CLIO TALKS BACK: Clio Eavesdrops on the International Congress of Women, 1933

When Clio feels pessimistic about the present, she dips into the record of the past, looking for the deeds and words of women. And sometimes she comes up with very juicy morsels such as this 1933 speech, “The World As It Is.”

The speaker is a woman lawyer,a suffrage and disarmament activist from France, Marcelle Kraemer-Bach (1896-1990), who was visiting Chicago in the course of a trip around the world. And like so many others, then and since, she believed that women held the key to peace and mutual understanding. Many of us still think so today, including many members of the IMOW community.

Here is a long excerpt from the speech given by Mme Kraemer-Bach at the International Congress of Women, which was sponsored by the National Council of Women of the United States during Chicago’s Century of Progress Fair (40 years after the World’s Columbian Exposition, during which the International Council of Women held its first major congress).

Clio thinks you will be surprised by how pertinent Marcelle Kraemer-Bach’s observations remain today – in the early 21st century. The details may differ – but these observations must be set in context of a recent, horrifying war, followed by economic frenzy and collapse, the Great Depression, the coming to power of the Nazi Party in Germany, and the rumblings of war in the Far East.

“I have to speak of the World as It Is! Well, I think it is in a mess; 30,000,000 people are unemployed. Through reduction of production and lack of exchanges there has been a loss of $35,000,000 which is three times the quantity of gold left in the world. Nations have selfish opinions. Tariffs are so high and often so absurd that we find countries which have overproduction and others mearby that know starvation.

“I was in Roumania last year, and saw corn being burned there; we all know that in Brazil, the coffee is thrown into the sea. That seems absurd as well as tragic. Some people are so poor and so unhappy, and others have many privileges. There seems to be no justice, and above all, we often see the shade of war. What can we do?

“Women haven’t done much until now – we must be frank and speak openly about it – women haven’t done much. They have not yet had their political rights for very long but they have had education a long time. But now, this Congress may be the beginning, if we really wish it to be, of a real change.

“Now women have political rights in nearly all countries. Women have education and opportunities in all countries. Why in the world don’t they do something?

“They are sometimes afraid to think for themselves. They dare not think. I believe that it is only through the education of younger generations that the world can be better, and it is only through mutual understanding; women of all countries should understand each other. They have, after all, common interests, and however different their ways of expression and feelings are, they are similar in so many things.

“Above all, women of democratic countries should find it very easy to cooperate. Our countries, the United States and France, are so similar in their democratic spirit, that it should be very easy, I think, to increase their mutual friendship. But I think that women of all countries should cooperate in a very loyal way. France loves peace and loves freedom, as the United States does, but all women of all the world must cooperate. M. [Aristide] Briand [leader of the campaign to outlaw war in the 1920s] has said that he believes that through women, peace could be brought to the world. Women must do this work of bringing about mutual understanding between nations, because the world is waiting for them to do it!

“Until now, women have only tried to give better health and better happiness to their children – and that is a great deal. But, what about it, if those children, in later days, know a terrible war, or if those children know unemployment, or if they know some other catastrophe which can happen – what about it?

“What will be the use of those children being happy and healthy, if all that can be destroyed in a minute if people get mad again and foolish again, as they might do?

“Women must avoid selfishness and they must also avoid laziness – laziness in thinking and laziness in action, in order to save their children from war and from other catastrophes. They must build up a new and peaceful world in order to save Our Common Cause – Civilization.”

Clio asks you to let IMOW know what you have done lately to promote peace and international understanding.

Source: Our Common Cause—Civilization: Report of the International Congress of Women (New York: National Council of Women of the U.S., 1933), pp. 162-163.