Emily Greene Balch a Woman for Peace

Time and place do matter. Where and when you were born, who you know and associate can make all the difference in how your life plays out, and in how your actions and work are regarded and remembered. Sometimes even monumental greatness is overshadowed by another person’s fame.

For example, Jane Addams comes as close to achieving household recognition as is probable for any social worker. And rightly so. She is a grand mother of the settlement house movement in the United States. Her Chicago based Hull House was the home to dozens of nationally recognized reform minded women. She helped to found the Women’s International League for Peace and freedom, and she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.

And then there is Emily Greene Balch. “Who?” you ask.  To which I reply, “my point exactly!” Emily Greene Balch, born on January 8, 1867 in Boston, MA; died January 9, 1961, 94 years old. And what a 94 years they were.

Emily Greene Balch won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1946 when she was 79 years old. It is interesting to me that even discussions of her as one of very few women Nobel Laureates often begin by noting that she was a colleague of Jane Addams.  But, Emily Greene Balch stands as her own woman who warrants recognition for her contributions and accomplishments.

Emily Greene Balch graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 1890, a member of the college’s first graduating class. She was awarded Bryn Mawr’s first Fellowship and used that to study Paris’s economy which led to the publication of her first book, Assistance of the Poor in France. She was 26 when the book was published.  She then returned to the United States, took a job as a social worker with the Boston Children’s Aid Society, and founded the Dennison House Settlement. After further studying economics, in 1897 she became a professor at Wellesley Women’s College where she taught for 21 years until 1918.  Of course while she was teaching she remained internationally active, working to improve economic and social living conditions, and actively advocating for peace throughout the world.

So, she ‘left’ Wellesley in 1918. Why would she leave an academic position when she was only 51? Clearly that was too young to retire. Depending on how you read the story, the long and short of it is that she was ‘let go’ by the college for her outspoken peace work.  Emily had taken a leave from Wellesley to study the living condition of Slavic people.  As the conflict of World War I spread throughout Europe in 1914, she became more vocal and active in her work for peace, working with Jane Addams and Alice Hamilton.  Emily asked Wellesley to extend her leave so that she could continue her work for peace, and Wellesley not only declined to extend her leave but choose to terminate her contract instead.

Undaunted – well, daunted but undeterred, she took an editorial job with the Nation and continued to write books analyzing economic and social conditions and advocating for peace.  She was active with the International Congress of Women and helped to cofound the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. She remained active within the women’s peace movement throughout her life.

Her Nobel Prize acceptance speech is titled: Toward Human Unity or Beyond Nationalism. If you are of a mind, you can read it at http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1946/balch-lecture.html.

It is worth the read.  Here are the last few paragraphs:

I have spoken against fear as a basis for peace. What we ought to fear, especially we Americans, is not that someone may drop atomic bombs on us but that we may allow a world situation to develop in which ordinarily reasonable and humane men, acting as our representatives, may use such weapons in our name. We ought to be resolved beforehand that no provocation, no temptation shall induce us to resort to the last dreadful alternative of war.

May no young man ever again be faced with the choice between violating his conscience by cooperating in competitive mass slaughter or separating himself from those who, endeavoring to serve liberty, democracy, humanity, can find no better way than to conscript young men to kill.

As the world community develops in peace, it will open up great untapped reservoirs in human nature. Like a spring released from pressure would be the response of a generation of young men and women growing up in an atmosphere of friendliness and security, in a world demanding their service, offering them comradeship, calling to all adventurous and forward reaching natures.

We are not asked to subscribe to any utopia or to believe in a perfect world just around the comer. We are asked to be patient with necessarily slow and groping advance on the road forward, and to be ready for each step ahead as it becomes practicable. We are asked to equip ourselves with courage, hope, readiness for hard work, and to cherish large and generous ideals.


Shortly before she died, Nobel Peace Laureate Emily Greene Balch wrote a poem she addressed to the “Dear People of China.” The last stanza read as follows:

Let us be patient with one another,

And even patient with ourselves.

We have a long, long way to go.

So let us hasten along the road,

The road of human tenderness and generosity.

Groping, we may find one another’s hands in the dark.


Let us all hasten along the road of human tenderness and generosity, groping to find one another’s hands in the dark!  Not a bad way to spend a life, I think!

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