A hundred-year-old Peace Petition signed by 390,296 Welsh Women had an emotional welcome back to Wales on Wednesday the 5th April 2023, coinciding with the announcement of an award of nearly £250,000 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund in Wales to bring the story to life.
The Welsh Centre for International Affairs (WCIA) has been awarded £249,262 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) to support the Women’s Peace Petition Project. The project will be managed by Academi Heddwch Cymru and the WCIA on behalf of the Women’s Peace Petition Partnership. The NLHF funding will enable the Partnership to actively engage with the community of Wales to share and celebrate the story as well as enabling people to play an active role in transcription efforts to support the National Library’s work.
The chest and petition arrived at the National Library of Wales to a warm welcome by the people involved in the Women’s Peace Petition Partnership who have worked over many years to bring it back home. This return signals the first step in making it accessible to the people of Wales. Over the next year, the petition will now be catalogued, digitised, and opened to the public to crowdsource its transcription, along with several exhibitions at Amgueddfa Cymru – St Fagans, Wrecsam Museum, and the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth.
The 1923 campaign and its presentation to the USA
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.
How the peace petition has been returned
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 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 will enable the public to view the Peace Petition and participate in a national campaign to transcribe the names of petition signatories creating a publicly available and searchable resource for the first time.
Susie Ventris-Field, Chief Executive of WCIA said,
“WCIA is extremely honoured to be part of the Women’s Peace Petition Partnership and thankful to the National Lottery Heritage Fund for their award which will bring this incredible story to life. Centenary celebrations and outreach funded by the NLHF will help the Partnership start a conversation with communities about how Wales can develop as a Nation of Peace and inspire the next generation of peacemakers.”
Mererid Hopwood, Peace Petition 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.”
Jill Evans, who is volunteering with WCIA and has been Chair of Heddwch Nain/Mamgu (Our Grandmothers’ Peace) – a group of Welsh women who have 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.”
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.”