Reflections on Emily Green Balch

[Today I thought I would share an excerpt from my novel, “Letters from Eleanor Roosevelt” with you. To be clear, the letter is fictional, but the information within it about Emily Green Balch is historically accurate.]

As I was walking home, I thought about women I have known who have worked for peace, and my dear friend Emily Greene Balch came to my mind. In 1946, only a year after Franklin died, Emily was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. How I wish that Franklin had been in office to acknowledge Emily’s work. But Truman would have none of it. He regarded anyone involved with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom as too radical to cast their shadow across the doors of the White House.

Our dear Emily had more than her share of professional struggles. In 1919 she was on leave from Wellesley College and put in to extend her leave to continue her work with the International Congress of Women.  The Board of Trustees at Wellesley choose to terminate her contract instead. Eva, Emily was a popular professor and one of the more productive scholars on the faculty. But, I suspect she was a bit too outspoken an advocate of peace for those men. I suspect they were looking for an excuse to be rid of her.

Emily was disconsolate—for a moment. But then she marched herself to the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, much as I did with the American Association for the United Nations. WILPF elected her their secretary and treasurer, and she continued her work for peace with vigor, even though her health was declining.

Eva, as I remembered Emily, I wanted to reread her Nobel Prize Lecture, Toward Human Unity or Beyond Nationalism, which she delivered on April 7, 1948. Here are some of my favorite passages from that lecture.

She considered the unifying and divisive trends that she has observed in our world:

Not only democracy and the cult of humaneness mark our age, but also greed, violence, the self-adulation of national and racial groups, the fanaticism of political cults like fascism or Nazism, the glorification of might and power for their own sake, the blind reliance on violence as that before which all idealism is but a dissolving mist. All these things we know only too well.

She went on to discuss the peace movement in its individual and political efforts, its work to educate and to build institutions and to affect governmental action on concrete issues. I found great solace and direction in her concluding comments:

We are not asked to subscribe to any utopia or to believe in a perfect world just around the corner. 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.

I will enter this new chapter in my life with courage and hope, ready for hard work, open to joy where it may shine, cherishing the ideals of service and human rights based on respect for human dignity. . . .

With love, your affectionate friend,

Eleanor

Letters from Eleanor Roosevelt is available from Amazon

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