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Presidential Address:
International Council of Women

June 8, 1904 — Presidential Address, Third Quinquennial Reunion, International Council of Women, Archietektenhaus, Wilhelmstrasse, Berlin, Germany


[written and delivered in German, then translated into English and French]

Members of the International Council of Women: —

In the name of our high idea — the solidarity of humanity — I welcome you and I pray you all, with me, to hold this high ideal in your hearts while we consecrate ourselves anew to our work, as we enter upon the duties of this Third Quinquennial of the Council. In the beginning I wish to use this opportunity to thank you personally for the help which you have given me during these last five years. I also wish to thank you for the patience with which you have borne my faults and excused the mistakes of my administration. Five years ago, when you did me the great honor to elect me to your President for the Third Quinquennial Term of the existence of our Council, I hoped to be able during this time to travel much in order to promote the interests of our great and noble labor. Unexpected circumstances have hindered me, and what I hoped to do with travelling and speech I have sought to do through writing. That “The pen is mightier than the sword,” I believe, and, therefore, I keenly regret that I have not been able to travel, to visit the different countries in which the initiatory steps for the formation of Councils are being taken, and in order to make our work more widely known throughout the world. I, however, am very grateful that I have had the strength and the health to send out from my office more than twenty  thousand separate letters and more than fifty thousand typewritten pages of circular letters. More thankful still am I that you on your side have had the strength and the patience to read these pages and now and then to send me partial answers. Very grateful also am I for the vigorous manner in which in your respective countries you have carried forward your own work; for the International Council is composed not only of its members, but within the National Councils, and surrounding them like an atmosphere which unites them all, is the international spirit. For the growth which the different countries have experienced in this spirit during the last five years, I am also profoundly thankful. We owe the increasing consciousness of the international spirit, which our Council has experienced, to correspondence, to newspaper articles, and to daily prayer. Simple as these means appear, and simple as they really are, yet are we not obliged to say that their consequences are wonderful?

In the year 1899, when I received the leadership of the Council from my distinguished predecessor, it contained ten National Councils, the fruit of the labor of eleven years. Five years ago there were fifteen other countries over which Honorary Vice-Presidents had been placed. Of these fifteen countries, nine during the last fie years, have founded National Councils. These are, Switzerland, Italy, France, Argentina, Victoria, South Australia, West Australia, Austria, and Norway. Besides these, two countries, namely, Bulgaria and Hungary, have formed National Councils without having at first had a period of initiatory labor under appointed Vice-President. The other countries which still remain under Honorary Vice-Presidents — in some of which no steps have been taken toward the organization of a Council, and in some of which preliminary steps have been taken — are Finland, Belgium, Russia, Cape Colony, and China. Since 1899 I have named Honorary Vice-Presidents for the following countries: Peru, Chili, Venezuela, Mexico, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, Bohemia, Ceylon, and Poland. It is easy to see that people who come from different nations, speaking different languages, thinking different thoughts, having different ideals, will find it to e a difficult task to associate with one another under “the golden rule”; yet still more difficult, absolutely impossible, is it for a body of such miscellaneous membership to have any continuity of being under the domination of any other than “the golden rule.” The more difficult the task, the more important is its fulfilment. Of what world-wide and time-long importance is the task which we have undertaken, one can at this date hardly yet understand.

Yet before I speak of the labor which lies before us, it is perhaps well that I should say a few words about the foundation of our Council. To apply “the global rule” to society, to custom, and to law — this is the aim of our labor, and I hope that you will pardon me if I remind you that the first application of “the golden rule,” which we find ourselves obliged to make, as during the net few days we together review the labor which lies behind us and consider propositions for the new work with which we shall be occupied during the next five years, is to practice “the golden rule in our judgment of one [an]other, in our bearing toward one another, in our inmost thoughts and feelings concerning one another. It is very necessary that every one shall endeavor to listen to the propositions which are submitted by others,  if she herself belonged to the country of the speaker; to hold the mind open, to give sympathy freely, and to keep the heart warm, to bring the whole soul and being into a welcoming attitude toward new thought. This is the exercise of “the golden rule” which from this moment will be demanded of us.

When first, sixteen years ago, the proposition was made to found such an International Bund among the women of the world. There were people who asked — “To what end?” At that time my answer was — “To this end: that we women shall really learn to know each other, that we shall really learn to understand each other.” To many, this then appeared, as it still appears to many, a very small and very unimportant object for so great and complicated a machine. They said — “there are now many women who travel about the world, many who meet at watering-places and in the social circles of the word’s capitals.” But I answered — “Women who are doing their part of the world’s work, particularly the women who devote their time, their strength, and their influence to the advancement of the world, are, generally speaking, not the same women who spend their time during the season in the world’s capitals and the time between seasons at the seashore, at watering-places and other health and pleasure resorts.” Without doubt, I said, everywhere, among all classes, in all nations, women feel the great necessity for the higher culture, for the freer industrial activity, for the unlimited participation in the religious, even in the political life of the world. Without doubt, I said, because I was certain then as I am more certain now, that “der Weltgeist” is a Weltgeist, and not a national spirit, not a race spirit, but a spirit which finds no difference between the different nations of the world. I believe in the “world spirit,” and before all other things I believe that this spirit has no chosen people, or rather, I believe that this spirit has chosen all people, has called to all. As answer to this call, women everywhere feel in themselves a new movement toward the higher life, and everywhere they seek to impress this impulse, this new movement toward the higher life, toward a freer life, upon society, upon custom, and upon law. What I previously saw, as the history of the last sixteen years from day to day has unrolled in fact, is, that the aim, to speak fundamentally, is everywhere the same. Woman feels herself called to play a larger role; she feels in herself a greater responsibility, and as a preparation, everywhere she feels the need of higher culture. IN order to have the means to be able to follow out her ideas, she needs a free activity in the industrial. World. To gain such higher culture and such free activity everywhere, she needs an amendment of existing laws, so that laws may be made that will express her higher culture and give her freer activity, and so that the changed laws which first gave her new opportunity and new freedom will in turn be benefited by the application of her enlarged intelligence and of her industrial liberty to their further amendment Throughout the world there is an element of unanimity in culture, and ye the subjects, the conditions, the manner of instruction in every country must be harmonious with the particular spirit of that land Because the aims are so similar, although the different paths by which they may in different lands be reached extend far apart from one another; because of the common aim, there is a foundation upon which women of all the different nations of the world may stand, each one seeing in the eye of the other a Sister Spirit.

Before 1899 no effort had been made to organize a common activity for the Council. In that year, three Standing Committees were formed: the first two were the Committee of the Press and the Committee Concerning Domestic Laws. As their titles indicate, the aim of both of these committees was to collect and to distribute information concerning the woman’s movement in all countries, so that in every country women should have accurate information concerning the situation of women in every other country. The third committee, under the name of the Pace and Arbitration Committee, was founded to promote the one single propaganda for which our Council had up to that time voted. It is no easy task to organize a committee which has a world extent. It is difficult to organize a good working committee in a single society in which all of the members belong to one nationality, all speak the same language, all have a similar culture and the same aim; how much more difficult is it to organize a good working committee of which each member belongs to a different nation, each speaks a different language (or at least a different modification of a language), although all have similar culture and a single aim.

This is not the place to relate what our Committees have done; each one in a business session either has given or will give its own report but here one may say that it is a great gain that these first three Committees now find themselves firmly established, and, with the experience of the last five years which we really may  name their real “Lehrjahre,” we may hope that the next five years will be years of constant and fruitful activity. “Patience,” still “Patience,” and evermore “Patience,” must be our watchword. If we consider the difficulties of our labor on one side and the success that is here exhibited before our eyes on the other side, may we not dare to say that we are working with God, and I that certainty may we not dare to be certain that our great task will experience a still larger success? But in order to reach this larger success, we must cherish in our hearts two thoughts: — the one is, the Ideal Aim of our Council, and that ideal Aim, What is that? It is the Unity of Humanity. In every large country there is one great danger. This danger is that the feeling for the village, for the city, or for the province in which one lives, may be stronger than the feeling for the entire country. Therefore, the inhabitants of every country are, from their childhood, taught patriotism. Through patriotism, all the villages, all the cities, all the provinces, are bound together, and just as soon as the boundaries of a land are larger than the patriotism of a people, at that moment is the nation threatened by a deadly danger because patriotism is really the lifeblood of a nation. In our Council, in which the different parts are entire nations, must we cultivate a feeling that in comparison with patriotism is even as much larger and nobler than it, as the feeling of patriotism is larger and nobler than the love for one’s own village, one’s own city, one’s own province. Perhaps this feeling has not yet found its right name, but until a better name shall be found we must continue to call this feeling “faith in the unity of humanity”; and this love for the unity of humanity, this belief in humanity’s unity, must we all consider a love greater more dazzling, more alluring, more sufficing to the heart, than the love of one’s own land.

This is the ideal side of our labor — to cultivate everywhere this feeling; to inoculate every one with whom we associate in every country with this conviction that however different in its expression I different nations — at its heart humanity is one. This is the ideal side. The practical side is to express this love through sympathy, through admiration, through the esteem of others who are unlike ourselves, and in a noble effort to understand them and to make ourselves understood by them. I have found that there is also a real danger in the practical side of our work, because the word “Internationalism” has been too often used by the great nations of the earth with the understanding that the greater nations will ultimately grow still greater by enclosing within their own boundaries the smaller countries. In our “Woman’s Bund” there is no “Large,” no “Small,” no “Rich,” no “Poor,” no “Numerous,” no “Sparsely settled,” because it is a matter of no consequence how large or how small, how densely or how thinly populated a country is. Here in our Bund every nation has the same strength, all have the same number of votes and, therefore, each one has the same opportunity to exert influence upon the others. This is perhaps the only place yet created in the entire world where the value of a nation does not depend upon the extend of its territory, neither upon the number of its inhabitants, neither upon its wealth. It must not be forgotten that this Council is a democracy which includes within itself all circles of society. Here may come ladies with the greatest titles, but here they may not come on account of their titles; here may come women of the simplest social position, but here may they not come because of their simple social position. If a queen or a peasant sits in the Executive of our Council, she sits there neither as peasant nor as queen. If they sit there at all, both must sit there as women who work for humanity, who have consecrated their talents, their time, their wealth or their poverty to the unity of humanity. In our own several countries we remain what we there are, ad there we shall be considered and measured according to the customs and the laws of these several lands. But here within the International Council we are in a new world — a world of labor where only consecrated laborers have a place and where all such are welcomed, only no one of them more warmly welcomed than the other, on account of her nationality, on account of her race on account of her religion, on account of her social position but where only she is most welcome who will give us the best example of truth, of integrity, of uprightness, of justice, and of love for humanity.

The great progress that we have made in courage and in justice during the last five years is manifested in this, that in the Congress which will follow this Council no question will be excluded. In that Congress political questions will be discussed as fully and as freely as industrial, and on the same ground. Another proof that we feel stronger is shown in the fact that to the great propaganda of Peace and of Arbitration there will probably be added two others only less important. Two important new propositions have already been made. One place upon our programme the movement for the political recognition of women. The other demands of both sexes an equal responsibility for pure morality. The first proposition, as you see, signifies suffrage for women under the same conditions as for men, in all countries where already a parliamentary government has been founded. The second signifies the same moral ideal for both sexes, and this last sentence does not imply that what up to this time society has condoned in man, from this time on shall be also condoned in woman; but, on the contrary, that what society has required of the woman shall from this time on also be required from the man. Our programme seems very simple since it contains only three propositions, and is not every one of these three propositions a logical sequence of “the gold rule”? All have the same ultimate significance; this significance is that no longer is it sex which shall determine the question of personal morality and of personal responsibility. Does this imply that women wish to take the place of men in the world? Oh, no, ladies and gentlemen, no; a thousand times, no! Each sex has its place, but in order that each sex shall occupy its place and fulfil its duties, to both sexes must be given the same freedom, the same independence.

Perhaps you think that although our programme is very short, it, notwithstanding, contains a revolution. I assure you that we women — at least the women of this Council who have given birth to the Council idea — wish to begin no revolution. We do not believe in Revolution but in Evolution, and in the appreciation of this great word and in the strength which this great word gives to us, we take up our great labor with light and joyous hearts, knowing that in every one and with every one who brings her work forward in the strength of Evolution, the eternal laws of Nature work.  

It may be that some critics are present who will say — “What a programme! what an absolute upheaval in the habits, the customs, and the laws even, of all the nations of the entire world! And this upheaval, this apparent reversal, this fundamental change, will be made by Woman; by Woman who has given to herself the task without an army, without a navy, without a parliament, without independent wealth to overturn thee present situation!” To the critic I reply — “In our weakness lies our strength.” Have you studied the history of the world?” If this history anywhere teaches a lesson, it is this: that the small ones of this world. The unknown and the unweaponed, are always the ultimately triumphant ones, are always the final conquerors. In our weakness we behold, and we bid you to welcome and to share the victory of our ideas.



Source: The International Council of Women, from 1899 to 1904: Reports and Addresses Given at the Third Quinquennial Reunion Held in Berlin, June 1904, Vol. II, ed. May Wright Sewall (Boston) 1910, pp. 19-25.