Classroom Lesson Series

Quotable Women for Peace
Discussion and Role Playing Suggestions

©1996-2013
womeninworldhistory.com

Women have always spoken out against war. Below find short quotes by women expressing various opinions about peace and war, followed by ways to use the quotes for discussion and group interaction.


“...each war carried within itself, the war which will answer it. Each war is answered by another war, until everything is destroyed...That is why I’m so wholeheartedly for a radical end to the madness...Pacifism simply is not a matter of calm looking on; it is work, hard work...those lovely small apples out there...everything could be so beautiful if it were not for the insanity of war...one day, a new idea will arise and there will be an end of all wars...People will have to work hard for that new state of things, but they will achieve it.”

Kathe Kollwitz (1867 - 1945) Germany


“If you insist upon fighting to protect me, or ‘our’ country, let it be understood, soberly and rationally between us, that you are fighting to gratify a sex Instinct which I cannot share; to procure benefits which I have not shared and probably will not share; but not to gratify my instincts, or protect either myself or my country. For, the outside will say, in fact, as a woman, I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman, my country is the whole world...”

Virginia Woolf (1882 - 1941) England


The Progress

And still we wear our uniforms, follow
The cracked cry of the bugles, comb and rush
Our pride and prejudice, doctor the sallow
Initial ardor, which keeps it fresh.

Still we applaud the President’s voice and face.
Still we remark on patriotism, sing,
Salute the flag, thrill heavily, rejoice
For death of men who too saluted, sang.

But inward grows a soberness, an awe.
A fear, a deepening hollow through the cold.
For even if we come out standing up
How shall we smile, congratulate; and how
Settle in chairs? Listen, listen. The step
Of iron feet again. And again - wild.

Gwendolyn Brooks (1971) - - USA


“I believe that peace is not merely an absence of war, but the nurture of human life, and that in time this nurture will do away with war as a natural process....I can see no reason why one should not see what one believes in time of war as in time of peace....Only in freedom is permanent peace possible. To unite women in all countries who are opposed to any kind of war, exploitation and oppression and who work for universal disarmament...and by the establishment of social, political, and economic justice for all without distinction of sex, race, class, or creeds.

Jane Addams (1860-1935) U.S.A.


“Women are not at the peace table. We are not there where our commitment to peace, our capacities to find solutions through dialogue, debate, our sensitivities to human needs, human rights are sorely needed. Therefore, we still must press - from the outside...Feminists can make clear that one does not have to agree with the political or economic systems of a country in order to like and understand its people...The feminist movement has a vision. We understand, first of all, that we have but one earth, shared by one humanity. ...We will make it a woman’s world, not in the sense of control, or power, or dominance, but those values that we call women-centered values, will be diffused throughout society.”

Margarita Chant Papandreou. Greece/U.S.A.


The End and the Beginning

After every war
Someone’s got to tidy up.
Thing won’t pick themselves up, after all.

Someone’s got to shove the rubble to other roadsides
So the carts loaded with corpses can get by.

Someone’s got to trudge through sludge and ashes,
Through the sofa springs, the shards of glass, the bloody rags....

No sound bites, no photo opportunities.
And it takes years.
All the cameras have gone to other wars.

Some, broom in hand, still remember how it was.
Some man listens, nodding his unshattered head.
But others are bound to be bustling nearby
Who will find all that a little boring....

Those who knew what this was all about
Must make way for those who know little.
And less than that, and at last nothing less than nothing,

Someone’s got to lie there
in the grass that covers up the causes and effects
With a cornstalk in his teeth, gawking at clouds.

Wislawa Szymborska (1923-) Poland


“When we carry our eyes back through the long records of our history, we see wars of plunder, wars of conquest, wars of religion, wars of pride, wars of succession, wars of idle speculation, wars of unjust interference, and hardly among them one war of necessary self-defence in any of our essential or very important interests.”

Anna Barbauld, English poet, essayist, critic, 1793


“The half of humanity that have never bourne arms is today ready to struggle to make the brotherhood of man a reality. Perhaps the universal sisterhood is necessary before the universal brotherhood is possible.”

Bertha von Suttner, Speech to the Federation of Women of America, 1912


“If brains have brought us to what we are in now, I think it is time to allow our hearts to speak. When our sons are killed by the millions, let us, mothers, only try to do good by going to the kings and emperors without any other danger than a refusal.”

Rosika Schwimmer, Speech at International Congress of Women at the Hague, 1915


“Women will soon have political power. Woman suffrage and permanent peace will go together. When a country is in a state of mind to grant the vote to its women, it is a sign that that country is ripe for permanent peace. Women don’t feel as men do about war. They are the mothers of the race. Men think of the economic results, women think of the grief and pain.”

Dr. Aletta Jacobs, (1851-1929) Holland’s first woman doctor and founder of the Dutch suffrage movement.


“You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake.” And, “The work of educating the world to peace is the woman’s job, because men have a natural fear of being classed as cowards if they oppose war.”

Jeanette Rankin, (1880-1973) First woman to enter U.S. House of Representative in 1917. Lost her seat in Congress when she voted against entry in WWI.


“But the havoc wrought by war, which one compares with the havoc wrought in nature, is not an unavoidable fate before which man stands helpless. The natural forces which are the causes of war are human passions which it lies in our power to change.”

Ellen Key, (1849-1926) Swedish social feminist.


“Where do all the women who have watched so carefully over the lives of their beloved ones get the heroism to send them to face the cannon? I am afraid that this soaring of the spirit will be followed by the blackest despair and dejection. The task is to bear it not only during these few weeks, but for a long time - in dreary November as well, and also when spring comes again, in March, the month of young men who wanted to live and are dead.”

Kathe Kollwitz, German artist, 1914.
(Kollwitz’s son was killed in WWI two months after writing this note).
See drawing of MISSING IN ACTION by Kathy Kollwitz to the left.


“[There is an] erroneous impression that this and other countries are at war with one another. They are not. Their governments, composed of men and responsible only to the men of each country, and backed by the majority of men who have caught the war and glory fever, have declared war on one another. The women of all these countries have not been consulted as to whether they would have war or not...”

Harriette Beanland, English dressmaker, three days after WWI declared, 1914.


“No tinsel of trumpets and flags will ultimately seduce women into the insanity of recklessly destroying life, or gild the willful taking of life with any other name than that of murder, whether it be the slaughter of the million or of one by one.”

Olive Schreiner, South African writer, feminist, 1911.


“Ladies, do you know the numbers? Our taxes are higher than three billion and the ministers of the army and navy devour a third themselves....The household with six francs a day for expenses, for example, starts each day by throwing two francs away.”

Sylvia Flammarion, 1905 speech to working class French women.


“If war boosts the economy of the industrial nations that own the war supplies, it smashes the economy of the nations that consume them.”

Fereshten Gol-Mohammadi, Iran, 1983.


“If a child grows up with the idea of violence, that you get what you can by force, what kind of world will this be?”

Julinda Abu Nasr, Lebanon, 1980s.


“I am convinced that the women of the world, united without any regard for national or racial dimensions, can become a most powerful force for international peace and brotherhood.”

Coretta Scott King, (1922-) Active in U.S. civil rights movement and Non-Violence Center.


Suggestions for using the quotes as points for discussion and group interaction

  • Give each person a quote and have them say what it means in their own words. As a group discuss: “Do you agree or disagree with the sentiment expressed in the quote. Does this quote reflect the idea that men and women have different sensibilities with regard to war? Do you agree or disagree with this?”

  • Each person finds a quote he or she likes, stands up, reads it, and says why they like it. They can be asked: “Do you agree with the quote? Do the beliefs of the speaker hold true today? Are the reasons going to war the same, or different?”

  • Some quotes could be analyzed regarding the speaker’s choice of words.Examples: Kollwitz’s use of “heroism” “What did Kathe Kollwitz mean? Is it heroic or patriotic or a mother’s lack of choice to send a son to war?” Or, Bertha von Suttner’s use of the term “universal sisterhood.” “What did she mean? Is there such a thing? Where might it exist and where could it be questioned? Is it necessary to have universal agreement to create peace?”

  • Role play: Assign each of the quotable women listed to various students. The class as a whole then pretends they are at an international peace conference attended by the these women. Perhaps the conference is called “Peace as a Woman’s Issue.” Perhaps Jane Addams from the United States chairs the meeting.

At the conference, students “become” the individual women assigned to them. In turn, they are called upon by the conference chair to introduce themselves and either read the assigned quote or in their own words express their personality’s opinion. Students might first do some research on their assigned woman to gain additional information about the her.

Collectively, the class notes when points of view by conference participates agree or differ. As a group they might discuss ways to promote the opinions voiced at the conference.They might draw up statements which are intended to express the womens’ thoughts against war, or on their ideas on ways to avoid it.


For another activity using quotes by women  click here


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©1996-2013
Women in World History Curriculum