Women’s Peace Petition – the American Journal of Annie Hughes Griffiths, ‘Annie’s Diary’

Annie Jane Hughes Griffiths, Chair of the Welsh League of Nations Union, in the 1930s

In April 2019, WCIA’s Craig Owen was exploring Welsh League of Nations Union ‘Peace Archives’ held in the National Library of Wales, when he stumbled across a reference for an ‘American Diary / Journal’, tagged “Peace Societies”, held among the T I Ellis Papers (Thomas Iorwerth Ellis, 1899-1970) and simpoly recording

SCOPE AND CONTENT: “Journal, February-March 1924, of Annie J. Hughes-Griffiths, recording her trip to America as part of the Welsh Women’s Peace Memorial, including the outward and return voyages. The journal contains references to Leila Mégane, including the part played by Hughes-Griffiths in Megane’s wedding to T. Osborne Roberts on 21 March 1924.” National Library of Wales Archives. 

Up until this point, sources and knowledge on the origins and organisation of the Women’s Peace Petition had been limited – for example, ‘Mrs Peter Hughes Griffiths’ had so far been discoverable only by her husband’s name. The value of her diary as historical ‘primary source’ material was quickly recognised. The pages were digitised with the aim of transcribing and uncovering the story of the visit to America – to understand more about the petition itself, and the campaign behind it. WCIA appealed for volunteers to help uncover ‘the story of Annie’s Diary’.

Part of the challenge – and fascination – of uncovering the story of Annie Hughes Griffiths in the years following the petition’s discovery in 2014, came down to her being known by no less than 5 names over her life! Recorded primarily in the WLNU era as ‘Mrs Peter Hughes Griffiths’, her given name was eventually found to be Annie Hughes-Griffiths; but also previously Annie Jane Davies, Annie Ellis and Mrs Thomas Edward Ellis. Here is a little of her background story.

Who was Annie Hughes Griffiths?

Davies Family Tree (People’s Collection Wales)

Born Annie Jane Davies in 1873 in Llangeitho, Carmarthenshire – daughter of Robert Joseph Davies (1839-1892) and Frances Humphreys (1836-1918) of Cwrt Mawr – she was widely known as ‘Annie Cwrt Mawr‘ after the name of their childhood home . Annie became active in Welsh cultural and political life from an early age. In 1898 she married Thomas Edward Ellis (1859-99) from Bala, Liberal MP for Merionethshire (1886-99) and one of the first proponents of a legislative devolved Welsh Assembly, and Chief Whip for the Liberal Party (1894-95) during the transition from Prime Ministers Gladstone to Rosebery (see T.E.Ellis papers, NLW). She was known as Annie Jane Ellis (or Mrs Thomas Edward Ellis) from 1898 until 1916.

Tom Ellis’ health however was fragile, having developed typhoid on a trip to Egypt in 1890, and tragically he died in 1899 just a year after they had married – aged just 40 – in Cannes, France. 8 months after his death, Annie gave birth to their son, who was named Tom, after his father. Annie brought up Tom as a widowed mother, until on 24 October 1916 she remarried the Rev Peter Hughes Griffiths (1871-1937) from Ferryside, Carmarthenshire, a Methodist Minister in Charing Cross, London. She moved to the capital, living in what would then have been a very modern house in Golders Green in North London. The Ellis family also maintained their home in Laura Place, Aberystwyth, where Annie’s brother John Humphreys Davies was Principal of the University from 1919-1926.

Following WW1, Annie Hughes-Griffiths became hugely involved in international peace building efforts through the Welsh League of Nations Union (founded in 1922), becoming its Chair in 1923 and President of the WLNU Women’s Committee. From May 1923, she took on leadership of the Welsh Women’s Peace Petition and Memorial; and in March 1924, she led a ‘peace delegation’ of women from Wales to America: Mrs Annie-Jane Hughes Griffiths, Miss Mary Ellis and Miss Elined Prys.

The Welsh Women’s Peace Delegation to America, 1924, L-R: Mrs Gladys Thomas, Miss Mary Elis, Mrs Annie-Jane Hughes Griffiths, Miss Elined Prys.
An amusing aside is that in local Ceredigion folklore, Annie is often remembered as Annie Côt Ffwr – ‘Annie Fur Coat’!

What is in ‘Annie’s Diary’?

Much of the story of the Welsh Women’s Peace Petition has been discovered through the eyes of Annie Hughes-Griffiths, from discovering (in May 2019) her incredible diary – a unique and personal perspective on the 1924 ‘Welsh Women’s Peace Tour’ of America. The diary and its transcription contain detailed records of:

  • 2 Feb 1924: the ‘Sendoff’ from London Euston and train to Liverpool
  • 2-11 Feb: Transatlantic voyage on Whiute Star Line’s ‘RMS Cedric’ from Liverpool to New York
  • 11-12 Feb: Arrival and reception in New York
  • Tue 19 Feb: Women’s Peace Memorial Luncheon at Biltmore Hotel, New York
  • 20 Feb: Journey to Washington, women’s luncheon and receptions.
  • 21 Feb: Visiting the White House, promoting Women’s Memorial to US President Calvin Coolidge; visit to tomb of Woodrow Wilson (US President who created League of Nations after #WW1, and had died just weeks earlier)
  • 24 Feb: Journey to Chicago (where they stayed with Annie’s younger brother David Charles Davies who was Director of the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History)
  • 29 Feb: Journey across Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado and Utah with visit to Ogden Canyon, Morgan.
  • 2 March: Salt Lake City, Utah
  • 3-7 March: San Francisco, California
  • 8-12 March: Los Angeles, California
  • 13-14 March: Grand Canyon, Arizona
  • 15-16 March: Chicago
  • 17 March: Niagara Falls
  • 18-19 March: Utica, NY State
  • 19-22 March: Final days in New York, including wedding of Welsh opera signer Leila Megane to composer Osborne Roberts.
  • 22-28 March 1924: Transatlantic voyage on White Star Line’s RMS Olympic (sister ship to Titanic) from New York to Liverpool.

Initially digitised and transcribed by a team of volunteers in June 2019 – captured on the video above by Tracy Pallant and Amy Packham – Annie’s Diary continues to be an invaluable source for historians and individuals exploring the story of the Welsh Women’s Peace Petition, as well as an inspiring educational resource. Alaw Primary School in Rhondda Cynon Taff have used Annie’s Diary as the basis of a cross-curricular learning project, for which they received the Young Peacemakers Award at the 2023 Llangollen International Eisteddfod; and in March 2024, this has been developed into a Learning Pack for Schools published by WCIA alongside Academi Heddwch and Hwb.

Celebrating Annie’s Contribution

Many Welsh Artists have responded to the call of the centenary campaign with beautiful celebrations of Annie and all of the 390,296 women who were part of this remarkable peace movement – including this beautiful portrait of Annie produced for the ‘PAX’ Exhibition in Machynlleth and Aberystwyth over Spring 2023:

Annie Hughes Griffiths holding the 1924 women’s memorial, as painted for the PAX Exhibition in Aberystwyth Arts Centre, 2023

On 3 November 2023, a purple plaque was unveiled on Annie’s former home in Aberystwyth, celebrating her contribution to Welsh society, world peace and women.

In late 2023 / early 2024, theatre company ‘Mewn Cymeriad’ produced a touring production entitled Annie Cwrt Mawr, using Annie’s Diary to bring to life her voyage to America:

Centenary of #AnniesDiary100 – #OnThisDay Feature Series

Over February-March 2024, WCIA and Academi Heddwch retraced the steps of the #WomensPeacePetition America Peace Tour over Feb-March 1924 with #AnniesDiary100 – a social media project ‘tweeting from the 20s’ in live time, with ‘OnThisDay’ updates of their travels to and around the United States of America.