EMILY GREENE BALCH: NOBEL PEACE LAUREATE 1867-1961
Heather Miller, Writer and Editor
at Bryn Mawr: "It was not an apple but a book that did
Emily Greene Balch, a member of the
first generation of American women to attend college in significant
numbers, had three ground-breaking careers: social reform, the teaching
of economics at Wellesley College, and international political activity.
Old New England stock, she would devote her life's work to the coming
of "an age in which the unlikeness of other races will be conceived
as much of an asset as the unlikeness of wind and string instruments
in a symphony."
Born in 1867 to a prosperous family
of liberal Unitarian persuasion, Balch grew up in Jamaica Plain,
Massachusetts with a belief in dynamic good will, hard work,
and hope as a discipline as well as a theological virtue. She
recalled late in life: "When I was about ten, a prosy old Unitarian
divine was followed at the Unitarian Church by Charles Fletcher
Dole. His warm faith in the force that makes for righteousness
became the chief of all the influences that played upon my life.
He asked us to enlist in the service of goodness whatever its
cost. In accepting this pledge, I never abandoned in any degree
my desire to live up to it."
received her A.B. in Greek and Latin as a member of Bryn Mawr's
first graduating class in 1889. The faculty, discerning in her
extraordinary beauty of moral character, awarded her their highest
honor, the European Fellowship. This allowed Balch to study
poverty alleviation policies for a year at the Sorbonne, an
experience she found disappointing because her research never
brought her into contact with poor people themselves.
On her return from Paris in 1892,
Balch was determined to join the emerging female social reform
movement in Boston. In that year, she founded Boston's first settlement
house, Denison House in Jamaica Plain, where she lived for several
months as its head. During that time, she began what would become
a lifelong friendship and working relationship with Jane Addams.
After working as a reformer for
a few years, Balch decided she would be of greatest use to the
social reform movement as a teacher who might instill the social
reform drive in the growing numbers of women attending college.
To prepare for a college teaching career, she studied at the Harvard
Annex (later called Radcliffe), the University of Chicago, and
at the University of Berlin for one year.
In 1900, Balch began her 18-year
career at Wellesley with a course in sociology. Her subsequent
courses reflected an interdisciplinary approach to economic issues,
combining politics, philosophy, sociology, and gender -- courses
reflecting her own practical experiences as a reformer.
In the early twentieth
century, many Americans favored immigration limits for Slavic Europeans.
Balch combined a settlement worker's interest in immigrants with
academic discipline. In 1904-5, she took a sabbatical and lived
in Austria-Hungary and in Slavic neighborhoods in the United States
in order to research the conditions of Slavs in the "Old" and "New"
worlds. In order to complete her research, she took an additional
year's leave from Wellesley without pay. While in Austria-Hungary,
her politics became more radical. Of her decision to become a socialist,
she wrote, "It was in Prague, in 1906, that one unbearably bleak
winter morning, I saw a man fumbling with his bare fingers in an
ash barrel in search of something to eat. Heaven knows I had seen
enough of misery, actual starvation in 1893 (in Boston)...but the
bare fingers in the icy ashes were somehow final." Balch's years
of research resulted in her major work, Our Slavic Fellow Citizens
(1910). The Dictionary of American Biography noted that "the
book was unique not only in presenting the firsthand viewpoints
of immigrants but also in countering the nativist racial assumptions
of her society." In 1913, Balch became Wellesley's chair of the
Department of Economics and Sociology.
was an outspoken, active pacifist throughout the First World War.
She joined the American delegation to the International Congress
of Women at The Hague (1915). She met with President Woodrow Wilson
and unsuccessfully attempted to gain his support for the ICW's
plan for continuous mediation as an alternative to battle.
In 1918, Balch was dismissed from
the Wellesley faculty -- ostensibly for her long absences on behalf
of the ICW, but in fact for her anti-war views. Balch was nevertheless
soon finding worthwhile outlets for her commitment and purpose.
She began writing for The Nation and, in 1919, founded
the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom with Jane
Addams. As a WILPF member, Balch contributed to the first public
criticisms of the Versailles Treaty. Gunnar Jahn, chairman of
the Nobel Committee, would later state, "It would have been wise
to listen to what the women had to say. But there were few who
would pay any attention." As a key builder of the WILPF, Balch
championed the inclusion of minorities, the expansion of the member
nations and the democratization of the WILPF's structure.
Her accomplishments and interests
reflect a broad interest in world and human affairs and an abundance
of energy. She organized the third International Congress in Vienna
in 1921. In that year, she became a member of the Society of Friends
(Quakers), in part because of its unwavering pacifist philosophy.
She was a supporter of peace education at several of the WILPF's
summer schools. In 1926, under a special mission for WILPF, she
traveled to Haiti to investigate conditions there. At the time
Haiti was occupied by U.S. Marines. The committee's report, written
mostly by Balch, recommended the withdrawal of American troops
and self-government of the Haitian people. She was the first to
propose internationalization of Antarctica, which came to pass.
It was said of her that "she had a talent for enlisting the cooperation
of diverse individuals and groups in the cause of peace."
She continued to press for greater
acceptance of refugees into the 1930s. Her book Refugees as
Assets (1930) was an argument for U.S. acceptance of refugees
from Nazi Germany for economic, cultural as well as humanitarian
reasons. She personally helped dozens of such refugees relocate
to the United States.
the 1930s progressed, Balch spoke out against the growing trend
of isolationist politics in the U.S., "The national group as an
enlarged ego should have many-sided concerns and functions including
that of giving expression to impulses of a generous 'idealistic'
and non-self-regarding kind."
Deeply disturbed by Hitler's Germany,
she reluctantly made an exception in her pacifist position and
supported U.S. involvement in the Second World War. She explained,
"A small barking dog cannot stop a dashing train...Fascism and
national socialism today can be destroyed only through means which
are capable of impressing the brutal men of fascism and national
socialism...We women pacifists have come to recognize this...without
even for a moment, becoming untrue to our pacifist convictions."
Writing in 1942 to Rabbi Wise, president
of World Jewish Congress, upon first learning of the mass murder
of Jews in Europe, she wrote, "Those of us who are not Jews are
oppressed by a sense of our own responsibility for we too are
guilty. We are all answerable in part for the development of a
state of things where the moral insanity of Hitler Germany was
possible. And for a state of things where the civilized world
can find no better way out than competition in reciprocal slaughter
and destruction. We were not ready in time with any other method
than this slow and cruel one."
the war years, when she was between the ages of 72 and 78, she helped
relocated Japanese-Americans who had been forcibly interned in concentration
For her extraordinary contributions
to world peace, she became the third woman to win the Nobel Peace
Prize in 1946. Her close friend Jane Addams had been the second (The first was Bertha von Suttner in 1905).
In her Nobel acceptance speech, she said, "We are not asked to
subscribe to any utopia or to believe in a perfect world. We are
asked to equip ourselves with courage, hope, readiness for hard
work and to cherish large and generous ideals."
she had many friends, she insisted on living alone and never married.
As one of America's first career women, she deeply regretted missing
the experiences of marriage and motherhood. Of her personal life
she wrote, "In the midst of the unbroken and serene content of
my life, I know that I still have been shut out except in imagination
and sympathy from the most human and deepest experiences...the
most simply primitive human gift, the deepest reach of life, I
In her old age, lack of money forced
her to live in a nursing home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She
remained intellectually active, and was in close and constant
contact with a loving extended family and a supportive network
of friends. She died in Cambridge in 1961 at the age of 94.
The chairman of the Nobel Committee,
Gunnar Jahn, in awarding Emily Greene Balch the Nobel Peace Prize,
stated, "She has shown that the reality we seek must be won through
hard work in the world in which we live, but she has shown us
more than this; that one does not become exhausted and that defeat
gives new courage for the struggle to those who have within them
the holy fire."
In 1996, Wellesley College, the
Jamaica Plain Unitarian Church, and the International League for
Peace and Freedom jointly held commemorations of the 50th anniversary
of the Nobel Peace Prize winner.
American Unitarian Association
the Seventh Annual Unitarian Award
in recognition of distinguished service
to the cause of Liberal Religion
to Emily Greene Balch
poet, teacher and humanitarian, she has devoted a lifetime to
crusading for civil liberties, interracial brotherhood, social
and civic righteousness, and world peace.
During her years
as Professor of Economics and Political and Social Science at
Wellesley College, she began her efforts in behalf of world
peace, and in 1915, with Miss Jane Addams, founded the Women's
International League for Peace and Freedom, of which she is
presently honorary International President.
statesmanship, her intellectual leadership, her work for the
League of Nations and the United Nations Organizations have
spanned the continents of the world, and in 1946 she was co-recipient
with John R. Mott of the Nobel Peace Price in recognition of
her "contribution to the benefit of mankind."
Unitarian background, her present Quaker and Unitarian affiliations,
her religious insights and her contagious faith that men of
good-will can fashion peace, make it especially appropriate
that she be honored by the Association at this particular time.
Namely, the fortieth anniversary of the Women's International
League for Peace and Freedom, the seventy-fifth anniversary
of the General Alliance of Unitarian and Other Liberal Christian
Women, and the critical year in history when the quest for peace
in a nuclear age demands recognition and encouragement.
May 2. 1955
"Those about her,
from her, shall read the perfect ways of honour."
Chairman of the Board of Directors
Chairman of the Award Committee
of a Vast Brightening Field"
(Acceptance speech by Emily Greene Balch)
We are told
that the young men see visions, but visions come also to the old.
I see a vision
of a vast brightening field ready for the harvest. I believe we
are at the opening of a wonderful amazing era for the growth of
all that Unitarianism stands for, of nobler and deeper thinking
and of spiritual growth. I see a world of liberal religion, not
just Unitarian, but of something much wider than that.
I believe, ready, not only among those whose background is Christian
but among Buddhists and Mohammedans and in the East generally,
and certainly not least in the world of physical science. We need
to awake ourselves and to kindle a contagious fire of zeal for
the beautiful possibilities which God opens to human life.
tells me we have seen the last of the world's great wars. In our
hands lies a kind of prosperity we have little dreamed of. We
do not dare let ourselves realize what is possible. The time has
come to break down the dikes and let the healing waters flow over
us. I see in us, young and old, the seed of the world that is
Exploration of the Infinite
by Emily Greene Balch
IT IS COMMON TO SAY, "I do not believe in a personal God,"
but this simple statement needs definition. What does
I believe in
a personal God; but perhaps my belief is compatible
with that of many of those who say they do not.
following article was published in The Christian
Register of the American Unitarian Association
following the celebration of Emily Greene Balch's
By a personal
God, I mean a being not limited by the attributes of human persons,
but a being whose nature is not less than personal. I mean a being
adequate to the cosmic immensities of space and power but one,
also, certainly not inferior to the intelligence of the greatest
intellect we can imagine and not poorer than the purest and strongest
love and goodness. How this is possible is difficult to explain
or even conceive, but I believe I find evidence of the reality
of such a God -- the God of the astronomer and the God of the
saint. This evidence is what teachers call the "inner light."
position is denial of the possibility of "the supernatural." Like
the word "personal" this needs definition. Few "intelligent" or
"educated" people today believe in miracles in the old sense.
In another sense we may well say that we not only live in the
midst of continuous miracles but are miracles ourselves.
miracle is "supernatural" depends on what we mean by supernatural
and what it would be to be above or beyond it.
To a modern
mind, it is inconceivable that anything can be contrary to reason,
inconsistent with experience or involving a self-contradiction
in the universe.
For our own
fathers to sit and enjoy music being sung on the other side of
the planet would have seemed to call for a supernatural explanation.
Yet without even connecting wires the "wireless" brings this about.
To our fathers,
the facts that we know about radioactivity and the transformation
of elements would have seemed contrary to the law of nature, yet
we have had to widen our conceptions to accept these novel revelations
In the field
of "psychic" experiences, scientific minds are no longer content
with a universal denial but endeavor to investigate them as objectively
as any other problem. There is much sober evidence in the field
of telepathy or paraphysical perception of which Professor Rhine,
at Duke University, is trying to test certain aspects.
As the Curies
were baffled by something in their results that did not tally
with their equations, so in the curious and often sordid world
of mediums, spiritualists and all this tribe -- a world clouded
with deliberate fraud as well as with emotional states of mind
and other deceptive influences -- it is by no means clear that
there is not a residue which accepted explanations do not cover.
whenever there is a refusal to face evidence or accept results,
however, one thing of which modern man is sure: however much he
may have to modify his idea of what is possible in this strange
and complex world, he will not have to admit as an explanation
for things any type of supernatural causation that is inconsistent
with the whole orderly universe.
should arise bodily from death, it would mean there was more for
us to learn in our efforts to understand than we had expected.
It would not overthrow any truth that we had ever truly reached,
whatever adjustment our thought might have to make.
will and emotion, as we know about them, are bound up with the
brains and nerves. They are as physical as a beefsteak.
Yet the courage
which a beefsteak may help to refresh in an exhausted man is not
to be explained in physical terms alone.
will and emotion are as different, when experienced, as a toothache
felt is from a toothache described. Scientific knowledge, however
far it is carried, does not even tend to make known to us aspects
of facts as experienced. There are worlds with which science does
not deal, the world of values being one.
To speak for
myself, most of what is commonly called supernatural I believe
to be superstition and unreality. But to affirm that nothing is
supernatural, in a sense which would limit reality to these dimensions
of experience that are all we, in a scientific sense, know, would
seem to me "brash" in the extreme. Let us beware of positing barriers
in a world as yet so incompletely understood.