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tv   Reel America Crossing Borders... The Story of the Womens International...  CSPAN  March 29, 2021 11:53am-12:28pm EDT

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neutral nations gathered to discuss how to end war. the women's international league for peace and freedom was born. it still exists today. up next on reel america, crossing borders, the stories of the women's international league for peace and freedom. using extensive interviews with several early members, this 1987 film by the organization documents and celebrates its history, promoting peace and women's rights. >> in 1915 a group of women gathered in europe to try to find a way to stop world war i. it was the birth of the oldest women's peace organization in the world, the women's international league for peace and freedom. this is their story. the end of the victorian age and the beginning of the 20th
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century brought about a flood of movement for social change. many people began actively struggling for control over their own lives. settlement communities, labor unions and civil liberties organizations all grew out of this tremendous and dynamic period. women were profoundly involved in all these movements as well as fighting for their own rights. these feminists became formidable opponents to the male dominated world of the early 1900s. mildred scott olmstead has been a member since 1921. she's held a variety of positions in the league, including executive director of the united states section. >> i grew up a feminist because i grew up in a victorian type family. i say grew up, my first ten years in a victorian type family
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which my father was the head of the house and you weren't supposed to ask questions. if you asked things, it was because i'd say so. and this was the way my mother's position was, too. and i resented it very much. and so i went to college believing in suffrage. >> in 1915, the fight for women's suffrage was gaining momentum. despite barriers of distance and of language, voteless women across the world became united in the struggle for equality. as early as 1902 an internal suffrage alliance had been formed to strengthen these links. they planned to hold one of their international congresses in berlin in 1915, but world war i intervened. ♪ over there over there send the word send the word ♪ ♪ over there that the yanks are coming ♪ >> when the war broke out, i
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followed woodrow wilson into believing, very naive of course, which i was, and so were most people, we believed the war to end war, safe for democracy and all those beautiful slogans. ♪ and we won't come back till it's over over there ♪ >> women responded in a great variety of ways to the outbreak of the war. some, although they opposed their government's position on women, supported the decision to participate in the war. other women were angered at the way their countries were caught up in war-crazed jingoism. they felt they were dragged into a conflict in which they had no voice and they felt the war was wrong. these differences would be a cause and split in the international women's suffrage alliance. after the war, mildred went overseas to do relief work. later she began working with the american friend service
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committee. >> and friends invited am he to work with them and i went into northern france, a devastated region. there i got all the other side, what the war had meant to these peasants, to these people living there. some of them, they were coming back and they couldn't even find the houses. the whole tops of hills had been shot away. people were living in caved-in houses and living down on the ground floor. the wells had been poisoned. we were right on the edge of a battlefield. all the destruction was still there. and the prisoners of war, the prisoner of war camp, were assigned to help these french families rebuild, try to rebuild. and you would go into the homes of these families and there they would have sitting down with them, eating with them, the food they had, sharing it with a prisoner of war, a german who had been helping them. and you would say, but this is a prisoner, this is a german. he's your enemy.
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they would -- germans are bad people, but not this boy. he's a nice boy. so, i saw what happened when people were put together and working together. and i came to realize how much the people were exploited by the government. then we were sent down into bavaria. there we saw what starvation was. you can't imagine what it's like. in it the first world war, germany was not destroyed, but they were starved. everywhere food was stolen. you can't imagine what it was like. you would see a big crowd looking in the window of just a little dried up cheese and a couple pieces of ham or something. but there i saw the other side of it. it was really there that i first heard of the women's international league for peace and freedom because the german section, the women came with
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their services to help us as volunteers in the distribution of the food. as a result, we became very good friends with gertrude behr and her coworkers and they began asking us what are women in america doing for peace? why did mrs. cat dessert us? i had no idea what they were talking about. through her and that group, who we used to see in the evenings and so on, they told us about how the women had met at the hague in 1915. we went from both sides of the line who were opposed to the war and wanted to end the war. and right away, wanted to appeal to the governments and had appealed to all the government, including the neutral and the belligerent governments, to stop the war before there was more destruction and try to negotiate. >> from the onset of war, many women who had previously worked together through the international suffrage alliance
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tried to maintain ties. >> to our german sisters, some of us wish to send you a word of this sad christmas tide. those of us who wish for peace may surely offer a solemn greeting to those of you who feel as we do. though our sons are sent to slay each other and though our hearts are torn by the cruelty of this fate, through pain supreme we will be true to our common womanhood. >> saddened and angered by what the war was doing to their lives, they looked to each other for support, sympathy and a way out of the horror they were experiencing. alet that was the first woman doctor in holland and the leader of the dutch women's suffrage movement. she along with other european women thought it was more important than ever for them to maintain the solidarity they felt with each other as women above that of nationality.
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they set out a call to meet in 1915 at the hague and they began organizing the international congress of women. it was one thing for women to accept the invitation to the congress, and quite another for them to actually reach holland. many had been denied passports by their governments. others simply could not pass through areas where the war was raging. women traveling to the congress not only battled mine fields, but also the ridicule and scorn of their governments and communities. there were 300 delegates from 12 nations who attended the congress. 1,300 people packed the large hall for three days. the difficult task of chairing the meeting went to jane adams of the united states. none could fail to admire the courage and spirit of these women from enemy countries who embraced and exchanged experiences with one another. some of the women of the hague congress were great suffrage leaders. others were labor leaders, teachers, housewives.
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in those three days, despite the confusion of translations, they worked side by side, disagreed and compromised. by the end of the congress, they formulated a plan for neutral mediation of the war and laid down a detailed and specific program to maintain a permanent paesz after the war. the congress voted that the resolution should be carried by envoys to the various governments of europe and to the president of the united states. their plan, though well received, was not acted upon by any government until 1918, when many of their ideas were incorporated by woodrow wilson into the 14 points for the armistice. the women of the hague congress formed the international committee of women for permanent peace, which in 1919 officially became known as the women's international league for peace and freedom.
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still shocked by the massive destruction of world war i, people began to organize and mobilize, looking for ways to keep the peace and to investigate new methods for resolving conflicts. from 1931 to 1934, scores of liberal, radical and passivist groups sponsored a series of no more war parades which grew from 300 participants to more than 20,000. >> oh, i remember very vividly because it was quite a hot summer and it was the conference in washington was failing after the war. there's quite a lot of material about that, why they were failing. they were about to break up. the women's international league internationally felt something should be done to rescue it so they asked the sections to do what they could in ways of influencing their government and
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collecting signatures. we had our annual meeting in california, in los angeles. at the end of the meeting, just at sunset, we knew what we were going to do at the finale of that. just at sunset we released a whole flock of carrier pigeons and they flew up and circled around in the sunset and then started off to washington. ♪♪ >> obtained 1,300,00 signatures, japan has obtained nearly 1 million. from each country they are presented each to their own government, hoping to make something of a background of public opinion before the disarmament conference meets next february. >> that was mt roosevelt period. we entered washington and we were received at the white
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house, where we presented the signatures. and at the dinner that night, our national president, provided and eleanor roosevelt was there, and jane adams. and in the afternoon, we had a big public meeting in one of the squares in washington and miss adams initiated the first around the world broadcast. >> there's hope that in course of time the millions of people who day by day see the news ruhle portrayed as they do as inhabitants from every part of the globe, such an understanding of various kinds of life that will be quite impossible for them to visualize any of these as enemy. people in time will develop a
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tolerance which will make war impossible. in the old dream for universal peace will come about because people no longer tolerate anything else. >> the women's international league grew and became active in a variety of areas. they supported the league of nations, produced educational materials, organized speaking tours and held more international congresses. in 1934 dorothy detzer, a member of the women's international league, led the push for congressional investigation into the munitions industry. the findings of that committee exposed vast corruption and made clear the links between war and profit. >> one of the things which has been most interesting in the peace movement is which way should it go? will you go in the way of violence to change conditions or will it go in the way of
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nonviolence? it's always been, you know, groups have believed in nonviolence or opposed violence but the greatest opponent was gandhi in india. when he preached, india would win its freedom and it caught the attention of the whole world. when he began with his salt march to the sea, unarmed people marching against what they considered unjust tacks and he succeeded. it was quite electrical what it do to all the people -- not just peace people but people interested in economics and government and in world situations, world history. >> the example of gandhi gave tangible evidence of the potential of nonviolent resistance. all in all it was a time of the work of pass isis was well received and the hope of peace seemed more than a naive dream. the rise of fascism -- many
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people who had been proponents of absolute nonviolence took up arms or actively supported others in the fight against fascism throughout europe. others still maintain their passivist positions argued although they oppose fascism, violence was not the solution. at the outbreak of the war, the united states section of the women's international league lost half its membership. equally because it was too passivist and because it was not passivist enough. worldwide members were lost because of persecution, exile and death. >> one of the women was heska from the very famous vienese music publishing. she was there. i visited her in vienna and she
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was one of the last jews to leave vienna after hitler came in. a very good friend of hers, a again tile, were living together in her large house and garden. after hitler came in, she was forced to have her friend leave her. she was also very much under attack, but she told me that she was going to stay until the last minute because she symbolized to the jews some degree of security. she knew after she left, it would be permanently hopeless for them. she stayed and she said she was going -- after she gave up that, she was going to live by introducing long-haired ducks and cultivated wild strawberies to the united states. she never got here, but she did get as far as england and did support herself in england. the leader of the german
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feminist movement and very much closely associated her was dr. alsburg. one was tall and thin and short and fat. she was the first woman to become a doctor in germany, to break into that. you see, this is what we were trying to do. and they remained together for all the rest of their lives. ultimately were, of course, on hitler's list to be disposed of and they escaped and ended their lives in switzerland. gertrude bear was a really remarkable figure. her father was a banker in hamburg, but she was a strong feminist. she used to climb out -- her mother backed her up. she would go out the window at night for a meeting, a feminist meeting, and her mother would let her in at night.
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she would climb in the window. she really kept the international alive. she did not get to the first congress but she really kept it alive by being -- carrying it on. she escaped from german. after hitler came in, she was on the list to be liquidated. their last meeting in cologne on the border, she said good-bye and came over into switzerland with a list to the wil with her. she carried it on all through the war, kept it going, and then she came to the united states to represent us at the u.n. and is very largely responsible for the representation of the wil at the u.n. evelyn greenbraur was on the faculty of wellesley college and had gotten a leave of absence to go with ms. adams to work on this and she succeeded ms. adams as the international president. she lost her position at wellesley college because of her work for peace.
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but she and jane adams are the only two american women who have ever received the nobel peace prize. >> the droppings of the bombs on hiroshima and nagasaki gave a terrifying new concept to the meaning of war. a whole movement developed to fight nuclear testing and proliferation of nuclear arms. >> and the most varied contacts on developing between the soviet union and america. a delegation of the united states section of the women's international league for peace and freedom came to moscow for the second soviet/american women's conference. after many fruitful discussions -- >> united states government focused much of its attention on monitoring the activities of groups like the women's
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international league. >> when they become interested in these issues, nonlocal issues, they have to be prepared for attacks. they happen very differently if they're organizations set up to attack them, and they are supposed to be un-american. then they are subject to great misrepresentation, absolute misrepresentation, really, because they're afraid of them. the community is afraid. they don't know what they're going to do so everybody is labeled communist because of the communist movement, the great new movement and they were terribly afraid of it. they didn't really know what communism was. they didn't know what was going to happen in russia. there are all sorts of fears that developed. so, anything they didn't understand was labeled communist. so much so, for example, when i went around, i wouldn't wear a red dress or a pink dress when i was talking. i took care to wear conservative colors. it's amusing, too, because they passed a law in massachusetts
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that you couldn't carry a red flag in the parade and they ran with the fact that the students couldn't carry their harvard flag. so it went to really ridiculous limits. any group or any individual that didn't conform to what happened to be the community standards would be attacked. and so you had to be prepared if you came into a movement like this for it and to be maligned and misinterpreted. >> have always been a target the witch hunters. >> kay camp is past international president of the women's international league. >> i remember when at one time following a seminar here with soviet women, we were sending women around to branches throughout the country. our branch hosted three of them. we had an evening here at our
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home, and many friends, neighbors and members came. we had a very good time. they made little speeches. we made little speeches. took a lot of pictures. and i think everybody felt that it was a very warm and cordial evening. and following that, i wrote to them and i sent them copies of all those pictures. and i was stunned to learn years later that every one of those pictures turned out copied in the fbi files, which reported on that evening at our home. and i felt -- i felt very personally violated that this was an intrusion similar to the way i felt when we were burglaryized and came home to find all our drawers pulled out
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and the contents strewn about the room and personal valuables missing. and at the same time, it was so ludicrous for them to be reporting on what we ourselves had tried to hard to put in the newspapers. ♪ you see me stumble ♪ ♪ don't stand back and look on ♪ ♪ give your hands to each other ♪ ♪ give it your hands ♪ >> the civil rights movement left a legacy of nonviolence and direct action to people around the world. ♪ give your hands to struters ♪ >> the example of plaque people
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fighting and resisting became an inspiration for the resurgence of the women's movement and for the enormous mass resistance against the vietnam war. ♪ feel our heart breaking ♪ >> these overlapping movements clearly demonstrated the relationship between peace and freedom. ♪♪ >> come on, all of you big strong men uncle sam needs your help again ♪ ♪ got himself in a vietnam ♪ ♪ put down your books and pick up a gun ♪ ♪ we're going to have a whole lot of fun ♪ ♪ it's one two three what ares9t fighting for ♪ ♪ don't ask me i don't give a damn ♪ ♪ the next stop is vietnam ♪ ♪ and it's five six seven ♪ ♪ open up the pearly gates
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♪ is ♪ i got time to wonder why we're all gonna die ♪ ♪ come on generals let's move fast ♪ ♪ no big chances here at last ♪ ♪ now you can go out and get those threats because the only comi is one that's dad ♪ >> a dramatic change took place in the anti-war demonstrations. although signature campaigns and peaceful protests continued, many people were putting their bodies on the line to protest the war. ♪ five six seven open up the pearly gates ♪ ♪ ain't no time to wonder why ♪ ♪ we're all gonna die ♪ >> one of the important aspects of -- through the years has been its desire to go to the source for information, to go to hot spots in the world and get the correct information both on reconciliation and fact-finding missions from the very first delegations of jane adams to
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governments. but i'm talking about crossing borders and one of the first undertaken was after the u.s. marines landed in nicaragua and haiti, madame buchville went on several missions to those areas and other areas in it the caribbean and reported back and we took action to protest those interventions. and this has gone on through the years. many members went to vietnam, of course, during the vietnam war, but we had a wil delegation that was able to go to both south vietnam and north vietnam, which was rather unusual. we found ourselves in the position of taking messages from women of south vietnam to women of north vietnam and between families and so forth. it was incredible. and we were also in laos at that
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time. one of the outcomes of that was that we worked out and signed -- drew up peace treaties with the women between our countries. women, u.s. women and south vietnamese women and u.s. women and north vietnamese women, and that was a very useful tool. later we went to cuba when it was not encouraged to go. one could not return by way of mexico city if one went in by mexico city. so the three of us made a point of having to fly to madrid and then back to the states and held a press conference to say, isn't this ridiculous? we should be traveling and trading and talking with cubans. later it began to happen. we went to chile shortly after the coup and while two of us would be talking to the
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government leaders, three or four would be talking to the people and getting very specific information. it was a -- it was a soul-searing experience because we met with families who had lost members, and we found victims coming to us secretly because the government had published a satirical count of these ladies walking around with their notebooks describing the buckets of blood. we were able to produce a report and reported to the united nations human rights commission on that and two congressional leaders and we felt that we were helpful in getting congressional legislation to stop trade and weapons sales to chile, while
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the banks continue to do so. six of us from north, central and south america went to costa rica and nicaragua, el salvador and guatemala. we have to focus on the individual countries that are victimized by u.s. foreign intervention, military policy. but when we recognized that there have been 215 such interventions, that is interventions by the u.s. in third world countries since 1948, that -- this has been going on for generations now. we have to tackle the overall problem. and that's going to take a little longer, but we -- we're working on it. i didn't -- i didn't say much about the human contact, but this is, of course, perhaps the most important aspect of these visits.
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we do make personal contact and we do keep in touch. we do get, therefore, direct information and do provide a measure of support and hope for people who are in such desperate circumstances because of our government's dominant desire, necessity to dominate other countries. ♪♪ ♪ for peace lift up together ♪ stand up and say no no ♪
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♪ ♪ stand up and say no ♪ ♪ no ♪ >> we are here from all the states in the union and from most nations in the world. we represent the greatest cross-section of the american people. and we are here joining in one voice to say no to nuclear war, and in one voice to say yes to meeting human needs and providing justice for all people in our world. >> okay. tell us what to do. >> i don't know. i can't tell you. >> i've been working for 20
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years and i've never, never seen anything like this. the world is catching up with us. it's marvelous. >> well, i'm absolutely thrilled to be here today and bring greetings to everybody from new zealand and i've taken photographs and take it back. we have our kiwi on here. it's tremendous summit to be amongst so many people for peace, women for peace. so many people on the streets, it's wonderful. >> how do you feel about this today? >> it's marvelous. little teeny parades, we were ashamed of them because they only show weak bs. we said we won't parade anymore until we can show strength, so here we are. >> who are you marching with today? >> women's international league for peace and freedom. ♪♪
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american history tv on c-span3 every weekend documenting america's story, funding for american history tv comes from these companies who support c-span3 as a public service. created by the moscow documentary film center "american women visit the soviet union" is a report on a 1964 trip by u.s. members of the women's international league for peace and freedom with stops in moscow and several other cities, the anti-war group promoted peace and understanding at a time of tense cold war relations between the united states and soviet union. >> american women visit the soviet union. photographs


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