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A Band of Noble Women

Racial Politics in the Women's Peace Movement

Melinda Plastas

Publication Year: 2011

A Band of Noble Women brings together the histories of the women’s peace movement and the black women’s club and social reform movement in a story of community and consciousness building between the world wars. Believing that achievement of improved race relations was a central step in establishing world peace, African American and white women initiated new political alliances that challenged the practices of Jim Crow segregation and promoted the leadership of women in transnational politics. Under the auspices of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), they united the artistic agenda of the Harlem Renaissance, suffrage-era organizing tactics, and contemporary debates on race in their efforts to expand women’s influence on the politics of war and peace. Plastas shows how WILPF espoused middle-class values and employed gendered forms of organization building, educating thousands of people on issues ranging from U.S. policies in Haiti and Liberia to the need for global disarmament. Highlighting WILPF chapters in Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Baltimore, the author examines the successes of this interracial movement as well as its failures. A Band of Noble Women enables us to examine more fully the history of race in U.S. women’s movements and illuminates the role of the women’s peace movement in setting the foundation for the civil rights movement

Published by: Syracuse University Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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p. vii


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p. ix

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pp. xi-xiii

In February of 1926 an interracial group of five women and one man sailed from New York to Haiti to investigate the continued United States occupation of the island. After traveling for three weeks and talking with a vast array of Haitians, the team, under the auspices of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom ...

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pp. xv-xvii

I owe gratitude to many people who have made this book possible. But I first want to acknowledge the unending and often unnoticed work for social justice done by everyday people who struggle to provide for their families and communities and to live free from war. ...

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Introduction: Race and the Politics of Peace and Freedom

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pp. 1-33

On August, 29, 1914, more than fifteen hundred white women marched in solemn silence through New York City protesting the war that had just begun in Europe. Although women had participated in antiwar and peace crusades before, most notably the abolition movement and protest of the Spanish-American War, the demonstration ...

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1. African American Women and the Search for Peace and Freedom

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pp. 34-83

In 1933 the NACW published, in their organizational magazine National Notes, an elegant quarter-page photograph of fifty-seven-year-old esteemed clubwoman and writer Alice Dunbar-Nelson with a large caption that read “Advocate of Peace.”1 This photograph and Alice Dunbar-Nelson’s 1929 poem “Cano, I Sing” capture ...

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2. Race and the Social Thought of White Women in the WILPF

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pp. 84-144

The work of Rachel Dubois, Emily Greene Balch, and Anna Melissa Graves demonstrates that many white women of the interwar WILPF also consciously and constantly negotiated race as they constructed responses to war and national strife. Although their thinking differed at times, they held in common the understanding that ...

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3. Philadelphia: Forging a National Model of Interracial Peace Work

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pp. 145-192

In August of 1929 Philadelphia black clubwoman Addie Dickerson attended the sixth WILPF International Congress in Prague. Dickerson joined the US WILPF delegation along with women from twenty-five other countries as they convened for seven days. The deliberation focused on how to make the Kellogg-Briand Pact ...

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4. Cleveland, Washington, DC, and Baltimore: Extending the Network of Interracial Peace Work

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pp. 193-237

Women in Cleveland, Washington, DC, and Baltimore criticized interwar America and argued that there was a link between state-sanctioned racism in the United States and the nation’s support of militarization abroad. Although the exact design of each branch’s efforts to speak out against racism, promote disarmament, ...

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pp. 238-246

Middle-class reform-minded African American and white women held much in common during the interwar years. Foremost, they shared a deep belief in the vital importance of women’s contributions to the future development of the nation and the world. As women who came of age during the Progressive Era and the Woman’s Era, ...


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pp. 247-280


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pp. 281-298


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pp. 299-322

E-ISBN-13: 9780815651444
E-ISBN-10: 0815651449
Print-ISBN-13: 9780815632573
Print-ISBN-10: 0815632576

Page Count: 296
Illustrations: 6 black and white illustrations
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 785782983
MUSE Marc Record: Download for A Band of Noble Women

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • United States -- Race relations -- History -- 20th century
  • Peace movements -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Women and peace -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Women's International League for Peace and Freedom -- History.
  • African American pacifists -- History -- 20th century.
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