Tag Archives: women pacifists

The Peaceful Gardener: Rose Standish Nichols & The Peace Movement (Part III)

By Corinne Zaczek Bermon
(Last of three-part series. Access Part I and Part II)

The family home in Beacon Hill and their summer home in Cornish, New Hampshire served as training grounds for Nichols as she came into her own as a peace activist. When Europe began to become embroiled in war, Rose Nichols banded together with other peace-minded women to form the Woman’s Peace Party in Boston in 1915.  She organized lectures and fundraisers to broaden awareness of the anti-war movement.  It was through this local organizational work that Nichols learned the skills she needed to enter the peace movement on a global stage. The focus of women’s activities turned toward political concerns with the establishment of current affairs discussion groups that Nichols and other women attended.

Along with the discussion groups, Rose and Margaret Nichols established the Cornish Equal Suffrage League on 1 December 1911, and it soon became the “second largest in the state, having at present sixty-eight members…[with] annual dues of fifty cents.”1) Letter, Rose Nichols to Elizabeth Homer Nichols, 1911. The Schlesinger Library. The women mainly met in the gardens designed by Nichols for her neighbors. Cornish suffrage leaders Lydia Parrish, Annie Lazarus and Rose Nichols used these gatherings to foster their personal causes, such as advancing the suffrage and peace movements.2)Judith Tankard, A Place of Beauty: The Artists and Gardens of the Cornish Colony (Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2000), 16. 

Before the US entered the war, the women of the Cornish Colony began to explore how they could influence policymakers to avoid US intervention.  In 1913, President Woodrow Wilson and his wife, First Lady Ellen Wilson, made Cornish the nation’s “summer capitol.”3)Ibid, 34.   Ellen Wilson spent time in Cornish without the President and wrote many letters to Wilson during that first summer in 1913 that described her busy social schedule with the women in the colony, including Nichols and Mabel Churchill, wife of American writer Winston Churchill.  

In 1915, after Nichols established experience in organizing discussion groups in Cornish, New Hampshire, she began to work with the Woman’s Peace Party (WPP) in Boston as a nascent member. Nichols became the Chairmen of Meetings by 11 November 1915 and sent out letters to the membership regarding the organization of anti-war conferences around the state of Massachusetts.  Nichols wrote that the aim of the conferences were to inform participants about international problems that are “pressing the civilized world” for a solution.4)Letter, Nichols to Elizabeth Glendower Evans, 1915, SCPC. Nichols believed in the three tenets set forth by her fellow founding women: that women best understood the value of preserving human life; women were committed to providing individuals the best quality of life; and that women were able to resolve conflicts without ostracizing individuals or nations.5)Linda Schott, “The Woman’s Peace Party and The Moral Basis for Women’s Pacifism” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, vol 8, no 2, (Women and Peace 1985), 19. JSTOR. (3346048).

The WPP and Nichols flexed their influential muscles again in March 1916 when several hundred Mexican guerrillas under the command of Francisco “Pancho” Villa crossed the US-Mexican border and attacked the small border town of Columbus, New Mexico. It was unclear whether Villa personally participated in the attack, but President Woodrow Wilson ordered the U.S. Army into Mexico to capture the rebel leader dead or alive.  The WPP responded by

Copy of "What the Woman's Peace Party Thinks About the Mexican Crisis"
“What the Woman’s Peace Party Thinks About the Mexican Crisis” Image courtesy of Swarthmore College Peace Collection.

writing to President Wilson an address entitled “What the Woman’s Peace Party Thinks about the Mexican Crisis” that reprimanded Wilson for sending US troops 200 miles past the US-Mexico border after Pancho Villa disappeared. The WPP demanded President Wilson consent to mediation, withdraw the troops, and ask that Congress endorse President Wilson’s Mobile address that the US would never again take any land by conquest.6)Memo to WPP members, WPP Massachusetts Collection, SCPC.

Not long after the Mexican crisis, Nichols began shifting her efforts away from the local WPP and more on the international anti-war efforts after the United States entered the war in December 1917. Nichols began traveling more to Philadelphia and Washington, DC to meet with women who had been present at the first International Congress of Women that met in The Hague in 1915. In early November 1918, Lucia Ames Mead, chairman of the Massachusetts WPP, sent a letter to Jane Addams recommending

Excerpts from Mead to Addams recommending Nichols to WILPF.
Excerpts from Mead to Addams recommending Nichols to WILPF. Images courtesy of Swarthmore College Peace Collection.

Nichols to the Zurich Congress: “As there is a vacancy, I want to propose Miss Rose Nichols of 55 Mt. Vernon St who is a very able woman whom Mrs. Andres and I think would be an acquisition. She is well-posted and is one of only a few with which [Wilson] is associated.”7)Letter, Lucia Ames Mead to Jane Addams, November 1918, WILPF Collection, SCPC. Nichols, a longtime acquaintance of Addams,  was accepted in 1918 as a delegate for the International Congress held in Zurich in 1919.

In 1919, Nichols went to the Paris Peace Conference before the Zurich Congress and sat in on all the public meetings after President Wilson refused to appoint a woman to the Peace Delegation. Wilson had written her to on 1 May that it would be impossible for him to secure her a spot in the plenary session as she

requested.8)Letter, President Wilson to Rose Nichols. The Nichols House Museum and Archive.  Nichols wanted to use the connection she made in the Cornish Colony with the President to attempt to exert political influence as the terms of peace were being negotiated.  

The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) officially declared itself an international women’s peace organization at the Zurich congress in opposition to the Treaty of Versailles set forth by Great Britain and the United States.  The women argued the treaty would only lead to more war and they became disillusioned with world leaders statements about their ability to keep the peace. But in the hopes of preventing another conflict, the women of WILPF remained determined to raise their collective voices as women for international peace.

US Delegation to the Zurich Congress in 1919, featuring Rose Nichols in back row.
The US delegation to the Zurich Congress. Rose Nichols is standing in the back row, first person on the left side. Image courtesy of Swarthmore College Peace Collection.

In WILPF Nichols continued organizing women as she did for the WPP.  By 1920, Nichols was the chairman of both the Oriental Relations Committee and the Pan-American Relations Committee.9)WILPF Meeting Minutes, 1920. SCPC.  In 1921, the women of WILPF gathered together in Vienna, Austria for the bi-annual international congress and Nichols was in attendance as the head of the Pan American Committee.  WILPF’s membership was growing in great strides in the lead-up to the Vienna Congress, due in part to Nichols’ recruitment efforts.  Emily Green Balch noted that Nichols was “doing pretty well in Japan and Mexico” and was particularly pleased that Nichols had secured at least three Japanese students and two Chinese women to attend. 10)Letter, Balch to Addams, Jane Addams Collection, SCPC.

By 1926, Nichols active involvement in WILPF had begun to taper off.  Although she was still a member until her death, her days of organizing had ended. Rose had turned fifty-four and wrote to her sister Margaret that she no longer had the vigor to continue.120 She remained a voting member until her death in 1960.

To learn more about the extraordinary life of Rose Standish Nichols, visit the Nichols House Museum.

Corinne Zaczek Bermon is earning her M.A. in History with a specialization in Archives. She earned a B.A. in American Studies in 2009 and a M.A. in American Studies in 2015 from University of Massachusetts Boston. This series of articles on Rose Standish Nichols represents her award winning research in American Studies. Currently, her work explores the social history of the Otis Everett family living in the South End of Boston in the 1850s. She is designing a digital exhibit that explores Victorian life for the merchant class conducting business in Boston and abroad through the Everett letters.

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References   [ + ]

1. Letter, Rose Nichols to Elizabeth Homer Nichols, 1911. The Schlesinger Library.
2. Judith Tankard, A Place of Beauty: The Artists and Gardens of the Cornish Colony (Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2000), 16.
3. Ibid, 34.
4. Letter, Nichols to Elizabeth Glendower Evans, 1915, SCPC.
5. Linda Schott, “The Woman’s Peace Party and The Moral Basis for Women’s Pacifism” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, vol 8, no 2, (Women and Peace 1985), 19. JSTOR. (3346048).
6. Memo to WPP members, WPP Massachusetts Collection, SCPC.
7. Letter, Lucia Ames Mead to Jane Addams, November 1918, WILPF Collection, SCPC.
8. Letter, President Wilson to Rose Nichols. The Nichols House Museum and Archive.
9. WILPF Meeting Minutes, 1920. SCPC.
10. Letter, Balch to Addams, Jane Addams Collection, SCPC.

The Peaceful Gardener: Rose Standish Nichols & the Peace Movement Part I

By Corinne Zaczek Bermon

Just outside of Rome in the 1920s, fifty year old Rose Standish Nichols walked through the gardens of Villa Torlonia perhaps thinking about her two favorite topics: landscape architecture and world peace.

Once belonging to Cardinal Albani, the gardens were rented by future dictator Benito Mussolini, who had not launched his campaign to make Italy a world empire yet.

Nichols strolled through the gardens as she researched her third book, Italian Pleasure Gardens.1)Rose Standish Nichols. 1931. Italian Pleasure Gardens. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 191.   Although she did not document if she had a conversation with “Il Duce,” Nichols had a history of visiting dignitaries and enchanting them with conversations about their gardens before moving on to politics. An extraordinary woman, Nichols used her place in society, her profession, and her countless connections, to work for the women’s peace movement that began before World War I. Her story and her role in the international pacifist movement remains mostly untold.     

Rose Standish Nichols was born on January 11, 1872, into an Boston Brahmin family. She lived at 55 Mount Vernon Street in the

Portrait of Rose Standish Nichols by Taylor Greer, 1912. Wikimedia Commons.
Portrait of Rose Standish Nichols by Taylor Greer, 1912. Wikimedia Commons.

prestigious Beacon Hill neighborhood Boston, for most of her life. The eldest of three daughters born to Arthur Howard Nichols, a prominent holistic doctor, and Elizabeth Homer Nichols, a social activist who worked with the Boston Children’s Aid Association and the Boston Female Asylum, Rose enjoyed an extensive education. She showed a lifelong appreciation for beauty and peace, influenced by her uncle, noted American sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and her activist parents who taught her the importance of peace and social reform.  Her father taught her how to question and challenge what she thought was amiss in the world.2) George Taloumis, “Rose Standish Nichols, Sixty Years Ago She Organized the Beacon Hill Reading Club (1896)” Boston Sunday Globe, September 16, 1956. The Nichols House Museum and Archive.

Rose Nichols spent most of her summers traveling, and in Europe she met many new people she counted as friends. Among her acquaintances she included royalty, such as Maria Feodorovna, Grand Duchess of Russia, the Marquess da Frontieira Maria Mascarenhas Barreto, of Portugal and numerous queens, countesses, lords, cardinals and archbishops.3)Margery P. Trumball, “Selections from the Published Writings of Rose Standish Nichols.” (PhD diss., Dartmouth College, 1989). 

Surrounding herself with prominent people gave Nichols a global social circle consistent with her upper class status, and through staying within this network of family friends, she could travel safely to Europe for gardening, social visits, and peace work. This was a time period in which a woman who traveled alone would have her respectability questioned and Nichols rarely traveled alone.4)Sarah Deutsch, Women and the City: Gender, Space and Power in Boston, 1870-1940. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000). Despite being raised in an era when Victorian notions governed women’s place in society, Nichols attended a pilot program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in landscape architecture in the late

Picture taken of the MIT landscape architecture cohort in 1900.
Students in the MIT landscape architecture cohort. Unfortunately, Rose is not pictured here.

1890s and was given the status of a “special student.”  Women students were attracted to the MIT program because it provided excellent opportunities, which they were denied elsewhere.  This pilot program coincided with the 19th century idea that gardening was a hobby suitable for women in their socially constricted environments. Still, women in Nichols’ cohort were not given the status of full-time students because MIT had not fully developed their landscape architecture program and would not do so for a few more years.5)Eran Ben-Joseph et al. “Against All Odds: MIT’s Pioneering Women of Landscape Architecture” http://web.mit.edu/ebj/www/LAatMIT/LandArch@MITlow.pdf.

Rose Nichols had two important influences that led her to work in social reform: her family and her landscape design tutors.  The Nichols family was active in social reform and political movements, such as women’s suffrage, relief efforts and anti-imperialism. Rose Nichols’ landscape design tutors also shaped her thinking that the local would impact the global.  From them, she learned a specific method of using landscape design as an introduction to talking to world dignitaries, which also included viewing design itself as a method of peace.  However, Nichols was unable to accept egalitarian ideals embraced by many of her fellow reformers.  Being raised in the mid-Victorian Era meant that Nichols believed social classes should live in separate parts of town and differed significantly in their attitudes toward politics and religion. Consequently, the upper class was most likely to associate with others who shared their social status, opinions and values. As part of the elite class, Nichols had her own code of conduct and value system, which one belonging to this particular social class had to conform to.

While in general women had few options outside of marriage and childrearing, Rose Nichols chose to do neither.  She, instead, supported herself as a garden designer, traveling across the United States and Europe as she learned and perfected her craft.  She believed in the universalizing power of gardening and was introduced to gardening by her maternal grandfather, Thomas Johnston Homer, who allowed her to cultivate a small corner of his

Bostonians entering a streetcar in the mid-1800s.
Bostonians entering the streetcar.

garden in Roxbury Highlands, a streetcar suburb of the city of Boston at that time. Nichols was not yet ten years old but according to her youngest sister Margaret’s memoirs, Rose Nichols industriously planned and worked in her small plot with their grandfather.6)Margaret Homer Shurcliff, Lively Days: Some Memoirs (Boston: Private Publication by Shurcliff Family, 1965).  Her education further prepared her for entry into the rather exclusively male field of landscape architecture.  Nichols attended private schools in Boston, among them the progressive Mrs. Shaw’s School, which did not differentiate its courses on the basis of gender.  Girls learned woodworking alongside needlepoint and were encouraged to read widely, especially in history and the classics, and to acquire a working knowledge of several languages.  Nichols entered adulthood with the ability to speak Greek, Latin, French, German and Italian, which helped her move into international circles as an organizer for Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and to undertake research for her gardening books.7)Taloumis, 22.

In the next post of this series on Rose Standish Nichols, we will explore her groundbreaking profession as a noted landscape architect.

To learn more about Rose Nichols, please visit the Nichols House Museum for a tour.

Corinne Zaczek Bermon is earning her M.A. in History with a specialization in Archives. She earned a B.A. in American Studies in 2009 and a M.A. in American Studies in 2015 from University of Massachusetts Boston. This series of articles on Rose Standish Nichols represents her award winning research in American Studies. Currently, her work explores the social history of the Otis Everett family living in the South End of Boston in the 1850s. She is designing a digital exhibit that explores Victorian life for the merchant class conducting business in Boston and abroad through the Everett letters.

Please follow and like us:

References   [ + ]

1. Rose Standish Nichols. 1931. Italian Pleasure Gardens. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 191.
2. George Taloumis, “Rose Standish Nichols, Sixty Years Ago She Organized the Beacon Hill Reading Club (1896)” Boston Sunday Globe, September 16, 1956. The Nichols House Museum and Archive.
3. Margery P. Trumball, “Selections from the Published Writings of Rose Standish Nichols.” (PhD diss., Dartmouth College, 1989).
4. Sarah Deutsch, Women and the City: Gender, Space and Power in Boston, 1870-1940. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).
5. Eran Ben-Joseph et al. “Against All Odds: MIT’s Pioneering Women of Landscape Architecture” http://web.mit.edu/ebj/www/LAatMIT/LandArch@MITlow.pdf.
6. Margaret Homer Shurcliff, Lively Days: Some Memoirs (Boston: Private Publication by Shurcliff Family, 1965).
7. Taloumis, 22.