Category Archives: General history

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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Veteran’s Day: A History

World War I veteran Joseph Ambrose attending the dedication of the Vietnam Memorial in 1982, holding the flag that covered his son’s casket, who was killed in the Korean War.

Today we honor those who have served (and are serving) in our armed forces.  Veteran’s Day was first called Armistice Day both in the US and Britain, as it commemorated the signing of the Armistice that brought World War I to an end (on the 11th hour of November 11, 1918).  In declaring the day a federal holiday, President Woodrow Wilson said:

To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.

At the close of World War II, a veteran from Alabama named Raymond Weeks wanted to expand Armistice Day to include everyone who had served their country, not just World War I veterans.  He took his proposal to Washington, receiving full support from President Dwight Eisenhower.  The bill was presented to Congress by US Representative Ed Rees, and signed by President Eisenhower in 1954.  An amendment was soon added to rename the holiday, from “Armistice Day” to “Veteran’s Day,” as it’s been known ever since.

President Eisenhower signing the amendment changing the name of Armistice Day to Veteran’s Day.

Thank you to all of the veterans who have served our country and dedicated their lives to keeping us safe.  On this day (and on many other days), I think about my father, who served in our Air Force, and my two grandfathers, both gone now, who fought in World War II.  I think about the courage they showed in their willingness to sacrifice everything for the love of our country.  And I admire them greatly for it.

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Votes for women!

Officers of the National Woman’s Party, June, 1920

Today is election day in the United States.  Every time I vote, the history nerd in me has always stopped and appreciated how hard women had to fight to earn this privilege.  I am so grateful to all of those who took up the cause of women’s suffrage, who showed extraordinary strength and courage and who wouldn’t give up until the 19th amendment to our constitution was finally passed in 1920.  They are an inspiration.

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If Walls Could Talk

Lucy Worsley, author of If Walls Could Talk

I am a social history enthusiast.  I have always enjoyed learning about societal customs; why things were done the way they were, and how they reflected what was happening in the world at that time.  So imagine my delight when I stumbled upon If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home by British historian Lucy Worsley.  Worsley’s book and accompanying BBC documentary on the subject is a fascinating look at how four rooms of the house (the kitchen, the bedroom, the bathroom, and the living room) changed over time, both in form and function.  Beginning with the medieval period and moving forward to the 20th century, Worsley charts how advances in material goods for the home transformed these rooms into what we know today.  And she does it in an extremely entertaining way.  Worsley tests out things like Tudor-era toothpaste, baking hedgehog in a medieval kitchen (which consisted of a fire built in the middle of the room), and demonstrating how a woman in a Georgian era gown would have, um,  taken care of business.

No easy task, given the amount of fabric with which to wrestle.

So far I’ve only seen the documentary, which Edwardian Promenade was kind enough to put up on their YouTube site.  You can view it here.  It’s tempted me to purchase Worsley’s book as well.

Lighting a gas lamp in a Victorian living room.  Gas lighting was called “illuminated air” when it first became available.

You can get a taste of what Lucy Worsley learns in each room by reading the BBC article about the show.  And if you want even more information, Worsley has a blog in which she goes into further detail about her experiences.

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