By Gwenllian Jones, June 2016; updated by Craig Owen, May 2019 (with additional references).
Following the death of thousands of men in the First World War, families and communities were in despair and in need of new hope. This came in the form of a social revolution for peace.
War destroyed the fundamental role women had adopted in Welsh society. The traditional roles as mothers, wives, sisters and daughters were invaluable to Welsh communities; however without sons, husbands, brothers and fathers, women lost the significance of the relationships they had with one another. Women in the interwar period adopted the role of peace pilgrims in Wales, as Welsh women sought to deflect the possibility of another great war to protect future generations from the destruction that war created.
Welsh women’s contribution to peace has been examined by pioneers of women’s writing in Wales by the likes of Katrina Gass and Sydna Williams. Examining the contribution women made to peace campaigns in Wales will not only offer new discussions on women in Wales but also challenge conventional ideas that women were not politically or socially active. The position and role of women in Wales has often been overlooked, neglected or downplayed. A key contribution, often an overlooked campaign, that represented how women in Wales did indeed offer much of their support for the overall fight for peace was the American peace petition and memorial. This petition and memorial was an attempt to appeal to the women of America to plead the American government to join the League of Nations.
The idea of the petition was first discussed at the Welsh school of social service in Llandrindod Wells in August 1922. A national conference in Aberystwyth in May, 1923, proposed that the women of Wales had more to offer in their roles as peace pilgrims in Wales and were given the opportunity to take charge of collecting names, forming a committee, creating the memorial, to take the petition and memorial to America and present to Government officials and the American president Calvin Coolidge.
The Welsh Council of the League of Nations Union was founded in 1922, with financial support from the MP David Davies and led by the Reverend Gwilym Davies. Many men from Wales, derived from non-conformist areas, did not desire to fight in the Great War and because of this certain areas in Wales became known as pacifist regions. These men, such as the poet Gwenallt, desired to create a Welsh council that fought for peace rather than war, and the Welsh Council of League of Nations gained mass support within Wales.
Within three years of its formation, the Welsh League of Nations Union ‘boasted’ a membership of 31,299, with 571 branches in Wales and Monmouthshire. Following the proposals made by the women of Wales, the League of Nations fully supported the women’s claim to create a petition and memorial that would appeal to an international nation and collaborate the campaigns of men and women’s organisations and guilds.
To successfully complete the process, a women’s executive committee was created with twenty members including Mrs Hughes Griffiths as president, Mrs Huw Pritchard as organiser of North Wales and Miss E.Poole as organiser in South Wales. A form was created in both Welsh and English and given to each house and farm in Wales. In total the petition was signed by 390,296 women in Wales and Monmouthshire, representing 30% of the female population (total Welsh population from the 1921 census being 2,656,000).
A script was created for the memorial and was written by Cicely West. The script highlighted the key reasons why women in Wales desired peace through emphasising the connection already made with America through Henry Richard and Elihu Burritt. Another key emphasis and also significant to highlight were how the women portrayed themselves as women who were not motivated politically. The key reasons why the women of Wales campaigned for peace were “their concern for the future of civilisation to live in a warless world,” to create humanitarian measures for trafficked women and children and to monitor the trade of opium and any other drugs. The repetition of the women emphasising the established connection between America and Wales, and emphasis on a warless world, highlights how determined these women were to portray themselves as peace pilgrims protecting the next generation from another Great War.
“Our constant hope and prayer is that our message may contribute something towards the realisation of the proud heritage of a warless world.”
RMS Cedric by Charles de Lacy (died 1930) Creative Commons / Wikimedia.com
On the 19th February 1924, a delegation consisting of Mrs Hughes Griffiths, Miss Elined Prys and Miss Mary Ellis left for America on the White Star Liner, RMS Cedric from Liverpool with the memorial and petition. The women arrived in New York and were greeted by the welcoming committee of the United Association of American Women with Mrs James Lees Laidlaw as chairman. In total the welcoming committee were four hundred to five hundred women from America and represented the voices of twenty thousand American women in total. In New York, Mrs Peter Hughes Griffiths gave a speech on the origin, nature and purpose of the memorial and petition.
The following day the women were taken to Washington for a second presentation of the memorial and petition in order to meet President Calvin Coolidge, other government officials, the Committee of the World Court, the National League of Women Voters and the National Council for the Prevention of War. The Annual Report of the League of Nations in Wales stated in 1924 that the women, addressed their audience in saying “our constant hope and prayer is that our message may contribute something towards the realisation of the proud heritage of a warless world.”
Many national and local newspapers reported on the campaign, ranging from areas such as Belfast and Aberdeen. The Belfast newspaper reported that the script was “regarded as the finest pieces of manuscript written in modern times”, additionally “the first time in history that the women of one country have presented a memorial to the women of another country”. The reports indicate how significant this form of campaigning from women in Wales meant to the league of Nations and to women’s organisations across Wales and Britain.