With Mourning Hearts
April 28, 1915 — International Congress of Women, Great Hall of the Dierentuin, The Hague, the Netherlands
As President of the Executive Committee which has arranged this International Congress of Women, it is my honoured task to bid you all a hearty welcome here. Inspite (sic) of our delight at seeing you all here and our appreciation of the courage yo have shown in braving the dangers risks and difficulties attached to travelling from one country to another in these days, I am unable alas, to welcome you with rejoicing. The object of this meeting is too serious, we live in too sad a time, and our hearts are too heavily weighted with sorrow. We women of so many different nationalities, who, in order to express our feelings, have to use different languages, and who each one of us has her own national characteristics, have come here animated by the same spirit, the same hopes, the same desire, that our voice shall penetrate to the uttermost ends of the earth in its protest against war with its terrible manslaughter, and against the assumption that it is the one and only way whereby international disputes can be determined.
In arranging this International Congress we have naturally had to put aside all thoughts of a festive reception, we have simply endeavoured to receive you in such a way that you may all feel assured of our sympathy, our mutual sisterly feelings, our goodwill to link the nations together again in the bonds of fellowship and trustful co-operation.
With mourning in our hearts we stand united here. We grieve for the many brave young men, who have lost their lives in barbaric fratricide before even attaining their full manhood; we mourn with the poor mothers bereft of their sons; with the thousands of young widows and fatherless children; we will not endure in this 20th century civilisation, that governments should tolerate brute force as the only method of solving their international disputes. The culture of centuries’ standing, and the progress of e must no longer be recklessly employed to perfect the implements of modern warfare. The accumulated knowledge, handed down to us through the ages, must no longer be used to kill and to destroy and to annihilate the products of centuries of toil.
Our cry of protest must be heard at last. Too long already has the mother-heart of woman suffered in silence. O, I know and feel most strongly, that it is impossible that a worldfire, such as has been blazing forth the the last nine months, can be extinguished, until the last bit of inflamable (sic) material has been reduced to ashes, but I also feel most strongly that we must raise our voices now, if the new era of civilization that will arise from these ashes is to rest upon a more substantial basis, a basis on which the women with their inherent conserving and pacific qualities shall have the opportunity to assist men in conducting the world’s affairs.
Important as are the economic interests of a country, the interests of the race are more vital. And, since by virtue of our womanhood, these interests are to use of greater sanctity and value, women must have a voice in the governments of all countries.
There are persons who believe it would have been better if we had postponed this International Meeting and had waited until the war was over, and the enmity of the nations had given way to peace and quietness. Those who hold this opinion have forgotten to take into consideration that an international congress of women held after the war would bear a totally different character. The discussion on “how to prevent war in future” would be rendered more difficult if the Congress included both the conquering and the conquered nations. But now that we are living in the midst of the roar of cannon and the noise of war, the women all over the world have realised that they must come together, that across the battle fields they should extend their hands in fellowship and prevent the international bond between the nations from being severed. Far from being premature in holding our Meeting at this stage, we might rather be reproached for having delayed so long before sending forth our cry of protest to the world; however in this connection it should be remembered that with the dislocation of the world’s traffic it would not have been possible in a shorter time to organize a large international meeting.
But we are by no means too late. The results of our Meeting may still be of powerful assistance in preventing the seeds of hate and enmity which are being sown broadcast among the nations from taking root and becoming in all probability the source of fresh wars and calamities. We still have the time, each one in her own country, to influence the minds of our fellow countrymen in favour of the conditions laid down by us in order to establish a lasting peace after the war. And though our efforts may not shorten the present war, there is no doubt that the pacific assembly of so large a number of women gathered together from so many nations, will have its moral effect upon the belligerent countries.
If has also been asserted that we should have limited our programme to a mere protest against war and that claims for woman suffrage were out of place on the programme of a peace conference. Those of us who have convened this Congress however have never called it a peace congress, but an international Congress of women to protest against war, and to discuss ways and means whereby war shall become an impossibility in the future. We consider that the introduction of woman suffrage in all countries is one of the most powerful means to prevent war in the future, so that woman before the war-fever sets in, may be able to plan means and to produce conditions which would help to prevent the outbreak of war. But to accomplish this we need political power. Not until woman can bring direct influence to bear upon Governments, not until in the parliaments the voice of the women is heard mingling with that of the men, shall we have the power to prevent recurrence of such catastrophes.
The Governments of the world, based on the insight of the half of humanity, have failed to find a right solution of how to settle international disputes. We therefore feel it more and more strongly, that it is the duty, the sacred duty of every woman, to stand up now and to claim her share with men in the government of the world. Only when women are in the parliaments of all nations, only when women have a political voice and vote, will they have the power effectively to demand that international disputes shall be solved as they ought to be, by a court of arbitration or conciliation. Therefore on a programme of the conditions whereby wars in future may be avoided, the question of woman suffrage should not be lacking, on the contrary, it should have the foremost place.
That with the short time for the arranging of this Congress and the sacrifices which have had to be made in undertaking long journeys, there should be here assembled the members and delegates of so many associations of every kind, hailing form all nations and representing hundreds of thousands of women, is indeed a proof how deeply everywhere the need was felt for a meeting when the voice of womanhood might resound over the earth.
We, Dutch women, count it a privilege that we could offer a suitable meeting-ground, and nothing will cause us grater satisfaction in looking back upon the preparatory labours for this Congress, than that all of you, to whatever nationality you may belong, can feel in our midst as amongst friends.
May this Congress be the dawn of a better world, a world in which each realizes that it is good to serve one’s own country, but that above the interests of one’s Country, stand the interests of humanity, by serving which a stlll higher duty is fulfilled.
Source: Report of the International Congress of Women, The Hague — The Netherlands, April 28th to May 1st, 1915, President’s Address, Resolutions Adopted, Report of Committees Visiting European Capitals (The Woman’s Peace Party).
Also: International Congress of Women, The Hague — 28th April-May 1st 1915 (Amsterdam: International Women’s Committee of Permanent Peace) 1915, p. 5-8.