It was 1918 and Emily Greene Balch was busy campaigning against America’s entry into World War I. She formed the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). She also served on Congressionally sponsored delegation to Scandinavia and Russia to urge them to mediate a peace. All that took her away from her teaching. She asked Wellesley for an extension of her leave of absence. The college instead ended her contract.
Emily Greene Balch
You could call Emily Greene Balch a limousine liberal. She was born on Jan. 8, 1867 to a prosperous family in Boston. Her father was a successful lawyer and secretary to Sen. Charles Sumner. She went to private schools, graduated from Bryn Mawr and studied economics in Europe. She joined the faculty of Wellesley College in 1896, and by 1913 she rose to full professor of sociology and economics.
After Wellesley fired her, Balch became an editor of the liberal weekly The Nation. She would also write books and poems, investigate conditions in Haiti, serve as secretary of the WILPF and advocate for the internationalization of aviation and waterways. She also served on the first commission for the minimum wage for women.
Between the two world wars the Nazi brutality convinced her to abandon her pacifism. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1946 and donated the prize money to the WILPF.
She also worked for women’s suffrage, racial justice, child labor laws and the labor movement.
How real is liberty?
“Men who are scandalized at the lack of freedom in Russia do not ask themselves how real is liberty among the poor, the weak, and the ignorant in capitalist society,” she wrote in Men, Freedom, Society.
She was a deeply spiritual person. For years she was a Unitarian before becoming a Quaker in 1921. “Those who are rooted in the depths that are eternal and unchangeable and who rely on unshakeable principles, face change full of courage, courage based on faith,” she wrote.
Emily Greene Balch died in 1961, the day after her 94th birthday.
This story last updated in 2022.
Images: Wellesley College By Grom – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6424795.