“Our Greatest Victory” – An Emblem of the Women’s Pacifist Movement

In the drawer of a marquetry dressing box in Rose Nichols’ bedroom, a little metal pin was found during a cataloging project completed by the Nichols House Museum in 2007. The pin was removed, examined, described and safely tucked into a box in the museum’s archives along with pen nibs, sewing tools and other odds and ends found in small drawers throughout the house. Unlike some of the buttons, buckles and sharpened ends of pencils that occupy the same storage box, this tiny object, measuring just over an inch, is anything but small in its significance in Progressive Era history.

The crest-shaped pin shows the winged goddess of Victory standing atop a globe that is inscribed with the words “NOBIS MAXIMA VICTORIA,” Latin for “our greatest victory.” The reverse of the pin reads “UNION MONDIALE DE LA FEMME” which translates from French as, “The World Union of Women.” This organization, also known as the Universal Union of Women for International Harmony, was founded on February 9, 1915, in Geneva, Switzerland. The group calls for widespread peace, the expansion of education, and global communication between the many women’s peace organizations that had been established during the Great War.[1] Their founding document, adorned with the same icon seen on the pin, was signed by their thirty-six charter members beginning with their founder, Clara Guthrie Cocke. Their founding statement reads:

We have established upon the common basis of womanly compassion which we shall endeavor to manifest justly: in rational thought and act. We shall battle in love for a permanent peace. We shall strive for the mutual education of women and for the consequential advancement of humanity. On the belief that women are created to love and not to hate we engage to devote ourselves to increase this love throughout the world to expel the evil born of hatred to extend this love to our sisters of every nation in life and every country and to spread internationalism by the establishment of a means of communication between the women of the entire world.[2]

The World Union of Women Act of Foundation, February 9, 1915

Clara Guthrie Cocke, an American woman, established the organization’s headquarters in Geneva as it was a location that would enable many pacifist organizations to converge. Members of both conservative and progressive opinions could therefore work together toward a common goal—spreading peace and compassion across the globe.

In an article printed in the October 1915 edition of Jus Suffragii, the monthly journal published by the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, Cocke issues a call for membership. In just a few months, the organization expanded from thirty-six members to over 5000 throughout Europe. The World Union of Women had grown this membership to promote a four-pronged mission: “to work for permanent peace based on justice and right; to forward goodwill to the world; to sow love instead of hatred; and to take as active a part as possible in forwarding the work, and gaining for it members and supporters.”[3]

Photograph of Clara Guthrie Cocke (d’Arcis) by François Frédéric Boissonnas, 1920

Clara Guthrie Cocke’s 1915 article, which begins under a line drawing of the organization’s crest, describes the membership’s illustrative pin. “The assembly adopted as an emblem the badge which is now worn high and low. This was taken for the statue of Victory of Olympia, and symbolizes the force and beauty of united womanhood traversing the world, over which she holds the mantle of pity and compassion.” While there is no known record of membership, the presence of this pin in Rose Nichols bedroom dressing box suggests her involvement with the World Union of Women.

Rose Nichols was no stranger to the pacifist platform in the early twentieth century. It is known through photographs and correspondence that Rose was a founding and active member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. This organization was established at The Hague Congress, also known as the Women’s Peace Congress, in the spring of 1915.[4] The World Union of Women was also represented at The Hague Congress, which creates a link between these organizations beyond their aligning missions and common membership.  Whether the World Union of Women was ultimately dissolved into the still-active Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom is unclear but what is undeniable is that thousands of women, in the early twentieth century, including our own Rose Nichols, were determined to spread peace, education and compassion across the globe.

[1]Hämmerle, Christa, Oswald Überegger, and Birgitta Zaar. Gender and the First World War. N.p.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. 180. Web.

[2] World Union of Women, Act of Founding. 9 February 1915: Geneva, Switzerland. Wikimedia Commons. Web.

[3]Cocke, Clara Guthrie. “The World Union of Women.” Editorial. Jus Suffragii: Monthly Organ of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance 1 Oct. 1915: 10-11. Web.

[4]“History.” Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Jan. 2016. <http://wilpf.org/wilpf/history/&gt;.

By Emma Welty, Curatorial and Administrative Specialist