A hundred-year-old Peace Petition signed by almost 400,000 Welsh Women is to return to Wales as the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History transfers the oak chest and petition to the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth.
In 1923 with the horrors of World War One having galvanised a whole generation against conflict, the women of Wales organised a campaign for world peace. In a Welsh League of Nations Union conference held at Aberystwyth University, it was proposed that a campaign should be launched to ensure that the women of the USA should hear the voices of the women of Wales and work together for a world without war.
A total of 390,296 women signed a peace petition. Within seven months, Annie Hughes-Griffiths, Mary Ellis, Elined Prys and Gladys Thomas had reached the USA with an oak chest containing a petition that was said to be 7 miles long. In New York, it was presented to the women of America by the peace delegation from Wales. Since then, the chest has been preserved and exhibited at the National Museum of American History, in Washington DC.
The Women of Wales for a World without War Partnership began working in 2019 with the National Library of Wales to borrow the chest and some of the petitions. The subsequent discussions with the National Museum of American History eventually resulted in this transfer to the National Library of Wales. The trunk is now on its way back and should reach its new home at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth within the next few weeks.
On March 29th, 2023 representatives from Wales, to include Academi Heddwch Cymru (the Welsh peace institute), Heddwch Nain / Mam-gu (Our Grandmother’s Peace), Welsh Government, The National Library of Wales and Aberystwyth University, will meet with staff from the National Museum of American History to mark this occasion.
The Welsh Government contributed £150,000 to finance the return of the chest and petition to Wales. Once in Aberystwyth expert staff at The National Library will digitise its contents. This in turn will enable the public to search the Peace Petition to find out who exactly were these women of Wales who went in search of peace.
Working with the Peace Petition Partnership and volunteers Wales-wide, an exhibition will be organised during 2023-2024 to present the chest and petition at three locations – Aberystwyth, St Fagans and Wrexham.
Jill Evans, Chair of Heddwch Nain/Mamgu (Our Grandmothers’ Peace), a group which has been instrumental in drawing attention to this story, said:
"This unique and remarkable peace mission by women in Wales a hundred years ago inspired so many people and continues to do so. This history belongs to all of us. We need to remember and share the story, to celebrate their achievements but also to reaffirm their aim of a warless world. Heddwch Nain/Mam-Gu was set up to continue the women’s campaign for peace."
Pedr ap Llwyd, Chief Executive and Librarian, National Library Wales said:
"We would like to thank the Smithsonian Institution and all our partners in the Women of Wales for a World without War Partnership for ensuring that the Peace Petition is making its way to the Library here in Aberystwyth. The digitisation and engagement projects will enable people from all over Wales to understand more about the Peace Petition, the women who led the campaign and many of the women who signed the petition."
Anthea M. Hartig, the Elizabeth MacMillan Director of the National Museum of American History said:
"This petition from the women of Wales on behalf of the women of the United States, is a beautiful example of supportive sisterhood. For nearly two decades the trunk was on display in our museum to illustrate the use of women’s networks in promoting peace. We are pleased and honored to transfer the trunk and petitions to the National Library of Wales and return it home for the 100th anniversary."
Mererid Hopwood, Partnership Chair said:
"Against the backdrop of today’s troubled world, it’s an enormous privilege to remember how the women of Wales, a century ago, were bold enough to work for global peace. It’s our hope that through the Peace Petition project this spirit of international co-operation, focussed on creating a fair and violence-free world, will find new voices."
Susie Ventris Field, Chief Executive of the Welsh Centre for International Affairs said:
"When we found the cover of the petition in the Council Chamber of the Temple of Peace, we knew this was a remarkable story of women and the peace movement in Wales. Since then, we’ve seen people across Wales, particularly children, inspired by the story to take their own action towards peace. With the petition itself returning to Wales, there is a further opportunity to inspire the next generation of peacebuilders."
Dawn Bowden, Deputy Minister for Arts and Sport, Welsh Government said:
"I am delighted that the 1923 Peace Petition is returning to Wales a hundred years after it was taken to the USA. I would like to thank the Smithsonian Institution for the generosity of this gift to the National Library of Wales. The gathering of almost 400,000 signatures from women across Wales as a campaign for peace is inspiring. I hope that the return of the petition to Wales will inspire and motivate a new generation of advocates for peace."
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NOTES FOR EDITORS:
- On May 23 1923, 'The Appeal' was launched at Aberystwyth University during the Welsh League of Nations Union Conference
- Two paid officers and 400 local organizers set about organizing the petition and collecting names
- By December 1923 Mary Ellis was sailing to America to prepare the ground for receiving the petition
- She collaborated with illustrious and progressive women such as Carrie Chapman Catt, Ruth Morgan and Harriet Burton Lees Laidlaw
- By February 1924 Annie Hughes Griffiths (accompanied by her friend Gladys Thomas) and Elined Prys crossed the Atlantic to join Mary Ellis, with the chest containing 390,296 signatures.
- The delegation from Wales received an enthusiastic welcome and a grand dinner at the Biltmore Hotel, New York was the start of an exceptionally busy visit, where the peace campaigners from Wales tirelessly travelled through the USA addressing audiences.
- Among the places they visited were Chicago, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Utica and also Washington and the White House where they were welcomed by President Calvin Coolidge
- During the Cymru'n Cofio/Wales for Peace project (2014–18) in the Temple of Peace and Health, Cardiff, a plaque was found commemorating the petition (the Memorial as it was called, made of beautiful Moroccan leather and gold lettering). This is when the questioning began: What? Who? Why?
- This inspired the formation of the Heddwch Nain / Mam-gu yng Nghymru (Our Grandmother’s Peace) group here and in the USA, and a Partnership that includes:
- Academi Heddwch Cymru (the Wales peace institute)
- Welsh Centre for International Affairs
- National Library of Wales
- Museum Wales
- Heddwch Nain / Mam-gu – Wales
- Heddwch Nain / Mam-gu – USA
- Women’s Archive Wales / Archif Menywod Cymru
- Welsh Government
- Elin Jones, Senedd President
- Academi Heddwch Cymru is chaired by the Rt. Revd and Rt Hon Dr. Rowan Williams and its MoU is singed by all of the universities of Wales, as well as The Learned Society of Wales, Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol and the Welsh Centre for International Affairs. Its group membership includes Urdd Gobaith Cymru, Race Council Cymru, Future Generations Office, and representatives from the peace movement in Wales.
- The Partnership has worked eagerly over the last three years to secure a way to digitise the content of the original Petition so that today we can learn about the women from Wales who wanted to see a world without war, and be inspired to resume their important work.