American Culture

For Women’s History Month – women who have won the Nobel Peace Prize, part one

Women working for peace are always especially near and dear to my heart! Here are some winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. Since there are seventeen of them, I will present about half today and half tomorrow.

Oh, before I get to that though, I have to mention that Cindy Sheehan really is my peace activist hero. I was at Camp Casey with her where we camped out under the hot Texas sun just outside of George Bush’s ranch. Just as Camp Casey was winding down because Bush was leaving Texas and returning to D.C., Hurricane Katrina was bearing down on my beloved home city. Cindy and I did a press conference together in which I questioned whether the slow response to the disaster had anything to do with the fact that much of the Louisiana National Guard and much of its equipment were off fighting in a nation that had never attacked the United States. When I met Cindy prior to the press conference, she gave me a most amazing tight, sincere, unforgettable, loving hug, one of the best and most expressive hugs I’ve ever gotten. As she held onto my hand, she said softly, “I’m so sorry for your loss.” I was blown away, since I’d traveled to Texas to support her in the unthinkable enormity of her loss, the ultimate loss, the loss of a child, so I finally managed to say, “But I’m so sorry for your loss.” Meeting her was a highlight of my life.

One other story to tell. Today is the birthday of Louisiana Congresswoman Lindey Boggs. If you’re not from my home state, you may place her better if I tell you that she was the mother of journalist Cokie Roberts. When I was a little girl, I wanted to grow up to be a doctor. My parents greatly encouraged me in this. In one of my elementary school classes, when I was about seven, the teacher asked us to go around the room and tell what we wanted to be when we grew up, so I told her. It was the early seventies. She told me, “A girl can not be the doctor. You can be the nurse.” I told my mother about this and she was very upset. I came from a family of Democratic activists and it just so happened that not long after the doctor/nurse comment, my family and I were at an event with Congresswoman Boggs. My mother took my hand, marched up to Ms. Boggs, and told her about my teacher’s discouraging comment. Lindey Boggs, impeccably dressed with her navy blue stockings, knelt down so she was face to face with me. She took my face in her hands, looked me long in the eyes, and told me, “am a girl and I am a member of Congress. Always remember that girls can be anything. You go on and be the doctor.” It was a milestone in my life. So happy birthday and rest in peace, Ms. Boggs – you did influence this girl’s life and I’ve never forgotten what you said.

Okay, back to the scheduled program – women Nobel Peace Prize winners

Baroness Bertha von Suttner:

(9 June 1843 – 21 June 1914) was an Austrian pacifist and novelist. In 1905 she was the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, thus being the second female Nobel laureate after Marie Curie‘s 1903 award.

In 1889 Suttner became a leading figure in the peace movement with the publication of her pacifist novel, Die Waffen nieder! (“Lay Down Your Arms!”), which made her one of the leading figures of the Austrian peace movement. The book was published in 37 editions and translated into 12 languages. She witnessed the foundation of the Inter-Parliamentary Union and called for the establishment of the Austrian Gesellschaft der Friedensfreunde pacifist organization in a 1891 Neue Freie Presse editorial. Suttner became chairwoman and also founded the German Peace Society the next year. She gained international repute as editor of the international pacifist journal Die Waffen nieder!, named after her book, from 1892 to 1899. In 1897 she presented Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria with a list of signatures urging the establishment of an International Court of Justice and took part in the organisation of the First Hague Conventions in 1899, however, she had to realize that her ambitious expectations were belied.

In 1904 she addressed the International Congress of Women in Berlin and for seven months traveled around the United States attending a universal peace congress in Boston and meeting President Theodore Roosevelt.

Jane Addams:

Jane Addams (September 6, 1860 – May 21, 1935) was a pioneer American settlement social worker, public philosopher, sociologist, author, and leader in women’s suffrage and world peace. In an era when presidents such as Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson identified themselves as reformers and social activists, Addams was one of the most prominent reformers of the Progressive Era. She helped turn America to issues of concern to mothers, such as the needs of children, local public health, and world peace. She said that if women were to be responsible for cleaning up their communities and making them better places to live, they needed to be able to vote to do so effectively. Addams became a role model for middle-class women who volunteered to uplift their communities. She is increasingly being recognized as a member of the American pragmatist school of philosophy. In 1931 she became the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and is recognized as the founder of the social work profession in the United States….

In 1898 Addams joined the Anti-Imperialist League, in opposition to the U.S. annexation of the Philippines. A staunch supporter of the‘Progressive’ Party, she nominated Theodore Roosevelt for the Presidency during the Party Convention, held in Chicago in August 1912. She signed up on the party platform, even though it called for building more battleships. She went on to speak and campaign extensively for Roosevelt’s 1912 presidential campaign.

In January 1915 she became involved in the Woman’s Peace Party and was elected national chairman. Addams was invited by European women peace activists to preside over the International Congress of Women in The Hague, 28–30 April 1915, and was chosen to head the commission to find an end to the war. This included meeting ten leaders in neutral countries as well as those at war to discuss mediation. This was the first significant international effort against the war….

Adams was elected president of the International Committee of Women for a Permanent Peace, established to continue the work of the Hague Congress; at a conference in 1919 in Zurich, Switzerland, the International Committee developed into the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). Addams continued as president, a position that entailed frequent travel to Europe and Asia.

In 1917 she became also a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation USA (American branch of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation founded in 1919) and was a member of the Fellowship Council until 1933. When the US joined the war, in 1917, Addams started to be strongly criticized. She faced increasingly harsh rebukes and criticism as a pacifist. Her 1915 speech on pacifism at Carnegie Hall received negative coverage by newspapers such as the New York Times, which branded her as unpatriotic. Later, during her travels, she spent time meeting with a wide variety of diplomats and civic leaders and reiterating her Victorian belief in women’s special mission to preserve peace. Recognition of these efforts came with the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Addams in 1931. As the first U.S. woman to win the prize, Addams was applauded for her “expression of an essentially American democracy.” She donated her share of the prize money to the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

Emily Greene Balch:

Emily Greene Balch (January 8, 1867 – January 9, 1961) was an American economist and writer.

She became a Quaker and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1946 for her work with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). Balch combined an academic career at Wellesley College with a long-standing interest in social issues such as poverty, child labor and immigration, as well as settlement work to uplift poor immigrants and reduce juvenile delinquency. She moved into the peace movement at the start of the World War I in 1914, and began collaborating with Jane Addams of Chicago. She refused to support the war effort when the United States entered the war in 1917, and lost her professorship at Wellesley College.

In 1919 Balch played a central role in the International Congress of Women. It changed its name to the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and was based in Geneva. She served the League as its first international Secretary-Treasurer, administering the organization’s activities. She helped set up summer schools on peace education, and created new branches in over 50 countries. She cooperated with the newly established League of Nations regarding drug control, aviation, refugees, and disarmament. In World War II, she favored Allied victory and did not criticize the war effort, but did support the rights of conscientious objectors.

Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan, shared prize in 1976:

They founded the Northern Ireland Peace Movement. Betty Williams, a Protestant, and Mairead Corrigan, a Catholic, came together to work for peace in Northern Ireland, organizing peace demonstrations that brought together Roman Catholics and Protestants, protesting violence by British soldiers, Irish Republican Army (IRA) members (Catholics), and Protestant extremists.

 Mother Teresa:

Born in Skopje, Macedonia (formerly in Yugoslavia and the Ottoman Empire), Mother Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity in India and focused on serving the dying. She was skilled at publicizing her order’s work and thus financing the expansion of its services. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her “work in bringing help to suffering humanity.” She died in 1997 and was beatified in 2003 by Pope John Paul II.

Alva Myrdal

Alva Myrdal, a Swedish economist and advocate of human rights, as well as a United Nations department head (the first woman to hold such a position) and Swedish ambassador to India, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with a fellow disarmament advocate from Mexico, at a time when the disarmament committee at the UN had failed in its efforts.

Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi, whose mother was ambassador to India and father de facto prime minister of Burma (Myanmar), won election but was denied the office by a military government. Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her nonviolent work for human rights and independence in Burma (Myanmar). She spent most of her time from 1989 to 2010 under house arrest or imprisoned by the military government for her dissident work.

 Rigoberta Menchú Tum

Rigoberta Menchú Tum (born 9 January 1959) is an indigenous Guatemalan woman, of the K’iche’ethnic group. Menchú has dedicated her life publicizing the rights of Guatemala’s indigenous peoples during and after theGuatemalan Civil War (1960–1996), and to promote indigenous rights in the country. She received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 and the Prince of Asturias Award in 1998. She is the subject of the testimonial biography I, Rigoberta Menchú (1983) and the author of the autobiographical work, Crossing Borders.

Menchú is a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador. She has also become a figure in indigenous political parties and ran for President of Guatemala in 2007 and 2011.

The rest of the winners will be covered tomorrow.

Next, today in women’s history:

March 13

963: Anna born – her marriage to Vladimir of Kiev led to the Christianization of Russia

1767: Marie Josepha of Saxony died: Dauphine of France, mother of Louis XVI who was killed during the French Revolution; daughter of Frederick Augustus II, Prince-Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, and Maria Josepha of Austria; also a second cousin of her own daughter-in-law, Marie Antoinette

1813: Jane Hitchcock Jones born: abolitionist newspaper editor

1882: Bertha Mahony Miller born: pioneer of publishing for children; founder of Horn Book Magazine and Horn Book publishing company

1892: Janet Flanner born: writer and journalist

1906: Susan B. Anthony died (obituary)

1916: Lindy Boggs (Marie Morrison Claiborne Boggs) born: politician, first woman elected to Congress from Louisiana,member of the House of Representatives 1973 – 1991; mother of Cokie Roberts, Thomas Hale Boggs Jr. and Barbara Boggs Sigmund

1964: Kitty Genovese murdered in New York City while neighbors watched without acting; this incident triggered psychological research into the “bystander effect”

1997: Sister Nirmala chosen as successor toMother Teresa to head missionary work in India

Christian Feast Day: Saint Euphrasia of Constantinople (380 – 410), Saint Leticia (unknown)

Quote for today:

“One is not born a woman, one becomes one.”

Simone de Beauvoir