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Women and War

February 1915 — Cooper Union, New York City 


The People’s Institute and the Manhattan Borough section of the Woman’s Suffrage Party have called this meeting tonight that women may have an opportunity to emphasize the aspects of war — that terrible scourge of mankind — that react upon them and are most keenly felt by them.
The final abolition of war and the establishment of permanent peace must depend upon the convictions of men and women, who are equally responsible as they must be in the final analysis for all measures affecting Society. But never before, during the time of any great conflict, have women been so organized or so self-conscious as now, and it is fitting that the world should ring with their outcry against this blasphemy upon all the things that they hold most sacred.
Time was when the woman buckled on the armor of her lord, and herself held the spear and the lance to defend the home and the child. We had thought that that day long passed, and that Society’s efforts were bent to measures that prolonged life, that protected and conserved, but suddenly, without the consent of the people involved, all the structures of civilization, so painstakingly built upon, are swept away, and hatred, destruction and contempt for human life take their place. Multitudes of men and women and children in the countries at war are helpless victims, and their judgments concerning wars, and this war, can not be known, at least not until they are recorded in history. We, the fortunate dwellers upon a neutral land, are, through sympathy and actual suffering, involved in their tragedy. Those who suffer call across the waters, and their cry is heard — the cries of little children and those yet unborn.
Women have a message to deliver, and because they are unfettered by custom and expediency, they can point out the hollowness of the appeals by which men have bene stirred to battle. Men react to the appeal to their heroism to be ready to die for their country; women would say that the appeal is to go out to their country; women would say that they appeal is to go out to kill. Men who love their homes and their children are roused to war fervor “to protect their homes’ ‑but to destroy other homes; “to wave their wives and children” – by starving and impoverishing other women and children.
The horrors of war that stir the thinking world have been least noticed by the historians. The violation of women, and even children, is hardly included in the term “atrocity.” Yet so abhorrent are these things that the brutality of war passeth understanding, and men and women must so dedicate themselves to tis cause that it can never come into the world again.
The voices of free women rise now above the sounds of battle in behalf of those women and children abroad – for it is against women and children that war has ever been really waged. Those women and children are not alien to us. Victims whose stories I dare not tell on this platform are in New York today.
Here in America, on a new continent, with blood drawn from each of the great nations now in the struggle, we have tried out a great experiment; many races, from may states, have demonstrated the logic and the practicability of mutual relations. Comrades and friends they are. Their children are in school together; their men and women work in the shops and factories side by side. The enmity that is stirred up in order to make men kill each other and to rejoice in the killing, we know to be fictitious.
Stories that demonstrate this are coming across the continents today. I am told of the Jew who bayonetted someone called “his enemy,” and as the man fell he called upon the God of Israel in the Hebrew prayer for the dying. The Jew who had done the bayonetting is now insane.
Two English soldiers who lay wounded heard the moans of a a man crying out in agony for a drink. Near them lay a German. They crawled to him and tried to life him. They found his water bottle and put it to his lips. But he said, “Nein, I die — you drink.”
Though the hatred and the enmity that have been stirred p are not real, the suffering and the desolation and the outrages that have come to men and to the women and the children are real. These pitiless sacrifices must stop.
In the Neighborhood Playhouse, not far from here, and wonderful performance is being given, based upon the story of the sacrifice of Jephthah’s daughter. The recoil form human sacrifice that was sanctioned when done in the name of a great cause rings, to many people who see it, the analogy of the barbarity of the sacrifices that are now being made in the name of a god of war. Old fealties have crumbled away, and the individual human sacrifice has long since been discarded as belonging to an age of barbarism. When war and human sacrifice of the many have ben banished, as that of the individual has been, eyes will be opened and ears unstopped, and men and women will understand all the wrongs of Society, and work together, nations with nations.



Source: The Lillian Wald Papers, Rare Books and Manuscripts Division, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations.


Also: Lillian Wald: Progressive Activist, ed. Claire Coss (New York: The Feminist Press) 1989, pp. 86-88.