League's 90 years of peacemaking

April 08, 2005|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,SUN STAFF

The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom celebrates its 90th anniversary next week. The Baltimore branch is celebrating its 80th. And Vivienne Shub, the much-esteemed Baltimore actor, is marking her 70th year with the local chapter.

She was 16 or 17 and a student at Forest Park High School when her mother, Rose Slovin, read "a little item in the paper about a group called Women's International League for Peace and Freedom."

"She decided she would go," Shub says, "and she took me. And we went to Goucher, which was then in Baltimore City, and we met the founders of the chapter, Dr. Gertrude Bussey and Dr. Mary Williams. They became household names."

They were both revered professors at Goucher, which was in the original granite Victorian buildings that still stand at St. Paul and 23rd streets.

WILPF and Goucher have had a close relationship over the years, and at a luncheon tomorrow, Goucher's Heubeck Hall will be where the Baltimore and Catonsville WILPF branches celebrate 90 years of activism for peace and justice.

Regina Birchem, a Pittsburgh biologist who is the first American WILPF president in years, will speak, and Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Democratic congresswoman from Texas and sponsor of the U.S. section of WILPF, will be an honored guest. Minnie Hoch, a widely respected librarian who at 92 is one of the senior members of the Baltimore branch, will receive a special tribute.

Shub will present a dramatic performance.

"I'm going to give a little history of how I got to know WILPF when I was 16," she says, "then speak a little about the role of Jane Addams and peace."

Addams, who helped begin the settlement house movement with the Hull House in Chicago, was a founder of WILPF at the International Congress of Women in 1915 at The Hague. She was the first president and the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.

Shub will read from Addams' essays.

Phyllis Yingling, a longtime WILPF member who is co-chairwoman of the Catonsville chapter with Viola Rideout, recalls that delegates from the Hague conference "went out from there and visited 13 heads of states to try to get them to negotiate an early peace [to World War I].

"It was a deadly war," she says. "These women were very well aware that their sons and husbands and nephews were being killed."

The United States, of course, was not yet in the war. Addams came back, Yingling says, and met with President Woodrow Wilson but failed to get him to stay out of the war.

Resolutions from the Hague conference echoed in Wilson's Fourteen Points for a just and lasting peace after World War I, and later in the United Nations charter and in the 1948 Declaration on Human Rights. WILPF has an office at the United Nations in New York, and the international office is in Geneva.

Yingling notes that the U.S. section of WILPF sent a message to President Bush, similar to Addams' plea to Wilson, on the day of the Sept. 11 attacks.

"They mourned the deaths," Yingling says. "But we hoped that we wouldn't retaliate."

Closer to home, WILPF has been involved with youth conflict-resolution programs in the city.

Shub recalls that her mother remained active with WILPF until her death in 1976.

"I went along with her," Shub says, "and we were very, very, very caught up in active peace work, trying to reach others."

Hoch, the honoree tomorrow, says she has great hope that the youths of America will carry on the work of WILPF.

"They use the Internet to communicate," she says, during a recent WILPF gathering at Roland Park Place, where she lives. "They form little groups, and eventually they realize they are part of a bigger movement. And maybe they join but maybe they just cooperate. I have more hope for them than I did for my own generation."

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