TIME Race

The Forgotten Girls Who Left the South and Changed History

African American Migrants
Chicago History Museum / Getty Images African American men, women, and children who participated in the Great Migration to the north, in Chicago, 1918.

The girls of the Great Migration shaped regions, cities and even the White House

A “Northern Invasion” was coming, the Chicago Defender declared in early 1917: that spring, specifically May 15, would begin the Great Northern Drive. Southern blacks would abandon Jim Crow’s regime and seek their economic and social freedoms in the North. And Chicago was waiting for them. The Defender, which was founded 110 years ago this month, was the most influential African American newspaper of the 20th century, not least because its entrepreneurial founder and editor, Robert Sengstacke Abbott, used it as a catalyst for the Great Migration, a movement that would change the color and composition of American cities.

Some of the littlest members of this invasion were girls and teenage women, whose stories have yet to be fully told. Reaching across a century, their tale draws a direct line from the desperate denizens of the Jim Crow South to the striving residents of Northern cities—and all the way to the White House.

Luckily, their stories have been preserved, and in their own words. In response to Abbott’s call, thousands of letters poured into the Defender’s South Side Chicago office. Would-be migrants sought employment connections, train tickets, and any form of confirmation that ‘up North’ would be everything Abbott promised and more. Among these dream-seekers who put pen to paper to plan their great escapes were scores of girls and teenage women. These letters, printed in the pages of the Defender, and other reflections from African American girls who settled on Chicago’s South Side, fueled my scholarly search to understand how girls experienced, shaped and understood the mass exodus that roughly spanned 1917 to 1970, during which an estimated 7 million blacks settled in urban corridors.

Girls’ letters to Abbott spoke volumes of the struggles of everyday life. Girls revealed the poignancy of being a child while confronting the very adult economic pressures families endured. Girls labored as sharecroppers, domestics and low-wage workers in the post-Reconstruction South, and they hoped Chicago could provide better paying jobs. Older teenage girls shouldered the responsibility of supporting families at the expense of their education. Girls also hoped that they could use the beauty products or attend the dance venues that the Defender advertised. They wanted to remake themselves into city girls—modern, stylish and in control of their futures.

Ten days before Abbot’s Northern Migration Day, a girl from Port Arthur, Tex., asked him for money for transportation and ultimately a pathway to transform her life.

“Dear Sir: I am a reader of the Chicago Defender I think it is one of the Most Wonderful Papers of our race printed. Sirs I am writeing to see if You all will please get me a job. And Sir I can wash dishes, wash iron nursing work in groceries and dry good stores. Just any of these I can do. Sir, who so ever you get the job from please tell them to send me a ticket and I will pay them. When I get their as I have not got enough money to pay my way. I am a girl of 17 years old and in the 8 grade at Knox Academy School. But on account of not having money enough I had to stop school. Sir I will thank you all with all my heart. May God Bless you all.”

That same summer, in August, a 15-year old girl from New Orleans pleaded with Abbott:

“Dear sir: i am wrighting you for help I haird of you by telling my troble I was to to right you. I wont to come ther and work I have ben looking for work here for three month…i am 15teen…if you will sin me a pass you will not be sorry I am not no lazy girl i am smart I have got very much learning but I can do any work that come to my hand.”

Some girls sought advice about migration without their parents’ consent, believing that they knew what was best for their families. A teenager from Alexandria, La., risked angering her father by seeking advice about Chicago.

“There isnt a thing for me to do, the wages here is from a dollar and a half a week. What could I earn Nothing…I have and a mother and a father my father do all he can for me but it is so hard. A child with any respect about her self or his self wouldn’t like to see there mother and father work so hard and earn nothing I feel it my duty to help…father seem to care and then again don’t seem to but Mother and I am tired tired of all of this. I wrote to you all because I believe you will help.”

Mothers also wrote to Abbott hoping to create better opportunities for their daughters, many of whom began working as domestics in white households before they had their tenth birthdays and rarely attended their one-room schoolhouse during the cotton harvest season.

One mother wrote:

“Gentlemen: I want to get in tuch with you in regard of good location & a job i am for race elevation every way. I want a job in a small town some where in north where I can receive verry good wages and where I can educate my 3 little girls and demand respect of intelegence.”

It’s hard to track what happened to those specific writers, but few, if any, may have imagined that their journey would lead to the monumental demographic shifts that globalized black culture and would yield a black First Lady, the granddaughter of a migrant, who proudly called herself a “South Side Girl” while campaigning for her husband.

Nearly a century after the initial call for blacks to seek their destiny in the industrial centers of the nation, the Great Migration’s complicated legacy continues to shape dialogue about race relations and the broad scope of topics now called ‘urban,’ from housing to employment to education. As producer Shonda Rhimes prepares to bring Isabel Wilkerson’s Great Migration story The Warmth of Other Suns to television audiences and as art lovers flock to New York’s Museum of Modern Art to catch the rare display of all of Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series paintings together, we have to remember that we have much more to learn, see and hear from the Great Migration. Girls’ stories, especially their letters, make real the urgency and the hope of the domestic migration that changed the world.

The Long ViewHistorians explain how the past informs the present

Marcia Chatelain is Assistant Professor of History and African American Studies at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Her first book South Side Girls: Growing up in the Great Migration was released by Duke University Press in 2015.

TIME feminism

‘Congrats! You Have an All-Male Panel!’ Is a Hilarious Takedown of Everyday Sexism

Endless images of all-male academic and business panels highlight the problem of men dominating the conversation

Most of us have attended a talk or panel where every single speaker was male. Now, the Congrats! You Have an All-Male Panel Tumblr is brilliantly shaming that kind of all-too-common sexism by posting images of, well, all-male panels.

The Tumblr was started in February 2015 by Finnish feminist researcher and artist Dr. Saara Särmä, 40, who conducted her dissertation on Internet parody images and memes. The title of her dissertation was “Junk Feminism and Nuclear Wannabes – Collaging Parodies of Iran and North Korea.” (Yes, you read that correctly.)

“As a feminist, I’ve been noticing these issues for a very long time, but having worked with visual material and humorous images in my dissertation, I thought I could do something visual as well,” Särmä tells TIME. In particular, Särmä witnessed what she says is the marginalization of women in academia, claiming that some of her colleagues were passed over or outright dismissed as serious thinkers because of their gender.

The question all fans of her Tumblr are asking, though: Why the David Hasselhoff stamp on every image?

“The Hoff is just simply Hoffsome,” Särmä says. “As a kid who grew up in the 80s watching the Knight Rider, I have a fondness for the Hoff, also he’s the epitome of a white masculinity, isn’t he?”

On a serious note, Särmä hopes that her collection of images will help highlight the prevailing problem of men dominating the conversation.

“I think women’s expertise is often not simply recognized. It is somehow easier to see a white middle-aged (or older) man in your mind when you think of an expert,” Särmä added. “Academia has been white men’s world long enough, it’s time for a change.”

For her part, Sarma recommends checking out initiatives to amplify female experts in public forums like Foreign Policy Interrupted or watchdog groups like EUPanelWatch.

TIME Research

Why Autism Is Different in the Brains of Girls Than in Boys

The reasons why girls are less often diagnosed may be both biological and social

Autism, already a mysterious disorder, is even more puzzling when it comes to gender differences. For every girl diagnosed with autism, four boys are diagnosed, a disparity researchers don’t yet fully understand.

In a new study published in the journal Molecular Autism, researchers from the UC Davis MIND Institute tried to figure out a reason why. They looked at 112 boys and 27 girls with autism between ages 3 and 5 years old, as well as a control sample of 53 boys and 29 girls without autism. Using a process called diffusion-tensor imaging, the researchers looked at the corpus callosum — the largest neural fiber bundle in the brain — in the young kids. Prior research has shown differences in that area of the brain among people with autism.

They found that the organization of these fibers was different in boys compared with girls, especially in the frontal lobes, which play a role in executive functions. “The sample size is still limited, but this work adds to growing body of work suggesting boys and girls with autism have different underlying neuroanatomical differences,” said study author Christine Wu Nordahl, an assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, in an email.

In other preliminary research presented at the International Meeting for Autism Research, or IMFAR, in Salt Lake City, the study authors showed that when girls and boys with autism are compared with typically developing boys and girls, the behavioral differences between girls with autism and the female controls are greater than the differences among the boys. Nordahl says this suggests that girls can be more severely affected than boys.

A study earlier this year by a separate group found notable differences in symptoms between autistic boys and girls, which could be one of the reasons autism in girls sometimes goes unnoticed or is diagnosed late. Girls generally display less obvious behavioral symptoms at a young age compared with boys, the researchers found.

One of the reasons females with autism are less understood than males is that most research studies do not have equal numbers of boys and girls, says Nordahl. “This is not surprising, given that there are so many more males with autism than females,” she says. “We need to do a better job of trying to recruit females with autism into our studies so that we can fully explore differences between males and females with autism.”

Nordahl says understanding gender differences in autism affects how kids are diagnosed, as well as how they are treated. Understanding what biological differences may be at work can ultimately lead to a better understanding of autism and the best interventions for treatment.

TIME feminism

Meet 10 CEOs and University Leaders Working For Gender Equality

Marco Grob--Marco Grob Photography, Inc.

From Unilever to the University of Hong Kong, a wave of male executives join UNWomen's new 'HeForShe' initiative

Correction appended, May 6

Heads of state, CEOs and university presidents are all making public and concrete commitments to gender equality in the latest installment of UN Women’s ‘HeForShe’ initiative.

As part of HeForShe’s IMPACT 10x10x10 initiative, 10 heads of state, 10 CEOs and 10 university presidents will publicly commit to taking tangible steps to achieve gender equality in their organizations. On Tuesday, the first five CEOs and five university presidents announced their commitments–the others will be released over the coming months.

Each company or university signed the UN’s Women Empowerment Principles, with a special emphasis on Principle #7: to measure and publicly report on efforts to achieve gender equality. Corporate participants detailed their plans to help close the pay gap, achieve parity in management, and expand opportunities for women throughout their supply chains.

“If we are to achieve gender equality in our lifetime, we need creative approaches that target the biggest barriers,” says Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Women Executive Director, noting that this program “brings together the strength of partners across sectors to crack some of those barriers from within.”

Here’s who is committing to HeForShe in the corporate world:

Sebastien Bazin is CEO of Accor, a Paris-based hotel group that employs 180,000 people and runs 3,800 hotels in 92 countries, like Sofitel, Novotel, and MGallery. As the father of two “brilliant daughters,” Bazin says he believes women should be “given the same opportunities as their male peers,” yet acknowledges that women remain underrepresented in company management. That’s why Bazin is committing to closing the pay gap within Accor, doubling the share of women in COO roles by 2020, and tripling the share of women on the executive committee by 2018. He also pledged to get 50,000 male employees (60% of the company) to commit to be HeForShe champions for gender equality.

Paul Polman is CEO of Unilever, the world’s third-largest consumer goods company. Unilever owns brands like Axe, Dove, Lipton, Sunsilk, and Hellmans, and employs 172,000 people. Right now, only 43% of Unilever managers are female, but under the new initiative the company has pledged to achieve parity in management by 2020. They’ve also promised to expand safety programs in regions where the company operates, and provide skills training and other empowerment tools to 5 million women by 2020.

Mustafa V. Koç is head of the Koç Group, the largest industrial conglomerate in Turkey and one of the biggest companies in Europe. With 113 companies and almost 86,000 employees, Koç is the only Turkish company on the Fortune Global 500 list. But the company recognizes much of their work is in male-dominated industries, and that women’s advancement is difficult in Turkey and throughout the region. To that end, Koç is committing to mobilizing 4 million people across Turkey to speak up for gender equality, and providing gender sensitivity training to 100,000 people by 2020. And this year, the company will release its first-ever report on gender parity.

Dennis Nally is chairman of PricewaterhouseCoopers, the professional services firm that is one of the largest campus recruiters in the US. Using their networks on college campuses, the company has pledged to develop a gender equality curriculum to reach 1 million male students by 2016. They’ve also pledged to evaluate how to get more women into leadership roles within the company, and promised that every senior partner will publicly commit as a HeForShe by the end of the year.

Rick Goings, CEO of Tupperware Brands, has pledged a full audit of the company, from senior executives down to factory workers, with an eye towards reaching 50/50 representation at every part of the supply chain. Tupperware has also promised to educate their entire sales force — 3 million people — about HeForShe.

And here are the universities committing to HeForShe:

The University of Hong Kong aims to triple the number of women in dean-level positions by 2020 (currently, only 7% of deans are women.) The University is also working on a gender bias curriculum that they hope will reach 50% of students by 2018.

The University of Leicester in the UK aims to bridge the gender gaps in key academic areas like psychology and engineering, and pledged to make their faculty 30% female by 2020. They’ve also created a prize for exceptional work in achieving gender equality.

Nagoya University in Japan has pledged to build the first-ever Center for Gender Equality in Japan by 2018, and will continue to establish women-only faculty positions in science subjects. They’ll also create dedicated programs for female PhD students and mentoring programs to help women occupy 20% of the faculty and university leadership positions by 2020 (a 25% increase).

University of Waterloo in Canada is committing to boosting female enrollment in STEM fields by two-thirds by 2020, so that woman make up 33% of math and science students. They’re also pledging to make the faculty 31% female and the administration and senior leadership 34% female by 2020.

University of Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg pledges to have women occupy 32% of the Heads of Schools roles by 2019, and to increase women in professor roles to 30%. They also plan to publish annual reports on campus violence, and work on non-traditional techniques to spread the message of gender equality, including “ambush lectures,” to reach students who are skeptical as well as those who are supportive.

Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly described the University of Waterloo’s goal for women enrolled in STEM fields. It is 33%.

 

 

 

TIME Innovation

Why the Next Leader of the U.N. Should Be a Woman

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. After 70 years of men in charge, the next leader of the U.N. should be a woman.

By Gillian Sorensen and Jean Krasno in the Washington Post

2. Here’s how to design a better Monday.

By Studio 360 and IDEO

3. What brought some cities back from the economic brink? Making peace with their suburbs.

By Nancy Cook in the National Journal

4. There’s an app to document and salvage Nepal’s cultural heritage.

By Annette Ekin at Al Jazeera

5. Elon Musk just made growing weed easier.

By Wes Siler in Gizmodo

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Why Read Hamlet When You Can Play It?

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. Why read Hamlet when you can play an immersive time-traveling video game version instead?

By Jess Joho in Kill Screen

2. Here’s how to attract female engineers.

By Lina Nilsson in the New York Times

3. Everyone is losing in Yemen’s war.

By Adam Baron in Foreign Policy

4. Google and Facebook could save — or consume — journalism.

By Emily Bell in the Columbia Journalism Review

5. We know how to dramatically reduce teen pregnancies, but we don’t. Here’s why.

By Nora Caplan-Bricker in the National Journal

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Research

Why Girls With Autism Are Diagnosed Later Than Boys

They present symptoms differently than boys, which may result in missed diagnoses

A new study looking at gender differences among children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) show that girls have different, less obvious symptoms compared to boys, which could be why they are generally diagnosed later.

“There are clearly major gender differences in prevalence of autism, with more than four boys being diagnosed for every girl. However, we have little understanding of the roots of these differences,” says study author Dr. Paul Lipkin, director of the Interactive Autism Network at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore. “Are they biological, social, diagnostic, or tied to other factors, such as screening systems?”

Lipkin and his colleagues looked at data on people with ASD and their family members using the Institute’s online registry of 50,000 people. Almost 10,000 of them had reported how old they were when they were first diagnosed, and about 5,000 had undergone a test to identify their severity of social impairment. The study author’s results were presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in San Diego.

The researchers found that in general, girls were diagnosed with ASD later than boys. On average, girls were diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder—an autism spectrum disorder that impacts basic skill development—at age four, and boys were diagnosed with the same disorder at about 3.8 years. Girls were diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome around age 7.6 years, while boys were diagnosed around 7.1 years. Interestingly, the researchers noticed that the symptoms reported among the children differed by gender, too. Girls tended to have more issues with the ability to read social cues, and boys had more mannerism-related issues like repetitive behaviors including hand flapping. When boys were older, around age 10-15, they had more social issues like trouble communicating in social settings than girls did.

“These findings suggest that boys’ behavior are more apparent than the girls, with the potential for girls being more difficult to recognize,” says Lipkin. “Since the problems experienced by girls are in social cognition and require social opportunities, they are much more likely to be unnoticed until the elementary school years.”

The researchers say their findings suggest that the symptom differences may not only lead to delayed diagnosis in girls, but potentially missed diagnoses altogether. Understanding the various ways children with ASD present may lead to a better understanding of the disorders.

TIME United Kingdom

Female Chess Legend: ‘We Are Capable of the Same Fight as Any Other Man’

Judit Polgar, Hungarian chess grandmaster.
Ondrej Nemec—Getty Images Judit Polgar, Hungarian chess grandmaster.

“It’s not a matter of gender, it’s a matter of being smart,” Judit Polgar says

Judit Polgar, one of the world’s top chess players, has hit back against a claim by another of the game’s stars that men are naturally better chess players.

“We are capable of the same fight as any other man, and I think during the decades that I actively played chess I proved it as well,” Polgar told TIME in an interview Monday. The native Hungarian became a chess prodigy along with her two sisters and broke Bobby Fischer’s record to become the youngest grandmaster at age 15 in 1991. It’s not a matter of gender, it’s a matter of being smart,” the grandmaster added.

Polgar’s comments came after a storm erupted over Nigel Short’s remarks that people should “gracefully accept it as a fact” that women possess different skills than men, while also suggesting that women are worse drivers.

“I don’t have the slightest problem in acknowledging that my wife possesses a much higher degree of emotional intelligence than I do,” he told New in Chess magazine. “Likewise, she doesn’t feel embarrassed in asking me to maneuver the car out of our narrow garage. One is not better than the other, we just have different skills.”

Polgar, who announced her retirement last year, pointed out that she had defeated Short “quite a few times.” She also defeated Garry Kasparov, widely considered to be the finest chess player in history, in 2002.

“I grew up in what was a male dominated sport, but my parents raised me and my sisters [to believe] that women are able to reach the same result as our male competitors if they get the right and the same possibilities,” she said.

Polgar, who founded the Judit Polgar Chess Foundation to use chess as an education tool, says she sees roughly an equal number of young boys and girls competing in chess at equal levels. But she says fewer girls pursue chess later on, in part because they choose not to and in part because they do not receive the same encouragement from parents, teachers and other people around them.

“Whenever I speak to parents or to kids, I always encourage them that if they believe, if they do the work, if they are really dedicated, then they can do it,” she says. “No matter whether they are a boy or a girl.”

TIME Sports

MLB Inclusion Ambassador Billy Bean: Jackie Robinson’s Lesson for Baseball Today

MLB Ambassador for Inclusion Billy Bean speaks onstage at the 7th Annual PFLAG National Straight For Equality Awards Gala at The New York Marriott Marquis in New York on March 30, 2015.
D Dipasupil— Getty Images MLB Ambassador for Inclusion Billy Bean speaks onstage at the 7th Annual PFLAG National Straight For Equality Awards Gala at The New York Marriott Marquis in New York on March 30, 2015.

Billy Bean is a former professional baseball player, the Major League Baseball inclusion ambassador, and the author of “Going the Other Way.”

Baseball is finally ready to have a conversation about acceptance

Today marks the 68th anniversary of the day Jackie Robinson ran onto the field as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers and became the first African American to play in Major League Baseball. While I will never know what it was like to walk in his Hall of Fame footsteps, I find great inspiration to try and live up to his extraordinary example as a leader, teacher, and ambassador for our sport.

I’ll never forget how anxious I felt last summer as MLB Commissioner Bud Selig announced my name as the league’s first ambassador for inclusion. I had been away from baseball for a long time, and while I was prepared for the moment, I could feel many of the old fears returning from my days in the closet. Hearing those words from Commissioner Selig brought me full circle from my darkest days to one of hope and great determination.

I never thought I would ever be anything more than an anecdote to the sport. As a closeted player, I was consumed with fear that my fellow players would find out about me. I was living a completely secretive life. The sudden death of my partner on the eve of my last season in 1995 was the beginning of the end of my playing career. I walked out of the hospital at 7 a.m. with his clothes in a plastic bag, the only evidence of a three-year relationship. I was in a state of shock until I realized that I needed to be at Angel Stadium in less than four hours. I drove home, showered, and, like always, I went to work. However, a part of me died that day with Sam, and not believing I could talk to anyone about it was my greatest mistake. I remember writing his name on the inside of my cap, hoping for strength to get through that game.

My personal story broke in late 1999. I had no idea the kind of press it would attract, or how desperately my community was looking for leadership. It changed my perspective entirely. Since then, I’ve worked hard to be a strong role model. Baseball is finally ready to have a conversation about acceptance.

This past November, I was asked to speak to all 30 general managers at their annual offseason meeting. A dialogue was created that resulted in invitations from 16 different organizations. On Feb. 27 I began a journey around the country, making early morning presentations, sharing my personal story and talking about leadership, responsibility, and the message of acceptance to big-league clubs. I suited up and threw batting practice with the Mets, Tigers, and Phillies. I spoke to entire minor league systems, met with coaching staffs, front office personnel, and watched games with general managers.

It’s hard to describe what it feels like to be the only gay man (or perhaps only “openly” gay man) in a clubhouse. Few people realize that only two major league players in the 146-year history of baseball have ever admitted they were gay – Glenn Burke, who died in 1995, and myself. I was certain there would be judgment, but I also knew this was my job and my responsibility. As a player, my greatest fear was the thought of walking through the clubhouse with my secret revealed. Now after all this time, I was facing that old demon. Some mornings there were knots in my stomach, and I felt like an outsider. On the days it was toughest, I thought about Matthew Shepard, Tyler Clementi, Ronin Shimizu, and so many other youth who died without a voice. I quickly let go of my own self-consciousness and found strength knowing I was representing something much greater than me.

Baseball asked me to lead this conversation, and I knew that this is where it really starts – with our players. For me it’s simple: The message of inclusion will save lives. An accepting example from our players can influence today’s youth and turn bullies into leaders who take care of their teammates and classmates instead of discriminate, ridicule, or perpetuate hate against them.

A major league clubhouse is one of the most diverse environments in pro sports. Our players are young, come from many cultures, and speak several languages. Today’s athletes are under the microscope like never before, much of it self imposed by social media. It’s our responsibility to explain to players how expectations change once they put on that major-league uniform. We are just getting started, but we’re off to a great start.

After my long road trip this spring, I began to reflect on my return to the game and the irony of being back in baseball for exactly the same reason I walked away from it. Baseball changed the world 68 years ago, and in honor of its great history and its vision of the future, we are sending a message that is loud and clear: “Everyone is welcome.” How cool is that?

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME feminism

The Forgotten Link Between World War I and Women’s Rights

Peace Delegates
Library of Congress / Getty Images Portrait of American delegates to the International Congress of Women aboard the Noordam, 1915.

A century ago, the Women’s Congress met with the aim of revolutionizing a ravaged political landscape

History Today

 

 

 

This post is in partnership with History Today. The article below was originally published at HistoryToday.com.

More than 1,100 women from warring and neutral states gathered at The Hague in April 1915 for a special set of peace negotiations. They were not diplomats representing states and they were not present to press national demands. Most were unable even to vote in parliamentary elections in their own countries. They were feminists and pacifists and it was their commitment to these twin ideals that drew them together as conflict raged across Europe.

Their vision of a peace founded on gender equality, social justice and human rights did not bring the war to a close. Nor was it embraced by the male powerbrokers meeting in Paris in 1919 to conclude peace terms. Yet the Women’s Congress of 1915 is important because it reminds us that the First World War not only mobilized armies but nurtured alternative forms of politics, not least the politics of international cooperation and peace.

Who were the women at The Hague? They were mainly middle-class, well-traveled and experienced feminist activists, many with professional backgrounds and all advocates of women’s suffrage. They included the British lawyer Chrystal Macmillan, Aletta Jacobs, the pioneering Dutch physician, the Hungarian feminist Rosika Schwimmer and the trade unionist Lida Gustava Heymann of Germany. The US peace campaigner Jane Addams agreed to preside as chair of the Congress.

Many traveled to the Netherlands at personal cost, encountering hostility from the patriotic publics of the belligerent nations. In Britain, anti-war campaigners were placed under official surveillance. As a result, only 20 of the 180-strong British delegation were issued with passports and even they found it impossible to cross the North Sea due to military operations. The three British women who reached The Hague had either traveled some weeks earlier or went by a different route.

Taking a stand against the war was, furthermore, a difficult experience emotionally for many of the delegates. They found themselves in conflict with suffragist comrades who chose a different course, seeing the war as an opportunity to prove themselves loyal citizens and hence convince their respective governments to grant women the vote.

After four days of discussions and debates, the Congress agreed a set of 20 resolutions encompassing practical proposals for immediate negotiations to end the war, as well as fundamental principles for a permanent peace. Among the latter were the right of self-determination for all peoples; the creation of an international authority to arbitrate disputes and advance constructive cooperation between nations; and an end to ‘secret diplomacy’ conducted behind closed doors and without democratic accountability.

Women’s rights were central to this blueprint. All delegates wishing to attend were required from the outset to pledge their support for women’s suffrage, which the Congress organizers saw as inseparable from the objective of peace. A just world free of conflict, they argued, was impossible to achieve unless women were allowed to take their place alongside men as equal citizens. Enfranchisement, they claimed, would make peace more likely because of the role that women played as mothers in creating the life which war extinguished. Women, in the words of Jane Addams, ‘who have brought men into the world and nurtured them until they reach the age for fighting, must experience a peculiar revulsion when they see them destroyed, irrespective of the country in which these men may have been born’.

Despite the efforts of Addams and others to win support for their proposals after the Congress had closed, both women and their concerns were marginal to the negotiations in Paris in 1919, led by the victorious powers. Not one woman was appointed as a formal representative of her nation at the Peace Conference and while a small contingent of feminists traveled to Paris to lobby the official delegates, their demands fell on deaf ears. The US President, Woodrow Wilson, briefly raised the question of women’s political representation with his fellow plenipotentiaries, but few wished to see women’s rights recognized as a legitimate matter for international agreement. Where the Hague women saw peace and gender equality as fundamentally interlinked, the great powers in Paris were anxious to keep them separate, with women’s citizenship firmly under the control of national governments.

Given this failure, why is it worth remembering the 1915 Women’s Congress at The Hague? The history of seemingly lost causes can tell us a great deal about how power works and, in this case, why women remained peripheral to international politics and diplomacy for so much of the 20th century. Today, the United Nations Security Council passes resolutions about women’s inclusion in conflict resolution; governments host summits on rape as a weapon of war; and powerful non-governmental organizations ensure women are given a voice in debates about human rights, development and security. But history shows us that these achievements have been hard fought and won. They stand as testament to the efforts of generations of feminists who worked to make women’s rights an international, and not just a national, concern.

It would be too simplistic to draw a line of continuity between the Women’s Congress of 1915 and today’s policy debates. Much took place in the interim to reconfigure the global women’s rights agenda, from interwar Fascism and the Cold War to the fall of European empires and the rise of new superpowers at the century’s end. Nonetheless, at this moment when the legacy of the First World War is uppermost in the public mind, it is worth reflecting on how that conflict produced, through the voices of the women who gathered at The Hague, an analysis of the modern world in which gender equality, social justice and peace were intertwined. It is an analysis which endures a hundred years on.

Helen McCarthy is Senior Lecturer in History at Queen Mary University of London.

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