Open Christmas Letter: December 1914

While I was researching the Christmas Truce of 1914, I came across the “Open Christmas Letter” of 1914, a piece of history I had not read about before.  World War I took place between 1914 and 1918, a time in which women in both Europe and America were battling for the vote.  In fact, the war helped the women’s suffrage movement by giving women a chance to step into traditionally male roles as more and more men went off to fight.  Their contributions did not go unnoticed, and both the UK and the US passed women’s suffrage amendments in part due to their efforts.

By December of 1914 it was obvious that World War I would not be a short conflict.  Several German suffragists wrote letters to Carrie Chapman Catt, the president of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance (IWSA), who published them in Jus Suffragii, the journal for the IWSA.  The letters expressed these women’s desire that the war not divide them and they remain united despite the bloodshed, “by the common striving for the highest object–personal and political freedom.”

Emily Hobhouse, author of the Open Christmas Letter

Emily Hobhouse, author of the Open Christmas Letter

British suffragist Emily Hobhouse read the letters and decided to take action in what would become the “Open Christmas Letter.”  101 fellow suffragists signed the letter before sending it to the US press (because the two nations were at war, the British suffragists were prevented from directly communicating with those in Germany).  The letter, published under the heading: “On Earth Peace, Goodwill towards Men,” offered a Christmas greeting to the women in Germany and Austria: “The Christmas message sounds like mockery to a world at war, but those of us who wished and still wish for peace may surely offer a solemn greeting to such of you who feel as we do.”  It continued with a call for peace among the nations:

Is it not our mission to preserve life? Do not humanity and common sense alike prompt us to join hands with the women of neutral countries, and urge our rulers to stay further bloodshed? …
Even through the clash of arms, we treasure our poet’s vision, and already seem to hear

“A hundred nations swear that there shall be
Pity and Peace and Love among the good and free.”

May Christmas hasten that day..

On March 1, 1915, the German and Austrian suffragists responded to the letter.  Their reply, entitled “Open Letter in Reply to the Open Christmas Letter from Englishwomen to German and Austrian Women,” was signed by 155 suffragists and printed in Jus Suffragii.

To our English sisters, sisters of the same race, we express in the name of many German women our warm and heartfelt thanks for their Christmas greetings, which we only heard of lately.
This message was a confirmation of what we foresaw—that women of the belligerent countries, with all faithfulness, devotion, and love to their country, can go beyond it and maintain true solidarity with the women of other belligerent nations, and that really civilised women never lose their humanity…

Rosa Mayreder, one of those who signed the response to the Open Christmas Letter

Rosa Mayreder, one of those who signed the response to the Open Christmas Letter

This shared hope of peace spurred the IWSA to hold an international peace conference of women in The Hague rather than their regular International Alliance meeting.  At the meeting Julia Grace Wales, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, presented her ideas on bringing about peace, which came to be known as the Wisconsin Plan.  Wales’s plan envisioned an international group made up of neutral nations who would gather in order to serve as mediators between warring countries and also to provide peaceful solutions.  The Wisconsin Plan was unanimously adopted by the 1,150 women who attended the conference, and a delegation was selected to travel to neutral countries and present the plan.  One of these countries was the then neutral United States, and President Woodrow Wilson would later use many of the ideas from the Wisconsin Plan when creating his Fourteen Points.  Through these women’s efforts to bring about peace, they helped to bring about the League of Nations.

Source: Wikipedia

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5 Comments

Filed under General history, World War I

5 responses to “Open Christmas Letter: December 1914

  1. Pingback: Two Christmas stories from history | Suffrage Wagon News Channel

  2. I am keenly seeking a copy of the text of this letter. Do you know of any direct sources?

    • Hi Tony,

      I’m not sure of where the primary source is. I do know that the German portions I featured here came from Sybil Oldfield’s International Woman Suffrage: November 1914-September 1916. The British letter came from Jill Liddington’s The road to Greenham Common: feminism and anti-militarism in Britain since 1820. Hope that helps!

  3. Sigi

    you can find a copy and the text of the letter here:
    http://gm1914.wordpress.com/tag/suffragettes/
    To The Women of Germany and Austria
    Open Christmas Letter from Manchester Suffragettes
    Sisters,
    Some of us wish to send you a word at this sad Christmastide though we can but speak through the press. The Christmas message sounds like mockery to a world at war, but those of us who wished and still wish for peace may surely offer a solemn greeting to such of you who feel as we do. Do not let us forget that our very anguish unites us, that we are passing together through the same experience of pain and grief.
    Caught in the grip of terrible Circumstance, what can we do? Tossed on this turbulent sea of human conflict, we can but moor ourselves to those calm shores whereon stand, like rocks, the eternal verities- Love, Peace, Brotherhood.
    We pray you to believe that come what may we hold to our faith in Peace and Goodwill between nations; while technically at emnity in obedience to our rulers, we owe allegiance to that higher law which bids us live at peace with all men.
    Though our sons are sent to slay each other, and our hearts are torn by the cruelty of this fate, yet through pain supreme we will be true to our common womanhood. We will let no bitterness enter into this tragedy, made sacred by the life-blood of our best, nor mar with hate the heroism of their sacrifice. Though much has been done on all sides you will, as deeply as ourselves, deplore, shall we steadily refuse to give credence to those false tales so freely told us, each of the other?
    We hope it will lessen your anxiety to learn we are doing our upmost to soften the lot of your civilians and war prisoners within our shores, even as we rely on your goodness of heart to do the same for ours in Germany and Austria.
    Do you not feel that the vast slaughter of our opposing armies is a stain on civilisation and Christianity, and that still deeper horror is aroused at the thought of those innocent victims, the countless women, children, babes, old and sick, pursued by famine, disease and death in the devastated areas, both East and West?
    As we saw in South Africa and the Balkan States, the brunt of modern war falls upon non-combatants, and the conscience of the world cannot bear the sight.
    Is it not our mission to preserve life? Do not humanity and commonsense alike prompt us to join hands with the women of neutral countries, and urge our rulers to stay further bloodshed?
    Relief, however colossal, can reach but few. Can we sit still and let the helpless die in their thousands, as die they must – unless we rouse ourselves in the name of Humanity to save them? There is but one way to do this. We must all urge that peace be made with appeal to Wisdom and Reason. Since in the last resort it is these which must decide the issues, can they begin too soon, if it is to save womanhood and childhood as well as the manhood of Europe.
    Even through the clash of arms we treasure our poet’s vision, and already we seem to hear
    “A hundred nations swear that there shall be
    Pity and Peace and Love among the good and free.”
    May Christmas hasten that day. Peace on Earth is gone, but by renewal of our faith that it still reigns at the heart of things, Christmas should strengthen both you and us and all womanhood to strive for its return.
    We are yours in this sisterhood of sorrow,
    EMILY HOBHOUSE.
    HELEN BRIGHT CLARK (Mrs W. CLARK).
    SOPHIA STURGE.
    LILY STURGE.
    THE HON. LADY BARLOW.
    MARGARET G. BONDFIELD.
    MARY TREVELYAN (Mrs CHARLES TREVELYAN).
    ISABELLA A. ROWNTREE (Mrs JOSHUA ROWNTREE).
    NORA HOBHOUSE (Mrs LEONARD HOBHOUSE).
    DOROTHEA HOLLINS (Sec. Fulham and Hammersmith Branch Womens Labour League).
    H. M. SWANWICK (Mrs SWANWICK).
    MARGARET ASHTON (Councillor).
    A. MAUDE ROYDON.
    MARGARET LLEWELYN DAVIES.
    ELIZABETH GIBSON CHEYNE.
    M. K.GANDHI (Mrs).
    GERTRUDE BONE (Mrs MUIRHEAD BONE).
    AGNES HUSBAND (Councillor).
    LILLA BROCKWAY (Mrs FENNER BROCKWAY).
    MARGARET MOSCHELES ( Mrs FELIX MOSCHELES).
    ADA SALTER (Mrs ALFRED SALTER).
    KATHARINE BRUCE GLASIER (Mrs).
    EVA GORE BOOTH.
    C.E. PLAYNE.
    EDITH A. ROBERTS.
    DOROTHY H. CORNISH.
    RUTH CORNISH.
    ESTHER G. ROPER.
    M. H. HUNTSMAN.
    M. CORNISH.
    M. G. CORNISH.
    ELINOR J. HEATON. (Mrs J. A. HEATON).
    MARY MOREL (Mrs E. D. MOREL).
    MARY L. COOKE.
    HELENA I. CLANCHY.
    A. BARCLAY.
    P. H. PECKOVER.
    THEODORA M. WILSON.
    REBECCA GARNETT (Mrs WILLIAM GARNETT).
    FLORENCE E. HOBSON (Mrs J. A. HOBSON).
    KATHLEEN OUTHWAITE (Mrs R.L. OUTHWAITE)
    ANNE COBDEN-SANDERSON.
    HELENA HIRST (Mrs F. W. HIRST).
    JOSEPHINE THOMPSON.
    EDITH S. BRIGHT.
    RICHARDA GILLETT, M. D.
    Mrs FREDERICK MACKARNESS.
    ISABELLA O. FORD.
    FLORENCE LUARD.
    EDITH M. H. A. BIGLAND (Mrs PERCY BIGLAND).
    Mrs ARTHUR GARKIN
    Mrs CATHERINE GITTINS
    DOROTHEA POSONBY (Mrs).
    “CONSTANCE SMEDLEY” (Mrs ARMFIELD).
    HELEN WEBB, M. B.
    LUCY GARDNER.
    H. FRANKLIN (Mrs).
    ELIZABETH HELEN FORD.
    E. SYLVIA PANKHURST.
    LAURA G. ACKROYD (Sub-Editor of Inquirer).
    NORA O’SHEA.
    MARGARET BRACKENBURY CROOK.
    ELLEN CROOK (Mrs).
    ANNIE L. WHITE.
    Dr. MARION PHILLIPS (Gen. Sec., Women’s Labour League).
    C.P. SANGER (Mrs).
    ADA JANE HOOPER.
    ANNIE M. ORCHARD (Mrs W. E. ORCHARD).
    ISABELLA JONES.
    E. M. CHESSON.
    HANNAH MARIA TAYLOR.
    JEANNE MITCHELL (Mrs ).
    EMMELINE CADBURY (Mrs W.A. CADBURY)
    MARIA L. SWANSON (late Hon. Sec. Darlington Branch National Union Women’s Suffrage Societies).
    ALICE A. LUCAS.
    CLARA C. LUCAS.
    A BURTT WOODHEAD.
    THOMASINE A. SWANSON.
    LOUIE BENNETT.
    HELEN S. CHENEVIX.
    CLARA MOSER.
    MARY H. SAUNDERS.
    ADA PROUSE.
    RACHEL LEWIS.
    BELLA GOSSIP.
    JANE HUME.
    JESSIE PAYNE.
    NORAH L. SMYTH.
    MARY WRATTEN (Mrs).
    Mrs S. CAHILL.
    ELLIE KUMMER.
    LILIAN HARRIS Sec. Women’s Co-operative Guild).
    ANNIE B. WOODHOUSE (Knutsford’s Women’s Suffrage Society).
    JULIE E. TOMLINSON (Knutsford’s Women’s Suffrage Society).
    MINNIE CHEETHAM (Knutsford’s Women’s Suffrage Society).
    MARY V. HOFFMAN. (Knutsford’s Women’s Suffrage Society).
    ESTHER HOWARD (Knutsford’s Women’s Suffrage Society).
    ANNOT E. ROBINSON, Manchester.
    MARGUERITE A.C.DOUGLAS, Manchester
    ANN YATES, Manchester
    DOROTHY SMITH, Manchester
    MAY LOWES DIKINSON
    LOUISE DONALDSON (Mrs).
    MARY STEVENS

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