Tag Archives: women’s activism

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.

Women of the Past & Present Shaping the Future

by Monica Haberny

In January 2017, half a million people showed up for the Women’s March in Washington DC and over four million people participated in their own marches throughout the country to raise awareness for women’s rights. During my internship at the Boston City Archives in Fall 2016, I came across many female activists who worked tirelessly for change in the past two centuries. The following three women represent just a fraction of the inspiring women whose successes and failures can motivate activists fighting for similar issues today.

Florida Ruffin. ca.1890. Wikimedia Commons.
Florida Ruffin. ca.1890. Wikimedia Commons.

Suffragist, journalist, and anti-lynching activist, Florida Ruffin Ridley (1861-1943) became one of the first black teachers in Boston. She came from an educated background. Her father, George Lewis Ruffin, was the first African American to graduate from Harvard Law School and the first African American to be a judge in the country. Her mother, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, a suffragist and civil rights activist, published the first newspaper for African American women. Ruffin, following in her mother’s footsteps, also worked as a pioneering journalist and activist.

Florida Ruffin's Teacher Qualification Record, 1888, Teacher Qualification registers and index. Courtesy of Boston City Archives.
Florida Ruffin’s Teacher Qualification Record, 1888, Teacher Qualification registers and index. Courtesy of Boston City Archives.

Journalists provide an invaluable service, especially in a digital age where news comes from various sources and is often contested or falsely reported. Florida edited the Women’s Era, her mother’s newspaper. She wrote articles about black history and issues affecting blacks for multiple publications, including the Journal of Negro History and The Boston Globe. She, Pauline Hopkins and Dorothy West all belonged to the Saturday Evening Quill Club, an African American literary group founded in 1925. In addition to her writing career, Florida was involved in co-founding several nonprofits for African American women and was a lifelong political activist.

Application from the Housekeeper's League, January 1913. Courtesy of Boston City Archives.
Application from the Housekeeper’s League, January 1913. Courtesy of Boston City Archives.

Ridley raised awareness about race relations; her contemporary Ida Hebbard pioneered the issue of food safety in Boston. Recent documentaries like Food, Inc. and Cowspiracy have challenged people to think about where their food comes from. Hebbard became a food safety activist over a hundred years ago.

She served as president of the Housekeepers League, an all-female group. During the 1910s, the League lobbied for consumer rights, protesting the increasing prices of household foods. Hebbard led the group in protesting the price of eggs in 1912, as well as the price of potatoes and coal in 1917. Potato prices for consumers dropped from 70 cents to 35 cents a peck because of their efforts. More importantly, she advocated for the Bob Veal Bill. This bill banned the sale of calves weighing less than sixty pounds, preventing them from being slaughtered and shipped to Boston the day they were born.

In November 2016, activists like Ida Hebbard succeeded in passing Question 3 on the ballot, which banned the confinement of farm animals in small cages in Massachusetts. Like the Bob Veal Bill, Question 3 will go on to improve the health of people because it improves the lives farm animals.

Grace Lonergan with fiancee Lee Lorch in 1943.
Grace Lonergan with fiancee Lee Lorch in 1943.

Grace Lonergan Lorch, the third Boston woman featured today, championed civil rights and women’s rights in education. Before 1953, Boston Public School teachers were forced to resign before they married. Thus, in the 1880s, Florida Ruffin left her job to marry. Grace Lonergan Lorch changed that for future female teachers. In 1943, she brought a case against the Boston School Committee (BSC) in an attempt to keep her job after she married Lee Lorch. Although the BSC upheld the rule and Lorch was forced to resign when she married, the publicity surrounding the case forced the BSC to end the ban of married women public school teachers ten years later.

During his service in the military during World War II, Lee became aware of racism. During troop transports, he noted, often the black company had to clean the ship. Discrimination made Lee Lorch, a professor and mathematician, very uncomfortable and his wife shared his views. When the couple moved to New York City following the war, they worked to desegregate their home community, Stuyvesant Town apartments, which had banned black families from living in their complex.

The Lorch family being interviewed in 1949 by New York Times reporters about their work in Stuyvestant Town.
The Lorch family being interviewed in 1949 by New York Times reporters about their work in Stuyvestant Town. New York Times, 2010.

Lee led the Town and Village Committee to End Discrimination in Stuyvesant Town to try to end the ban. In 1949, the Lorch family attempted to find a loophole in the ban and invited a black family to live in their apartment as their “guests.” When their plan backfired, the couple and their daughter, Alice, moved to Pennsylvania, then Tennessee before they moved to Little Rock, Arkansas in 1955.

The couple became very active in civil rights in their new community. Their neighbors were Daisy and L.C. Bates, founders of the Arkansas State Press and active members of the NAACP during the Little Rock Crisis. Alice Lorch became friends with many of the children in their new neighborhood. So, in September 1955, Grace wrote to the local superintendent requesting that her daughter be able to attend the local school. She hoped that Alice would not only be able to attend school with friends, but also promote integration as their neighborhood was predominately black. Although the school board denied her request, Grace continued to be involved in Little Rock’s branch of the NAACP.

The now famous image of Grace Lorch (left) comforting Elizabeth Eckford (right).
The now famous image of Grace Lorch (left) comforting Elizabeth Eckford (right).

On September 4, 1957, Elizabeth Eckford, one of the Little Rock Nine, found herself alone and surrounded by a mob when she attempted to enter Little Rock Central High School.

All nine teenagers had planned to arrive at the school together with their parents, but the meeting place changed. The Eckford’s lack of a phone left Elizabeth uninformed and alone. Grace Lorch, after dropping Alice off at school, passed the high school and saw Elizabeth’s predicament. The civil rights activist fought her way through the angry crowd and helped escort the girl home. The rescue of Elizabeth placed a target on the Lorch family. Alice Lorch found herself bullied at school. Someone placed dynamite in their garage, and they were harassed by both press and the people around them. In 1959, Lee accepted a job from the University of Alberta and moved his family to Canada.

By fighting for causes that were important to them, Florida Ruffin, Ida Hebbard, and Grace Lorch shaped the future and women now continue to do so. Originally from Little Rock, journalist, activist, and speaker Liz Walker became the first African American woman to co-anchor a newscast in Boston in the 1980s. Lauren Singer challenges us to think about where our household goods come from and the environmental impact they may have. In India, Rashmi Misra fights for education in rural communities and giving young women entrepreneurial skills, and Maya Wiley works for civil rights in New York. Like Ruffin, Hebbard, and Lorch before them, these women will go on to influence the next generation of women.

Monica Haberny is currently working on her Master’s degree, specializing in Archives. She received her Bachelor’s in History from Montclair State University (2013). Currently, she is working on a digital exhibit on Kathleen Sullivan, the only woman on the Boston School Committee during the start of Boston’s public school integration, for Stark & Subtle Divisions. She has a strong interest in the history of nutrition, activism, and animal rights, and hopes to use these interests in her final capstone project.

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