was little understood by the world at large. To us in America its objects were entirely unknown. On general principles of good — will and sympathy we were as much grieved as surprised at the continual defeats sustained by the French. For so brave and soldierly a nation to go through such a war without a single victory seemed a strange travesty of history. When to the immense war indemnity the conquerors added the spoliation of two important provinces, indignation added itself to regret. The suspicion at once suggested itself that Germany had very willingly given a pretext for the war, having known enough of the demoralized condition of France to be sure of an easy victory, and intending to make the opportunity serve for the forcible annexation of provinces long coveted.

As I was revolving these matters in my mind, while the war was still in progress, I was visited [328] by a sudden feeling of the cruel and unnecessary character of the contest. It seemed to me a return to barbarism, the issue having been one which might easily have been settled without bloodshed. The question forced itself upon me, ‘Why do not the mothers of mankind interfere in these matters, to prevent the waste of that human life of which they alone bear and know the cost?’ I had never thought of this before. The august dignity of motherhood and its terrible responsibilities now appeared to me in a new aspect, and I could think of no better way of expressing my sense of these than that of sending forth an appeal to womanhood throughout the world, which I then and there composed. I did not dare to make this public without the advice of some wise counselor, and sought such an one in the person of Rev. Charles T. Brooks of Newport, a beloved friend and esteemed pastor.

The little document which I drew up in the heat of my enthusiasm implored women, all the world over, to awake to the knowledge of the sacred right vested in them as mothers to protect the human life which costs them so many pangs. I did not doubt but that my appeal would find a ready response in the hearts of great numbers of women throughout the limits of civilization. I invited these imagined helpers to assist me in calling and holding a congress of women in London, [329] and at once began a wide task of correspondence for the realization of this plan. My first act was to have my appeal translated into various languages, to wit: French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Swedish, and to distribute copies of it as widely as possible. I devoted the next two years almost entirely to correspondence with leading women in various countries. I also held two important meetings in New York, at which the cause of peace and the ability of women to promote it were earnestly presented. At the first of these, which took place in the late autumn of 1870, Mr. Bryant gave me his venerable presence and valuable words. At the second, in the spring following, David Dudley Field, an eminent member of the New York bar, and a lifelong advocate; of international arbitration, made a very eloquent and convincing address.

In the spring of the year 1872 I visited England, hoping by my personal presence to effect the holding of a Woman's Peace Congress in the great metropolis of the civilized world. In Liverpool, I called upon Mrs. Josephine Butler, whose labors in behalf of her sex were already well known in America. Mrs. Butler said to me, ‘Mrs. Howe, you have come at a fortunate moment. The cruel immorality of our army regulations, separating so great a number of our men from family life, is much in the public mind just at present. [330] This is a good time in which to present the merits and the bearings of peace.’ Mrs. Butler suggested that I might easily find opportunities of speaking in various parts of England, and added some names to the list of friends of peace with which I had already provided myself. Among these were Mr.Winkworth and Mrs. Stephen Winkworth, whose hospitality I enjoyed for some days, on my way to London. This couple belonged to the society of Friends, but had much to say about the theistic movement in the society. In London Mrs. Winkworth went with me, one Sunday, to the morning service of Rev. Charles Voysey. The lesson for the day was taken from the writings of Theodore Parker. We spoke with Mr. Voysey after the sermon. He said, ‘I had chosen those passages from Parker with great care.’ After my own copious experiences of dissent in various forms, Mr. Voysey's sermon did not present any very novel interest.

I had come to London to do everything in my power to found and foster what I may call ‘a Woman's Apostolate of Peace,’ though I had not then hit upon that name. For aid and counsel, I relied much upon the presence in London of my friend, Rev. William Henry Channing, a man of almost angelic character. I think it must have been through his good offices that I was invited both as guest and as speaker to the public banquet [331] of the Unitarian Association. I confess that it was not without trepidation that I heard the toast-master say to the assembled company, ‘I crave your attention for Julia Ward Howe.’ My heart, however, was so full of my theme that I spoke very readily, without hesitation, and, if I might judge by the applause which followed, with some acceptance. Sir John Bowring now made my acquaintance, and complimented me upon my speech. The eloquent French preacher, Athanase Coquerel, also spoke with me. The occasion was to me a memorable one.

I had already attended the anniversary meeting of the English Peace Society, and had asked permission to speak, which had been denied me on the ground that women never had spoken at these meetings. Finding but little encouragement for my efforts from existing societies in London, I decided to hire a hall of moderate size, where I myself might speak on Sunday afternoons. The Freemasons' Tavern presented one just suited to my undertaking. With the help of a friend, the meeting was properly advertised, and I betook myself thither on the first Sunday afternoon, strong in the belief that my effort was of the right sort, but very uncertain as to its result. Arriving at Freemasons Tavern, I asked the doorkeeper whether there was any one in the hall. ‘Oh, yes! a good many,’ he said. I entered [332] and found quite a numerous company. My procedure was very simple,—a prayer, the reading of a hymn, and a discourse from a Scripture text. I had prepared this last with considerable care, and kept the manuscript of it beside me, but my memory enabled me to give the substance of what I had written without referring to the paper.

My impression is that I spoke in this way on some five or six Sundays. Of all these discourses, I remember only the last one, of which the text was, ‘I am persuaded that neither height nor depth, nor any other creature,’ etc. The attendance was very good throughout, and I cherished the hope that I had sown some seed which would bear fruit thereafter. I remember that our own poet, Thomas William Parsons, happening to be in London at this time, suggested to me a poem of Mrs. Stowe's as very suitable to be read at one of my Sunday services. It was the one beginning:—

When winds are raging o'er the upper ocean,

and I am glad to remember that I did read it as advised.

My work in London brought me in contact with a number of prominent workers in various departments of public service My acquaintance with Miss Frances Power Cobbe was pleasantly [333] renewed, and I remember attending an afternoon reception at her house, at which a number of literary notabilities were present, among them the brilliant historian, Mr. Froude. I had the pleasure also of meeting Mrs. Peter Taylor, founder of a college for working women; she and her husband had been very friendly to the Northern side during the civil war.

An important movement had been set on foot just at this time by Mrs. Grey and her sister, Miss Sherret. This was the institution of schools for girls of the middle class, whose education, up to that time, had usually been conducted at home by a governess. Mrs. Grey encountered a good deal of opposition in carrying out her plans. She invited me to attend a meeting in the Albert Hall, Kensington, where these plans were to be fully discussed. The Bishop of Manchester spoke in opposition to the proposed schools. He took occasion to make mention of a visit which he had recently made to the United States, and to characterize the education there given to girls as merely ‘ambitious.’ The scheme, in his view, involved a confusion of ranks which, in England, would be inadmissible. ‘Lady Wilhelmina from Grosvenor Square,’ he averred, ‘would never consent to sit beside the grocer's daughter.’

I was invited to speak after the bishop, and could not avoid taking him up on this point. ‘In [334] my own country,’ I said, ‘the young lady who corresponds to the lady from Grosvenor Square does sit beside the grocer's daughter, and when the two have enjoyed the same advantages of education, it is not always easy to be sure which is which.’ I had been privately requested to say nothing about woman suffrage, to which Mrs. Grey had not then given in her adhesion. I did, however, mention the opening of the professions to women in my own country. Mrs. Grey thanked me for my speech, but said, ‘Oh, dear Mrs. Howe, why did you speak of the women ministers?’ Some five or six years after this time I chanced to meet Mrs. Grey in Rome. She assured me that the middle-class schools had proved a great success, and said that young girls differing much from each other in social rank had indeed sat beside each other, without difficulty or trouble of any kind. I had heard that Mrs. Grey had become a convert to woman suffrage, and asked her if this was true. She replied, ‘Oh, yes; the moment that I began practically to work for women, I found the suffrage an absolute necessity.’

One of my pleasantest recollections of my visit to England is that of a day or two passed in Cambridge, where I enjoyed the hospitality of Professor J. R. Seeley, author of ‘Ecce Homo.’ I do not now recall the circumstances which took me to the great university town, but I remember with [335] gratitude the Seeley mansion, as one should do who was made at home there. Mr. Seeley lent a kind ear to my plea for a combination of women in behalf of a world's peace. I had also the pleasure of hearing a lecture from him on Edmund Burke, whose liberalism he considered rather sporadic than chronic, an expression of sentiment called forth by some exceptional emergency, while the eloquent speaker remained a conservative at heart. He did not, as he might have done, explain such inconsistencies on the simple ground of Burke's Irish blood, which gave him genius but not the logic of consistency. Mrs. Seeley was a very amiable and charming woman. I remember that her husband read to me Calverley's clever take-off of Browning, and that we all laughed heartily over it. A morning ramble made me aware of the beauty of the river banks. I attended a Sunday service in King's College Chapel, with its wonderful stone roof. Here also I made the acquaintance of Miss Clough, sister to the poet. She presided at this time over a household composed of young lady students, to whom some of the university courses were open, and who were also allowed to profit by private lessons from some of the professors of the university. Miss Clough was tall and dark-eyed, like her brother, her hair already whitening, though she was still in the vigor of middle age. She appeared [336] to be greatly interested in her charge. I spoke with some of her students, and learned that most of them intended to become teachers.

So ends this arduous but pleasant episode of my peace crusade. I will only mention one feature more in connection with it. I had desired to institute a festival which should be observed as mothers' day, and which should be devoted to the advocacy of peace doctrines. I chose for this the second day of June, this being a time when flowers are abundant, and when the weather usually allows of open-air meetings. I had some success in carrying out this plan. In Boston I held the Mothers' Day meeting for quite a number of years. The day was also observed in other places, once or twice in Constantinople, and often in places nearer home. My heart was gladdened, this last year, by learning from a friend that a peace association in Philadelphia still celebrates Mothers' Day.

I was very sorry to give up this special work, but in my prosecution of it I could not help seeing that many steps were to be taken before one could hope to effect any efficient combination among women. The time for this was at hand, but had not yet arrived. Insensibly, I came to devote my time and strength to the promotion of the women's clubs, which are doing so much to constitute a working and united womanhood. [337]

During my stay in England, I received many invitations to address meetings in various parts of the country. In compliance with these, I visited Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Bristol, and Carlisle. In Bristol I was the guest of Mary Carpenter, who gave me some friendly advice regarding the convention which I hoped to hold in London. She assured me that such a meeting could have no following unless the call for it were dignified by the name of some prominent member of the English aristocracy. In this view, she strongly advised me to write to the Duchess of Argyll, requesting an interview at which I might speak to her of my plans. I did write the letter, and obtained the interview. The Duchess, with whom I had had some acquaintance for many years, invited me to luncheon on a certain day. I found her, surrounded by her numerous family of daughters, the youngest of whom carried round a dish of fruit at dessert. Luncheon being at an end, the Duchess granted me a short tete-à--tete. ‘My only objection to a lady's speaking in public,’ she said, ‘is based upon St. Paul's saying: “I suffer not a woman to teach,” etc.’ I replied, ‘Yes; but remember that, in another place, he says that a woman may prophesy wearing a veil.’ She assented to this statement, but did not appear to interest herself much in my plan of a Woman's Peace Congress. She had always been [338] much interested in Dr. Howe's work, and began to ask me about him, and about Charles Sumner, for whom she entertained great regard. Messages were presently sent in to the effect that the carriage was waiting for the afternoon drive, and I took my leave, expecting no help from this very amiable and estimable lady.

Before the beginning of my Sunday services, I received a letter from Mr. Aaron Powell of New York, asking me to attend a Peace Congress about to be held in Paris, as a delegate. I accordingly crossed the Channel, and reached Paris in time to attend the principal seance of the congress. It was not numerously attended. The speakers all read their discourses from manuscript. The general tone was timid and subdued. Something was said regarding the then recent Franco-Prussian war, and the growing humanity shown by both of the contending parties in the mutual arrangements for taking care of the wounded. I presented my credentials, and asked leave to speak. With some embarrassment, I was told that I might speak to the officers of the society, when the public meeting should be adjourned. I accordingly met a dozen or more of these gentlemen in a side room, where I simply spoke of my endeavors to enlist the sympathies and efforts of women in behalf of the world's peace.

Returning to London, I had the privilege of [339] attending as a delegate one of the great Prison Reform meetings of our day.

As well as I can remember, each day of the congress had its own president, and not the least interesting of these days was that on which Cardinal Manning presided. I remember well his domed forehead and pale, transparent complexion, telling unmistakably of his ascetic life. He was obviously much interested in Prison Reform, and well cognizant of its progress. An esteemed friend and fellow country-woman of mine, Mrs. Elizabeth B. Chace of Rhode Island, was also accredited as a delegate to this congress. At one of its meetings she read a short paper, giving some account of her own work in the prisons of her State. At this meeting, the question of flogging prisoners came up, and a rather brutal jailer of the old school told an anecdote of a refractory prisoner who had been easily reduced to obedience by this summary method. His rough words stirred my heart within me. I felt that I must speak; and Mrs. Chace kindly arose, and said to the presiding officer, ‘I beg that Mrs. Julia Ward Howe of Boston may be heard before this debate is closed.’ Leave being given, I stood up and said my say, arguing earnestly that no man could be made better by being degraded. I can only well recall a part of my little speech, which was, I need scarcely say, quite unpremeditated:— [340]

‘It is related of the famous Beau Brummel that a gentleman who called upon him one morning met a valet carrying away a tray of neckcloths, more or less disordered. “What are these?” asked the visitor; and the servant replied, “These are our failures.” Even thus may society point to the criminals whom she dismisses from her presence. Of these men and women, whom she has failed to train in the ways of virtue and of industry, she may well say: “These are our failures.” ’

My words were much applauded, and I think the vote taken was against the punishment in question. . The sittings of the congress were mainly held in the hall of the Temple, which is enriched with carvings and coats of arms. Here, also, a final banquet was held, at which I was invited to speak, and did so. Rev. Frederick Wines had an honored place in this assembly, and his words were listened to with great attention. Miss Carpenter came from Bristol to attend the congress, and I was present when she presided over a section especially devoted to women prisoners.

A number of the addresses presented at the congress were in foreign languages. A synopsis of these was furnished on the spot by an apt translator. I recall the whole occasion as one of great interest.

I must not forget to mention the fact that the [341] only daughter of Edward Livingston, author of the criminal code of the State of Louisiana, was an honored guest at this congress. The meetings at which I spoke in different parts of England were usually presided over by some important personage, such as the mayor of the city. On one occasion a man of the people, quite popular in his way, expressed his warm approval of my peace doctrine, and concluded his remarks by saying, ‘Mrs. Howe, I offer you the hand of the Tyne-side Orator.’

All these efforts were intended to lead up to the final meeting which I had determined to hold in London, and which I did hold in St. George's Hall, a place very suitable for such occasions. At this meeting, Mr.Bright and Mrs. Jacob Bright sat with me on the platform, and the venerable Sir John Bowring spoke at some length, leaning on his staff as became his age. The attendance was very good. The meeting was by no means what I had hoped that it might be. The ladies who spoke in public in those days mostly confined their labors to the advocacy of woman suffrage, and were not much interested in my scheme of a world-wide protest of women against the cruelties of war. I found indeed some helpful allies among my own sex. Two sisters of John Bright, Mrs. Margaret Lucas and Mrs. Maclaren, aided me with various friendly offices, and through their instrumentality [342] the money which I had expended in the hire of halls was returned to me. I had not in any way suggested or expected this, but as I was working entirely at my own cost the assistance was very welcome and opportune.

I cannot leave this time without recalling the gracious figure of Athanase Coquerel. I had met this remarkable man in London at the anniversary banquet of the British Unitarian Association. It was in this country, however, that I first heard his eloquent and convincing speech, the occasion being a sermon given by him at the Unitarian Church of Newport, R. I., in the summer of the year 1873. It happened on this Sunday that the poet Bryant, John Dwight, and Parke Godwin were seated near me. All of them expressed great admiration of the discourse, and one exclaimed, ‘That French art, how wonderful it is!’ The text chosen was this: ‘And greater works than these shall ye do.’

‘How could this be?’ asked the preacher. ‘How could the work of the disciples be greater than that of the Master? In one sense only. It could not be greater in spirit or in character. It could be greater in extent.’

The revolution in France occasioned by the Franco-Prussian war was much in the public mind at this time, and the extraordinary crisis of the Commune was almost unexplained. As soon [343] as I found an opportunity of conversing with Monsieur Coquerel, I besought him to set before us the true solution of these matters in the lectures which he was about to deliver.

He consented to do so, and in one of his discourses represented the Commune as the result of a state of exasperation on the part of the people of Paris. They saw their country invaded by hostile armies, their sacred city beleaguered. In the desperation of their distress, all longed to take active part in some counter movement, and the most brutal and ignorant part of the populace were turned, by artful leaders, to this work of destruction. The speaker gave a very moving account of the hardships of the siege of Paris, the privations endured of food and fuel, the sacrifice of costly furniture as fire-wood to keep alive children in imminent danger of death. In the midst of the tumults and horrors enumerated, he introduced the description of the funeral of an eminent scientist. The quiet cortege moved on to the cemetery where halt was made, and the several speakers of the occasion, as if oblivious of the agonies of the hour, bore willing testimony to the merits and good work of their departed colleague.

The principal object of Monsieur Coquerel's visit to this country was to collect funds for the building of a church in Paris which should grandly [344] and truly represent liberal Christianity. I fear that his success in this undertaking fell far short of the end which he had hoped to attain. His death occurred not long after his return to France, and I do not know whether the first stone of his proposed edifice was ever laid.

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