History 104: Western Civilization since 1648
Lecture: The Great War and Russian Revolution

Women and the War click here for audio

Women played a major role in the peace movement both before and during the war. The American women in WILPFWomen's Peace Party, formed in response to the war, is now the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (they have a website). They met in April 1915 in the Hague (Netherlands) and set forth resolutions to end the war, to get neutral nations to pressure the belligerents into negotiation, and to send delegations to all the nations involved. They did all this, and also presented petitions to Woodrow Wilson, who used some of their ideas in his peace plan.

I find it interesting that the WILPF was international from its inception. They eschewed the idea of being a national organization with foreign affiliates, and instead women joined from the many nations and were willing to approach any government with their demands. The American delegation is shown in this picture, and includes representatives of the Women's Peace Party, the National Federal Suffrage Association, and various trade unions including the American Federation of Labor.

But I don't want to give the impression that all women were either suffering mothers or peace activists. Some were active war participants, and this one on the left was the most fascinating spy of her day.

Margaretha Geertruida Zelle (known as Mata Hari) was a Dutch dancer who came to Paris and became a nude dancer and the toast of elite circles. The French Army asked her to spy on the Germans by mingling with them. She was arrested by the British, who had to let her go without evidence. In spending time with the Germans, it became evident that some paid her, presumably for favors in bed. But the French became suspicious that she was a double agent. She admitted as much when they arrested her, had a showcase trial, and was executed.Edith Cavell

British nurse Edith Cavell (right) was executed by the Germans for helping British soldiers escape from behind enemy lines. She ran an escape network from a Red Cross hospital in German-occupied Belgium, and helped at least 200 soldiers to escape. She is remembered at her grave in Norfolk Cathedral.

5. The Peace to End All Peace ->