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Women's Peace Activism:
Forward into the Past? (2003)

Browse photos of the March 8, 2003 Code Pink March. Read more articles in the War section of this site.

On March 8, 2003, International Woman's Day, about ten thousand women accompanied by roughly one thousand men and children marched down 16th St. in Washington D.C. to protest the prospect of war on Iraq. There were sister demonstrations around the world.
They called themselves Code Pink, a take-off on the government's color-coded terror alert system, though hot pink was more the color of the day. They said pink signifies "extreme danger to all the values of nurturing, caring, and compassion that women and loving men have held." However, for the last century
the color pink has been used to designate femaleness.
There is a long tradition of women identifying femaleness, usually motherhood, with opposition to war. Carrie Chapman Catt, soon to take the helm of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, wrote in 1915 that "when war murders the husbands and sons of women, destroys their homes, desolates their country and makes them refugees and paupers, it becomes the undeniable business of women."
US women held their first modern anti-war march in New York City on August 29, 1914 to protest the war in Europe. Approximately 1,500 women wearing mourning clothes marched in silence. The following January, delegates from women's organizations ranging from the Daughters of the American Revolution to the Women's Committee of the Socialist Party formed the Woman's Peace Party at Washington DC's New Willard Hotel, choosing noted settlement worker Jane Addams as their leader. Its preamble stated that "As women, we feel a peculiar moral passion of revolt against both the cruelty and waste of war..."
Then as now, US women were not alone in their belief that it was women's duty to oppose war. In April 1915 over one thousand women from eleven European countries plus the US met at The Hague to form a Women's Committee for Permanent Peace. Addams became its president, and the WPP an affiliate.
WILPFAlthough vilified in the press, the WPP grew until Congress declared war on April 6, 1917. Women's organizations split, some continued their opposition while most looked for ways to support the troops. In 1919 the WPP reorganized into the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), still headed by Jane Addams. The American section lobbied against conscription and for decreased military appropriations, which angered the War Department.
Women's peace activism didn't stop the Great War (World War I), or even prevent the United States from entering it, but it did put a spotlight on women who said "no" to war. When Jeannette Rankin of Montana, the first woman Member of Congress, was one of 50 Members to vote "no" on the Declaration of War against Germany, she was singled out for opprobrium. The New York Times later used her vote as one more reason why women did not deserve suffrage. In 1918 WPP leader Emily Greene Balch lost her faculty position at Wellesley College because of her work for peace. Vice President Calvin Coolidge went so far as to castigate women's colleges as hotbeds of radicalism in a 1921 magazine article. In 1922, Secretary of War John Weeks denounced women pacifists as hysterics and traitors. Because so many women and their organizations had argued against US involvement in the European War, the Military Intelligence Division of the War Department kept many of them under surveillance during and after the War. In 1923, a War Department librarian published the "Spider Web Chart" linking prominent women and organizations as part of "The Socialist-Pacifist Movement in America." In addition to WILPF, these included the PTA, the YWCA, the General Federation of Women's Clubs, the WCTU (Women's Christian Temperance Union), and the National Federation of Business and Professional Women. Accusations of disloyalty were used to defeat bills and resolutions urged by women's groups throughout the 1920s.
Despite these attacks, women's peace organizations proliferated until the Great Depression, though over time they backed away from issues identified as feminist or women's rights to focus on foreign policy. They argued that motherhood gave women a special role as peacemakers. The rise of fascism put women's peace organizations into a quandary and US entry into World War II put many out of business. Those that survived campaigned against the loss of civil liberties and the placement into camps of Americans of Japanese ancestry.
Another Red Scare infected the country after World War II, as it had after World War I. This time women's organizations were not a special target; by then they barely existed. The generally repressive atmosphere discouraged dissent since those who disagreed with the government were often accused of being unAmerican, "exposed" in the press, and denied employment. The husbands of several WILPF women lost jobs. Nonetheless, WILPF's work was appreciated abroad. Two of its leaders were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize— Jane Addams in 1931 and Emily Greene Balch in 1946.
Women's peace activism was revived in 1961, when the Soviet Union resumed atmospheric testing of nuclear devices after a three-year moratorium. As the US followed suit, several women organized marches in sixty cities on November 1, in order to bring women out of their kitchens to City Hall for a one-day "strike." Women Strike for PeaceWomen's Strike for Peace (aka Women for Peace) was subsequently created to protest the nuclear arms race. Projecting an image of housewifely respectability, WSP demanded attention on the grounds that mothers were the protectors of life and women the moral guardians of society. WSP's success led to a subpoena by the House UnAmerican Activities Committee of a number of its activists.
The Viet Nam War brought a lot of young women to anti-war activity, but only some of them joined the older women's peace organizations. Like the young men, they wanted to do their own thing, so they sought to carve out a niche for themselves in the many anti-war organizations that emerged in the late 1960s. There they discovered their second class status in a movement where men could resist the draft, but women could only counsel resistance. Young women were told that "girls say yes to boys that say no" and otherwise relegated to service and support functions.
Rankin BrigadeMany rebelled and publicly told the established women's peace organizations what they thought of the motherhood imagery on January 15, 1968. WILPF, WSP and other groups brought 5,000 women to Washington as the Jeannette Rankin Brigade to present Congress with a petition to end "the ruthless slaughter in Viet Nam." Among them were a few dozen newly conscious young feminists who used the occasion to stage their own protest. They carried a funeral bier for a "Burial of Traditional Womanhood" and told the older women that the time had come to stop supplicating and start acting. "Bury submission alongside aggression," they said. The older women told them they were out of line, but everyone went home talking about it.
Thirty-five years later the National Organization for Women loaned CodePink space in its national office to organize the March 8, 2003 march to the White House.


Photos of the March 8, 2003 Code Pink March
by Jo Freeman

Please click on thumbnails to view the complete image

Thousands rally in Malcolm X (Meridian Hill) Park before the march.

Code Pink Speaker   Joan of Arc

Speakers denounce the US attack on Iraq.



Warrior Joan D'Arc looks the other way.

Hundreds Listen   Fashion Statement

Hundreds listen


Fashion statement


Code Pink march banner

  Code Pink sign

Some display the signs they will carry in the march.

Peace Puppet   Peace Puppet

While others carry puppets....


Marching down 16th St.

Code Pink on 16th St.   Code Pink on 16th St.
Code Pink on 16th St.
Code Pink on 16th St.
Code Pink on 16th St.   Code Pink on 16th St.
The Pink Slip Brigade   The Pink Slip Brigade

The Pink Slip Brigade


Many women from different groups marched   Many women from  different groups marched

Many women from different groups marched.

Marchers at White House   Marchers at Ellipse

Marchers pause at the White House....


... before marching around it for a closing rally at the Ellipse.


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