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News > Women, Peace, and the Future

Women, Peace, and the Future

Personal Reminiscences
by Elise Boulding

"How do we raise our kids to be peacemakers?" This was the burning question in our minds. We were a group of activist young mothers raising kids between the late 1940s and the mid-1960s. We had gotten through the war years with husbands in jail or in civilian public service camps or otherwise protesting the war. The war was over, but the nuclear threat did not go away. How to prevent a replay of the past, and raise a generation that would do things differently? We mothers were from the Ann Arbor Michigan Friends Meeting, the local FOR and WILPF, partners with our husbands in peace witness, keenly aware that something had to be done to counter the faith in armies and nuclear defense as a means to human security. We were all full-time homemakers, so the rearing of peacemakers and creating peaceful community environments fell to us. We put as much intensive thought (and prayer) and daily effort into that work over those two decades as ever we later put into getting mid-life advanced degrees and becoming teachers, community developers, and other kinds of professionals.

When I think back over those homemaker years, I realize we were already apprenticing ourselves to our future roles of trying to build a more peaceful world. We had good reason to be proud of our kids, peace activists every one. We -- and groups like ours around the country -- also started converting our sister-homemakers in the community, and helped get Women Strike for Peace underway. Soon we were taking care of each others' kids as some of us began international travel and discovered the global sisterhood. WILPF initiated dialogues with Russian and Polish women that gave me a whole new view of the world, and soon the dialogues were on every continent. A family year in Japan brought me into contact with a whole network of Japanese women's peace organizations. Power and determination were hidden behind those fans!

What energy was unleashed as we began to find out what we could do in the public sphere just by doing it! There were multiple energy streams. One was conventional politics. No one was more surprised than I to find myself running as a peace candidate from our Michigan congressional district in 1966. Another stream led from all-women's teams circling the globe during the 1965 UN International Cooperation Year, on to the 1975 UN International Women's Conference in Mexico, and to the subsequent series of UN international women's conferences and their grassroots counterparts in each country, ever focused on the themes of equality, development, and peace. Women's NGOs came into their own. The long slow climb of women into political life from city council to state legislature to national parliament to UN ambassadorships had begun.

Still another energy stream led women like myself into the social sciences and communication professions. In 1967 the Bouldings moved from Michigan to Colorado (our youngest then starting seventh grade, our oldest in college) and I became a professor of sociology and peace studies. By the early 1970s every social science association had a committee on the participation of women--including the American Sociological Association and the International Sociological Association, where such committees were my special project. Women not only added a much-needed gender dimension to the social sciences, but provided leadership in establishing war and peace or conflict studies sections in their respective associations, as Ruth Harriet Jacob and I did in the American Sociological Association. Margaret Mead gave leadership to the same development among anthropologists.

Peace research and peace studies emerged as a separate discipline in the social sciences and this became a special energy stream for women - one that I was part of from the beginning. Since Kenneth Boulding was a founder in the late 1950s of the first Center for Conflict Resolution in the United States, at Ann Arbor, I worked there as a housewife volunteer serving coffee and typing up report of seminars, helping an understaffed office deal with a heavy international correspondence. My retrieval of unanswered letters from the Center's wastebaskets led to my producing the International Peace Research Newsletter to put peace researchers working on disarmament in touch with one another around the world. WILPF provided the auspices for the Newsletter until UNESCO came to the rescue and provided the backing to found the International Peace Research Association (IPRA) in the early 1960s. By the early 1970s IPRA's US affiliate, the Consortium on Peace Research, Education and Development, was founded from Kenneth's and my new base at the University of Colorado. It was plainly evident from the beginning that at peace research professional meetings, whether of IPRA or various regional and national affiliates, there was a far higher proportion of women providing intellectual and organizing leadership than in other professional associations. We had our priorities right! The field of peace education in public schools around the world was developed directly from the pioneering work of women like Betty Reardon, of IPRA's Peace Education Commission, and Pat Mische, co-founder with her husband Jerry of Global Education Associates.

Another stream of women's energy went into the new futures studies movement. Back in my volunteer housewife days, Kenneth and I had come to know Fred Polak, Dutch author of the macrohistorical Image of The Future, which had just won the Council of Europe Award in a despair-ridden postwar Europe. I discovered that my native language, Norwegian, made it easy for me to learn Dutch to read the book. Profoundly affected by Polak's thesis that throughout history, societies with positive images of the future had been empowered by those images to bring them to reality, I set about translating the book into English. I wanted to get out the message that developing mental images of a peaceful world could help set in motion social processes to realize it. That put me in the middle of the new futures movement. The World Futures Studies Federation was founded in the early 1970s. Eleanora Masini, pro-feminist, was a founder and leader of the Federation for many years, with the collaboration of futurist sisters on other continents, including Magda McHale and a growing group of feminist futurists in the United States. Women, outside the centers of power, envisioned creative egalitarian futures in which people lived at peace with one another and with nature, in contrast to the high-tech futures more often described by men.

An important part of the groundwork for the much more visible international women's movement of today was laid in by women who in turn were building on the work of feminists of earlier decades, the 1940s to the mid-Seventies. Mildred Scott Olmstead, Executive Secretary of WILPF, who taught me much about international feminist networks when I was still a young mother, used to speak of "Miss Addams." She often quoted her, telling stories of Jane Addams' forceful peace work, which ranged from a settlement house in Chicago to the Hague Peace Palace. So I feel I have been mentored by Miss Addams myself, via Mildred Scott Olmstead! I have also been more directly mentored by Alva Myrdal, who began researching and creating the institutional base for more innovative education of children during her own child-rearing days, gradually expanding her sphere from the local to the global. Ambassador Myrdal's creative leadership, during the 1960s and 1970s, of the Eighteen National Disarmament Committee, which became the Geneva Committee on Disarmament, needs to be studied afresh today as we once again try to restart a more focused denuclearization and general disarmament process.

Because I was in the middle of all the developments I have described above - including increasing work with UNESCO as it expanded its peace development efforts, and teaching full-time at the University of Colorado - while continuing to be a homemaker, mom of teenagers, and community activist in our new home, the time came when I outran my energies. I realized I was in danger of losing my spiritual grounding. When our youngest son went off to college, with Kenneth's full support, I took a sabbatical year of solitude in a hermitage above our family cabin in the foothills of the Rockies. That year of reflection centered me again. It also led me to think deeply about how women through time had experienced their lives. Writing The Underside of History: A View of Women Through Time, was in itself a part of my centering. At the end of that year I was able to return to research, teaching, and international networking in a way that more coherently linked my concerns for a fuller development of the fields of women studies, peace studies, and futures studies, in the context of a deeper spiritual search for human wholeness and connectedness to the planet.

Now I am seventy-eight, widowed five years, retired from teaching at Dartmouth for fourteen years, delighting in the families of my five children, especially the sixteen grandchildren - and here I am, still making links, networking. I find today that the linking of what goes on among human beings in family and community with what goes on in the larger civil society, in the 185 states that make up the UN, in the UN itself, and in the planetary biosphere of which we are a small part, is more important than ever. We have tried so hard, and achieved so little. Alva Myrdal, in her most difficult days with the Disarmament Committee, would say, "to give up is not worthy of human beings."

There are elements of a culture of peaceableness, of creative dealing with difference, at each level of life. Even if that culture is weak and sometimes rendered nearly invisible by the cultures of violence and war, we must still remember, as Kenneth Boulding liked to point, "What exists is possible." That is why I am writing about that culture of peace and what can help it to grow stronger. I write in the hope that it will encourage the envisioning and empowered action by my younger sisters and brothers that can bring us into a more peaceful twenty-first century.

[This article first appeared in the November-December, 1998 issue of Fellowship, published by the Fellowship of Reconciliation. It is reprinted with permission.]

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