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Utah Women, the Search for International Peace, and World War I

by Amber Taylor, LDS Church History Library

Group of women on a ship holding a banner that says "peace."

Women were at the heart of the peace movement up until the United States entered World War I. Here are prominent leaders, including peace conference chair Jane Addams, on the ship to attend the International Congress of Women’s peace conference at the Hague, 1915. Library of Congress.

Most nineteenth-century women in the United States couldn’t yet vote at the national level, but they participated in benevolent societies and later clubs as a way to assert their influence locally and nationally. In the 1890s, many suffragists in the US and abroad began turning their club work toward the cause of international peace and the prevention of future war. Utah women largely supported these efforts, especially after the Spanish-American War came to an end in 1898 and their husbands and sons returned from the fighting.

In 1902, Utah women held the first Peace Meetings. Joining club women all over the country, Utah’s suffrage leaders called on local civic and church leaders to hold gatherings on May 15 throughout the state to support international peace efforts. Alice Merrill Horne chaired the statewide organizing committee and instructed local organizers, representing many faiths and organizations, to decorate meetings in the movement’s colors of yellow, purple, and white. She also outlined the program for the meetings, which were to include the ceremonial adoption of resolutions supporting international peace and arbitration, stirring music and poetry, and, of course, inspirational speakers. In the weeks leading to the event, local religious leaders gave sermons and lessons on the need for peace and international arbitration to avoid war and how to cultivate in society a love for peace and a preference for arbitration over violence to settle conflicts.

Woman wearing a fur collar.

Ruth May Fox, Utah suffragist and prominent religious and civic leader, emerged as an outspoken advocate of international peace. Courtesy of the Utah Historical Society.

These meetings became an annual event over most of the next two decades, and women continued to lead out in the cause for peace. Leaders of the movement reported that in 1903, 15,374 citizens of Utah participated in 138 peace meetings throughout the state.[1] In Salt Lake City, the meetings often took place in the Tabernacle, where women like Ruth May Fox, a leader of Latter-day Saint young women, urged the thousands of gathered listeners to nurture greater brotherly love.

While most of the audience were Latter-day Saints, ministers of other faiths also participated. The 1912 service was held in the Jewish Temple B’nai Brith, where Latter-day Saint suffragist  Emily S. Richards joined leaders of other faiths in pointing out the folly of militarism. War was expensive, as many pointed out, and the resources it consumed in terms of money, food, and soldiers, would be much better used to build the strength of the nation. Thus, seeking international peace was a patriotic duty, and each meeting included patriotic songs about America.

Emily S. Richards was assigned to represent Utah at the 1909 International Congress of Women in Toronto. On her return, she proudly reported to the women of her state that Utah led out in “the most effective work among the women in the peace movement.”[2]

When war broke out in Europe in 1914, activists like Olivia McHugh, president of the Women’s Peace Party in Utah, continued to condemn war and remind citizens of the heavy burden women bear during wartime. “Never before,” she declared, “has woman been made to feel the fruits of her life so wantonly wasted as she feels in the daily loss of men in great numbers.”[3]

Newspaper ad.

Newspaper appeal to the western voters to use their suffrage rights to support peace. The U.S. officially entered the war just days later. Salt Lake Herald-Republican, March 30, 1917.

As the war dragged on in Europe, leaders of Utah’s peace movement joined women across the country in sending letters and telegrams to President Woodrow Wilson, asking that he seek to create a council of neutral nations to help end the European war. Yet some in the United States favored entry into the war, and the idea gained popularity, particularly after German a submarine fired on and sunk the passenger ship Lusitania, whose passengers included over 100 US citizens, in 1915.

In the following months, the United States tumbled closer toward entry in the war, and peace activists responded with more urgent calls for peace. Arguing that Americans should keep resources at home, not send them to Europe, they especially called on the women of Utah to protest, since they were the ones “who must send their sons to kill and be killed.”[4]

Photo of Carrie Bichsel, leader in th epeace movement.

Carrie Bichsel, Ogden peace activist and president of the Utah Federation of Women’s Clubs. Salt Lake Tribune, October 25, 1917.

Many women did make their voices heard, but it was to little avail. The United States declared war on Germany in April of 1917. While some Utah women continued to discuss peace, they largely turned their efforts toward alleviating suffering and supporting a quick end to the war. Ogden peace activist Carrie Earnest Bichsel took up the cause of the Red Cross in Utah. As president of the Utah Federation of Women’s Clubs, she helped raise money for the war effort and recruited women to serve in the Red Cross. Bichsel insisted that world peace was the ultimate goal, “but not until peace is won by those fighting for the liberty of nations.”[5]

In 1918, Bichsel joined the Executive Committee of the local Red Cross and was appointed by Utah’s governor to the state Council of Defense. She represented Utah women at meetings in the nation’s capital for “war workers” and could report back to her colleagues in Utah that national leaders had praised them for their efficiency and cooperation in their “war work.”[6]

Annie Wells Cannon, in between her years serving in the Utah legislature, organized a local branch of the American War Mothers Association in late 1917. While the group’s primary purpose was to bring mothers of soldiers together for mutual support, the War Mothers also helped the Red Cross and organized resource conservation and fundraising efforts among women in Utah to help in the war effort.

Crowd of people with signs and flags celebrating the end of World War One.

Peace parade on Armistice Day through Main Street in Vernal, Utah to celebrate the end of the war, November 11, 1918. Many peace advocates supported the war effort to help bring the fighting to a quick end and then resumed their peace work following the Armistice to ensure an effective peace treaty. Uintah County Regional History Center.

When the Great War finally ended in November 1918, many peace advocates and suffragists again returned to securing protections against future wars. They linked the peace movement with the suffrage cause, pointing out the sad irony that mothers bore the brunt of loss and suffering, yet most could not vote and have a voice in political decisions leading to peace or war.

Despite the impediments, women maintained a prominent role in the cause of international peace. In February 1919, Utah women hosted an intermountain regional meeting at the Hotel Utah with more than five hundred delegates from the National Federation of Women’s Clubs. Emmeline B. Wells gave the opening speech and the gathering voted unanimously in favor of a resolution to support the League of Nations. A National Peace League was formed to advocate President Wilson’s plan to create a League of Nations to Enforce Peace, and Ruth May Fox, Annie Wells Cannon, and Carrie Bichsel were appointed to the executive committee of the Utah branch. One of their major efforts was to organize a Peace Day celebration in April of 1919 to support the cause of international peace.

Though the organized peace movement lost much of its momentum and preeminence as the United States at last gave women the right to vote and the country entered a period of prosperity, the idea of international peace became an enduring legacy and constant ideal women held to for generations to come.

Amber Taylor holds a PhD from Brandeis University in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies and is a historian in Women’s History at the Church History Department. Her work includes writing on the history of Latter-day Saints in the Holy Land, and she is a co-author of a forthcoming history of the Latter-day Saint organization for Young Women.

[1] Alice Merrill Horne, “Peace Meetings,” Woman’s Exponent 32:19 (August 1903).

[2] “Relief Society Opens Granary,Salt Lake Herald Republican, October 8, 1909, p. 12.

[3] “Speaker Deplores Carnage of Nations,” Salt Lake Herald-Republican, April 26, 1915, p. 2.

[4] “Socialists Resolve to Oppose Warfare,” Salt Lake Tribune, February 5, 1917, p. 9.

[5] “Mrs. Edward Bichsel Opens Convention Women’s Clubs,” Ogden Daily Standard, October 25, 1917, p. 7.

[6] “Universal Military Training Approved,” Salt Lake Tribune, May 26, 1918, p. 8.



“Peace Demonstration,” Salt Lake Tribune, April 20, 1902, p. 5. 

Alice Merrill Horne, “Peace Meetings,” Woman’s Exponent 32:19 (August 1903).

“Many Peace Meetings,” Salt Lake Tribune, May 16, 1902, p. 5. 

“Discuss Peace in Tabernacle,” Salt Lake Herald-Republican, May 20, 1907.

“Peace Services in Jewish Temple,” Deseret Evening News, May 5, 2012, p. 2

“Speaker Deplores Carnage of Nations,” Salt Lake Herald-Republican, April 26, 1915, p. 2.

“Women Ask President to Labor for Peace,” Salt Lake Telegram, November 9, 1915, p. 5.

“Salt Lake Woman Aids Peace Cause,” Salt Lake Tribune, November 26, 1915, p. 5.

“Utah Club Women Buy Bonds Open Two Days Session Here,” Salt Lake Tribune, October 25, 1917, p. 7.

“Welfare of Mothers Is Chapter’s Primary Purpose,” Salt Lake Telegram, July 23, 1918.

“Ogden Women on Council of Defense,” Ogden Daily Examiner, February 4, 1918.

“Committees of the Red Cross Have Been Named,” Ogden Daily Examiner, February 10, 1918.

“West’s Clubwomen Vote for League of Nations,” Salt Lake Herald-Republican, February 23, 1919, p. 3.

“Nation League Society Formed,” Salt Lake Herald-Republican, February 26, 1919, p. 12.

“Utah Branch Peace League Defines Stand,” Salt Lake Herald-Republican, March 16, 1919.

Leonard Arrington, “Modern Lysistratas: Mormon Women in the International Peace Movement, 1899-1939,” Journal of Mormon History 15:1 (January 1989), 89-104.

David S. Patterson, The Search for Negotiated Peace: Women’s Activism and Citizen Diplomacy in World War I (New York: Routledge, 2008).