Encyclopedia Womannica

Feminists: Emily Greene Balch

Episode Summary

Emily Greene Balch (1867-1961) was a political scientist, sociologist, economist, pacifist, and a leader of the women’s movement for peace during the first half of the 20th century. She received a Nobel Peace Prize in 1946 for her work with the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.

Episode Notes

Every weekday, listeners explore the trials, tragedies, and triumphs of groundbreaking women throughout history who have dramatically shaped the world around us. In each 5 minute episode, we’ll dive into the story behind one woman listeners may or may not know -- but definitely should. These diverse women from across space and time are grouped into easily accessible and engaging monthly themes like Pioneers, Dreamers, Villainesses, STEMinists, Warriors & Social Justice Warriors, and many more. Encyclopedia Womannica is hosted by WMN co-founder and award-winning journalist Jenny Kaplan. The bite-sized episodes pack painstakingly researched content into fun, entertaining, and addictive daily adventures.

Encyclopedia Womannica was created by Liz Kaplan and Jenny Kaplan, executive produced by Jenny Kaplan, and produced by Liz Smith, Cinthia Pimentel, and Grace Lynch. Special thanks to Shira Atkins, Edie Allard, and Luisa Garbowit. Theme music by Andi Kristins. 

This month of Encyclopedia Womannica is sponsored by Fiverr. Fiverr’s marketplace helps the world’s feminists get more done with less. Take Five and show your support for Fiverr’s new store at FVRR.co/women, where they feature over 100 of the platform’s top female talent.

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Episode Transcription

Hello! From Wonder Media Network, I’m Jenny Kaplan. And this is Encyclopedia Womannica.

Today’s feminist was a political scientist, sociologist, economist, pacifist, and a leader of the women’s movement for peace during the first half of the 20th century. She received a Nobel Peace Prize in 1946  for her work with the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. Let’s talk about Emily Greene Balch. 

Emily Greene Balch was born in 1867 in Boston, Massachusetts. Her father was a successful lawyer and member of a prominent Boston family. 

In 1889, Emily graduated from Bryn Mawr College as a member of the school’s first graduating class. At Bryn Mawr, Emily studied classics, literature and economics. 

Following graduation, Emily was awarded a European Fellowship, which gave her the opportunity  to study economics in Paris. In 1891, Emily completed the fellowship and published her research under the title Public Assistance of the Poor in France. Her work assessed state institutions put in place to alleviate poverty in France. 

Emily then worked on social reform in her hometown of Boston. The 1890s marked the beginning of the Progressive Era in the United States. It was a time when rapid societal changes associated with increased industrialization, immigration and urbanization led to the birth of major reform movements. Activists like Emily sought to transform American society. Many women in particular attempted to alter aspects of politics and society that contributed to inequality. The womens’ rights and suffrage movements gained steam, as did the pacifist movement which was often linked to the pursuit for equality. Emily was involved in most of the prominent movements of the time- suffrage, women’s rights, worker’s rights, children’s rights, rights for minorities, and pacifism

During this period, Emily met Jane Addams, the founder of Hull House who we talked about earlier this week. In case you missed that episode, Jane founded one of the most well-known settlement houses in the United States. Jane became a close friend of Emily’s and inspired her to take up settlement work. In 1892, Emily helped establish the Denison House in Boston.

After deciding on a career in academia, Emily studied at Harvard, the University of Chicago, and the University of Berlin before joining  the faculty of Wellesley College in 1896. By 1913, she was a a full professor of political economy and political and social science. 

During her time at Wellesley , Emily was also active in promoting child-welfare reforms. She served on two municipal boards dedicated to children and urban planning. She also served on two state commissions focused on industrial education and immigration. 

Then came the outbreak of World War I. 

 A lifelong pacifist and anti-war activist, Emily fought tirelessly against the United States’ entry into the war. She even prepared peace proposals and took part in a delegation to Scandinavia that tried to initiate mediation to end the conflict. But her activism came with consequences. 

In 1918, when Emily requested to extend her sabbatical, the Wellesley faculty terminated her contract. At 52, she was left jobless. 

Emily decided to devote all of her efforts to anti-war activism. In 1919, Emily and Jane Addams founded the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. Emily was hired as the organization’s first international Secretary-Treasurer, which put her in charge of all of the organization’s activities, including coordination and cooperation with the newly formed League of Nations. During the interwar years, Emily worked  with the League of Nations in various roles on efforts related to disarmament, drug control, the internationalization of aviation, and even the participation of the United States in the League.

Interestingly, the rise of Nazism and the human destruction caused by the Third Reich during World War II forced Emily to change her strong views on pacifism. She came to believe that force was acceptable and even defensible in extreme scenarios when fundamental human rights are severely infringed upon. 

In 1946, at the age of 79, Emily’s lifelong commitment to promoting peace was rewarded. She received the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with John Mott, the head of the YMCA. Emily was awarded $34,000, which she donated to the Women’s League for Peace and Freedom. 

During her Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Emily said:

“May no young man ever again be faced with the choice between violating his conscience by cooperating in competitive mass slaughter or separating himself from those who, endeavoring to serve liberty, democracy, humanity, can find no better way than to conscript young men to kill.”

Emily was the second American woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. The first was her close friend Jane Addams. 

Emily died the day after her 94th birthday. 

She is remembered for her incredible anti-war efforts and for the tireless work she put in to change the lives of women, children, and workers for the better. 

This month of Encyclopedia Womannica is brought to you by Fiverr, an online marketplace connecting businesses with freelancers who offer hundreds of digital services including graphic design, copywriting, web programming, film editing, and more. 

Fiverr’s mission is to change how the world works together. The Fiverr platform gives everyone, no matter their gender, race, religion or sexual orientation, an equal chance to build their business, brand or dreams -- on their own terms.  That’s something we can certainly get behind this Women’s History Month-- and year round - as we call for more industry leaders to join with Fiverr and make strides in creating opportunities for all. 

Fiverr’s marketplace helps the world’s feminists get more done with less. Take Five and show your support for Fiverr’s new store at FVRR.co/women, where they feature over 100 of the platform’s top female talent. That’s FVRR.co/women

Special thanks to Liz Kaplan, my favorite sister and co-creator!

Talk to you tomorrow!