Pacifism Vs. Patriotism in the 1920s: Teaching strategy




The years following World War I served as a crucial turning point in American international relations, as the nation moved from a more isolationist policy to one that accepted a more forceful role in great-power diplomacy. When Europe erupted in war in 1914, American leaders resisted direct involvement until 1917. The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), a multinational effort of women to combat the forces that caused international conflict and war, arose out of an International Congress of Women at The Hague, Netherlands, in 1915. While the women of WILPF approached the war from a pacifist perspective, other American women saw a more immediate need to guarantee American victory against the "German menace." The national society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), for instance, organized the purchase of war bonds, donated funds to relief charities, and sent handmade clothing to sailors overseas. Following the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 and the Versailles Treaty that ended the war, a vicious Red Scare erupted in the nation in 1919 and generated a different political climate, which increased antagonisms between "patriots" and "pacifists" and lent significant governmental support to the "patriot" side of this conflict.


To understand the philosophy of WILPF toward war and disarmament; to explore the atmosphere of the "Red Scare" and its impact on peace organizations; to examine the DAR's opposition to pacifism and disarmament.

Teaching Strategies

1. Begin by reading Anne Rogers Minor, "A Message From the President General," November and December 1921. What was Minor's attitude towards war? Towards disarmament? What did she have to say about pacifist organizations?

2. Next read about the position of WILPF toward war and disarmament in Dorothy Detzer's letter to the American Legion, 14 June 1926. What was WILPF's position about war? about disarmament? Ask students to discuss the reasons WILPF had come under attack by the American Legion. Why had the American Legion argued that the League was connected to Russia and Bolshevism? Ask students to evaluate Detzer's response.

3. Continue to explore the debate between the DAR and WILPF by reading the letter from Mrs. I.E. Evans to Jane Addams, February 1917 and the accompanying "D.A.R. Dossier," and the response from Emily Greene Balch. Divide students into small groups and have each group choose two or three of the DAR's attacks on Addams and discuss how Balch responded to the charges. Were Balch's responses effective? Ask each group to report on their discussion to the class as a whole.

4. Ask students to examine the political cartoons reprinted in DAR Magazine. Ask each student to choose one cartoon and write a paragraph about how that cartoon reflected the attitudes of the organization. Questions to consider: Why would the DAR choose to reprint this cartoon? How does the cartoon reflect the organization's attitude toward disarmament? Toward peace organizations? Toward the government? Toward the governments of other nations?

For Further Exploration:

To explore further WILPF and the organization's responses to the red scare of the 1920s, see How Did the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom Respond to Right-Wing Attacks, 1923-1931?, also on this website. This project examines how WILPF responded to anti-socialist intimidation during the 1920s. This second "red scare" targeted the women's peace movement during a period of armaments buildup following World War I. WILPF, although powerless to halt the persistent attacks, contested them with dignity and restraint.

Students may also find Red Scare (1918-1921), an Image Database created by Leo Robert Klein, an interesting way to continue exploring this period in American History.

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