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By Irwin Abrams

This essay appeared in the December 1996 issue of Friends Journal.

As Friends begin to think about how to commemorate in 1997 the 50th anniversary of the Nobel Peace Prize that was shared by the AFSC and the British Friends Service Council in 1947, it is well to be reminded that 1996 is the 50th anniversary of the prize which the Quaker Emily Greene Balch, the leader of the Womens's International League for Peace and Freedom, shared with John Mott of the YMCA in 1946. She was only the third woman to win the prize, after Baroness Bertha von Suttner in 1901 and Jane Addams in 1931.

Emily Balch (1867-1961), raised as a Unitarian, joined Friends in 1920 when she was in Geneva establishing the international headquarters of the WILPF. She applied to London Yearly Meeting, preferring to avoid the divisions of American Quakerism. What attracted her to Friends was not only "their testimony against war, their creedless faith, nor their openness to suggestions for far-reaching social reform," It was "the dynamic force of the active love through which their religion was expressing itself in multifarious ways, both during and after the war." When she returned to live in Wellesley in her last years, she transferred her membership to Cambridge (Massachusetts) Meeting.

In 1915 Emily Balch was already a distinguished social scientist when she joined Jane Addams and the intrepid international band of women who vainly attempted to stop World War I by persuading statesmen of both neutral and belligerent states to agree to a mediation process.. She then tried to prevent American intervention in the conflict and continued her opposition after the United States entered the war. This brought about her dismissal from Wellesley College, ending a teaching career of twenty years. She continued to work for peace for the rest of her life, both through WILPF and individually, She was granted the Nobel prize as the acknowledged dean and intellectual leader of the United States peace movement.

When the United States again went to war after Pearl Harbor, she said that she "went through along and painful struggle, and never felt that I had reached a clear and consistent conclusion." Knowing only too well the evil of Hitlerism from her work with Jewish and other refugees, she finally concluded that this evil had to be vanquished. and she supported the war. She declared, "I am not an absolute pacifist," but she kept her memberships in WILPF, the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the War Resisters International, and she gave full support to conscientious objectors. She frankly admitted, "I realize that my position is neither very definite nor very consistent. How can one be either when an irresistible force meets an unmovable obstacle in one's own mind?" Her WILPF friends recognized her anguish, understood her reservations about absolutism in ethics, and were familiar with the practical dimensions of her idealism. Bertram Pickard, Quaker representative at Geneva who had watched her at work in her League of Nations days, told her, "One of the most attractive things about your pacifism is that it combines the wisdom of the political serpent and the harmlessness of the Quaker dove."

After the war the American section of WILPF decided that it had been long enough since the Nobel prize for Jane Addams and now it was time to attempt to secure one for their other surviving eminent co-founder. Mercedes Randall organized the campaign, and in examining her records at the Swarthmore College Peace Collection, we can see what an extraordinary job she did in the six weeks time she had. Four typists were kept busy sending out a stream of letters, including 92 to scholars, politicians and other public figures, each one personally signed by philosopher John Dewey, asking for their cooperation. The archives of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, now open through 1946, demonstrate how many nominations and letters of support these efforts generated. They also show the influence of the eloquent biographical sketch by John Herman Randall, Jr., the husband of Mercedes, He was an eligible nominator as a professor of philosophy, and all the other documents collected were sent to Oslo along with his own letter of nomination.

Chairman Gunnar Jahn of the Committee in the speech of presentation at the award ceremony in December 1946 recounted Emily Balch's "lifelong indefatigable work for peace" and declared, "She has taught us that the reality we seek must be earned by hard and unrelenting toil in the world in which we live, but she has taught us more: that exhaustion is unknown and defeat only gives fresh courage to the man whose soul is fired by the sacred flame."

Emily Balch entitled her Nobel lecture, postponed until April 1948, "Toward Human Unity or Beyond Nationalism." She pointed out the dangers of nationalism but advocated no world government, rather she perceptively identified the strands of non-political connectedness that were moving the world to international unity, such as those with which the special agencies of the United Nations were concerned. Any true international unity, she always held, must have a moral quality and possess the quality of humanity.

In conclusion she gave her prescription for peacemaking: "We are not asked to subscribe to any utopia or to believe in a perfect world just around the corner. We are asked to be patient with necessarily slow and groping advance on the road forward, and to be ready for each step ahead as it becomes practicable. We are asked to equip ourselves with courage, hope, readiness for hard work, and to cherish large and generous ideals."

She turned over most of the prize money to WILPF, as Jane Addams had done. In 1955, concerned about the widening gulf between the United States and China, she wrote a poem that was a "letter of love," addressed to "Dear People of China." This is the last stanza:

Let us be patient with one another,
And even patient with ourselves.
We have a long, long way to go.
So let us hasten along the road,
The road of human tenderness and generosity.
Groping, we may find one another's hands in the dark"

In response the Chinese minister of health invited Emily Balch to China as her personal guest. Emily declined, not because she felt too old to travel --- she was then 88 --- but because she felt she was too old to be of any use when she got there.

Such was Emily Greene Balch, the first Quaker Nobel Peace Prize winner, a remarkable woman with a brilliant mind, a caring and selfless spirit, a sense of humor, and most important of all, with what the Nobel chairman called "the sacred flame," what she herself had described in others as "the dynamic force of active love."