Jessie Wallace Hughan was a peace activist who opposed World War I and World War II. She was also one of the founders of the War Resisters League; an organization that is dedicated to resist war through non-violent protest. She encouraged drafted men to conscientiously object to war (Hughan, 1915). Hughan was a pacifist and promoted negative peace, which can be defined as the absence of violence or the absence of war throughout the violent times of the beginning of the twentieth century. With her founding of the War Resisters League, Hughan gained influence as a pacifist leader in the world war era and even urged president Roosevelt to “not let Japan lead us into a disastrous war” (Bennett, 2003). Hughan used her platform with the War Resisters League to remain faithful to pacifism after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and used her pacifist newspaper to condemn the actions of nations involved in the war, including the United States of America. Her life can be examined to see how an advocate of peace used a platform and commitment to anti-war activism to remain true to pacifist ideals in the mists of a highly supported war effort.
Jessie Wallace Hughan’s life can be used to show how negative peace can be fought for through leadership, activism, and argument through writings. Jessie Wallace Hughan was born in Brooklyn in 1875 and died in 1955. During her life, Hughan saw the horrors of World War I, The Great Depression, and World War II. In her years in academia, she wrote her unpublished senior thesis on a theory about profit. As a graduate student, she wrote her dissertation on American Socialism. During her time as a student she began to fight for socialism (Bennett, 2001). In one of her writings, she tells her audience that socialism could lead to peace and war will achieve nothing. She stated that only socialists recognize the harm that capitalist governments pose to their people (Hughan, 1915). For Hughan, seeing wars and the Depression led her to a path of pacifism and socialism as a way to peacefully resist the things she saw wrong (like the draft, and both World War I and World War II). Scott Bennett puts Hughan’s response to what she saw in the world in this way: “Jessie Wallace Hughan formulated a theory of war resistance that posited the power of citizens—led by a radical pacifist minority—to mobilize public opinion to prevent war. Although a socialist, Hughan emphasized the need for concrete action and repudiated the orthodox socialist syllogism that asserted capitalism caused war, socialism would eventually abolish capitalism, and thus, peace must await socialism” (Bennett, 2001). Hughan argued that slavery, dueling, and child labor had been abolished preceding socialism; so it seems reasonable that peace could proceed socialism as well. One of Hughans reasons for socialism can be highlighted by her belief that the Socialist Party is the one political party that recognizes war gains nothing. Hughan wrote this: “War settles nothing, achieves nothing, except the right of the strongest. Yet there is but one political party in the world that knows it can gain nothing by war, and that is the Socialist Party” (Hughan, 1915). Her passion for socialism was linked to her passion for peace. Due to the socialists parties’ stance on war, Hughan became an active socialist
Jessie Wallace Hughan was a deeply religious Christian woman and her Christian outlook affected her commitment to pacifism. Hughan was a Presbyterian Christian. She also was an activist for peace and for socialism during World War II. The groups that she was a part of consisted of the WRL and the Anti-Enlistment League (Bennett, 2003). Hughan wrote about her Christian faith and her reflections on war as a Christian. One example of this is a quote from an article she wrote about women and war: “Of one mother who, hearing that her three sons had fallen for the Fatherland, exclaimed in tearless resignation, ‘The Lord gave, the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’ ‘The Lord gave, and we have thrown away,’ came the words to my lips. Why blame our stupendous folly upon the Lord?” (Hughan, 1915). Hughan believed that the struggles of war were not brought about by God, but instead by man. She felt obligated to fight against war and the struggles that came with it. Hughan despised war and the American outlook on the war due to her Christian faith calling war a folly of our own and not blaming God for the wars people create. Hughan spoke out against World War II through her position at the WRL and as an activist for pacifism. Due to Hughan living within a time of turmoil and war, she decided to remain faithful to her Christian outlook of pacifism throughout her life and resisted wars spanning from World War I and World War II
Hughan, Jessie Wallace. “Women and War.” New York, N.Y.: New York Call. 1915. pg. 3.
Bennett, Scott H. “Radical Pacifism and the General Strike Against War: Jessie Wallace Hughan,
the Founding of the War Resisters League, and the Socialist Origins of Secular Radical Pacifism in America.” Peace & Change, vol. 26, no. 3, 2001, pp. 352–373.
Bennett, Scott H. Radical Pacifism: The War Resisters League and Gandhian Nonviolence in
America, 1915-1963. Syracuse University Press, 2003.
http://catalog.hathitrust.org/api/volumes/oclc/1463425.html. April 10, 2018.
Solon DeLeon (ed.) in collaboration with Irma C. Hayssen and Grace Poole, The American
Labor Who's Who. New York: Hanford Press, 1925; pg. 113.
Header photo: Jessie Wallace Hughan, circa 1898 Activist in the Intercollegiate Socialist Society, Socialist Party of America, and founder of the War Resisters League. College yearbook photo, published prior to 1923, public domain.