On the 15th of February this year, WILPF Norway held a history seminar with its members. It was a long anticipated seminar and three key speakers were invited. The speakers were Mari Holmboe Ruge, Edel Havin Beukes and Elisabeth Kristiansen. We asked Elisabeth Kristiansen to write a report on the seminar.
Report from the history seminar by Elisabeth Kristiansen
The first speaker of the day was Mari Holmboe Ruge. She has been a member of WILPF Norway since 1955, and her presentation was about the origins of WILPF Norway.
Mari started speaking about how the Norwegian Section of WILPF began in 1915 after a delegation of eight Norwegian women returned from an international peace congress in The Hague, the Netherlands, to Norway.
Before getting into more detail on the peace congress, Mari explained how the Norwegian delegation was formed and who were in it.
In Norway, women gained equal voting rights in 1913. This was a huge victory for Norwegian women, but even though they had succeeded, they continued their work as it was not enough that the women in Norway had the right to vote, their goal was that women all over the world should have the right to vote, so the Norwegian suffrage organisations joined the global suffragettes movement.
In 1914 there came a call for women to attend a meeting in Berlin to discuss women’s voting rights. However, with the outbreak of World War I the meeting was moved to the neutral country of The Netherlands at The Hague and the topic converted to a women’s peace congress.
A committee of individual women, many of them veterans from the Norwegian suffrage movement, were invited for a public meeting in Norway, and during this, eight Norwegian delegates were elected to go to the congress in The Hague.
To show that the peace congress had popular support, the Norwegian organisers managed to collect 24,000 names on a petition. These names were presented in The Hague. On the way, keeping in mind that travelling during wartime from Norway to the Netherland’s was not easy, the Norwegian delegates met with delegations from Sweden and Denmark and the three delegations traveled together to The Hague. During the congress, the three Scandinavian delegations spoke together with one voice.
Norwegian women in the League of Nations
The second speaker, Edel Havin Beukes, spoke about the WILPF Congress in 1919 in Zürich where WILPF got its official name. The participants discussed among other subjects the Versailles peace conditions, which WILPF thought were very damaging for a peaceful future, and the establishment of The League of Nations (the latter equivilent, The United Nations).
Edel mentioned the article ‘The League of Nations in the Norwegian fight for women’s rights’ written by a Norwegian historian. The article highlights that the women in the Norwegian delegation to the League of Nations were very interested in and experienced with international work. Two of these women, Martha Larsen Jahn and Johanne Reutz Gjermoe, were prominent members of WILPF Norway.
Both women were part of the Social Committee, but Johanne Reutz Gjermoe, who had excellent skills as an economist was also part of the Financial Committee.
The first three women in The League of Nations in 1920 were all from the Scandinavian countries and worked close together.
At The League of Nations, women were given a political arena where equal rights for men and women came on the international agenda. In 1935, Johanne Reutz asked for an initiative to investigate women’s roles in law, politics and economics. Similarly an Expert Committee was established to look at women’s position in national legislation in all countries.
The Norwegian women were also active in the work of establishing an Education Committee and an International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation and they engaged in the fight against trade of women and children and demanded better legal protection.
The role of women in the first half of the 20th century
I was the last speaker of the seminar and I spoke about World War I and the period leading up to the 1950s. My presentation was told through pictures showing how the suffragettes at the beginning of the 20th century were labeled ”bad mothers and women” and showing the 1.6 million British women working in the arms industry during World War I.
In the end of the presentation, I spoke of the first US scare of the ‘reds’ with the Palmer arrests 1919 and the beginnings of Edgar J. Hoover career, and how this influenced the hunt for communists after World War II. Additionally, I spoke about the students at the Columbia University in New York who all through the 1930s had a campaign to stop the militarization of the youth.
In 1915, the peace congress in The Hague ended with the creation of a manifesto and the foundation of WILPF. Next year in 2015 it is WILPF’s 100th anniversary and with that milestone a new manifesto is being prepared.
In the end of the history seminar, we all discussed the first draft of the 2015 manifesto and after the discussion we sat down for a lovely lunch prepared for us by my mother Synnøve.
Elisabeth Kristiansen, IKFF Norway, February 2014