Plans are in place to try to ensure that a treasure from Wales’ Peace Heritage makes the journey from Washington to Wales, to mark the centenary next year of the 1923 Welsh Women’s Peace Appeal to America – a campaign petition signed by 390,296 women across Wales. Might your gran be among them?
The plans were discussed at this year’s National Eisteddfod in Tregaron, Ceredigion, at an event organised through Academi Heddwch, Wales’ Peace Institute.
Since discovery in the Temple of Peace Archives in 2014, the story of the Welsh Women’s Peace Appeal has captivated communities, volunteers and historians alike, as a ‘hidden history’ has been gradually researched and revealed through the painstaking efforts of women and volunteers in both Wales and America.
Coinciding with the Eisteddfod event, WCIA have just published over 290 digitised archival resources on the Women’s Peace Appeal to People’s Collection Wales, for use by community groups and schools over the centenary year. This time consuming work has been done by WCIA Volunteer Placement Hannah Spruce from Cardiff, as a work experience placement towards her MA in Cultural Heritage at University of Winchester.
The appeal signatures in 1924 were transported from Liverpool to New York in a ‘great oak chest‘ containing 7 miles of petition sheets, according to the American Press at the time. There they were presented ‘to the women of America’ at a grand luncheon in the Biltmore Hotel, which preceded a 2 month ‘Peace Tour’ of America by a delegation of women from Wales who became known as ‘Y Heddwchwyr’ – the ‘Peacemakers’. In Washington, they met with US President Calvin Coolidge, who agreed that the petition and chest could be homed at the National Museum, now better known worldwide as the Smithsonian Institute.
The Welsh women’s campaign sought to build support for America to join and lead the (then newly formed) League of Nations – and ultimately bore fruit in America’s post-WW2 leadership of the United Nations. In the immediate aftermath of the Welsh Women’s Peace Tour, 9 leading American Women’s networks joined forces to create the ‘Conference on the Cause and Cure of War’, which became a leading voice on peace advocacy in US interwar politics.
Over the last 2-3 years, negotiations have been quietly progressing between partners in Wales, and the Smithsonian Institute to mark the centenary of the campaign, by returning the chest and petition to Wales so that the signatories can be digitised – and hopefully, to uncover the stories behind them. With about 1/3 of the female population of Wales at the time having signed the appeal, there is a high likelihood that most communities will find many of their ‘Nains’ (grandmas) among this generation of ‘women ambassadors for peace’.
It is hoped that, in the course, an agreement between the Smithsonian and National Library, will see the chest and petition travel from Washington to Aberystwyth for digitisation and conservation work, before going on public display at various locations over 2023-24. WCIA hope to develop a complementary community ‘pop up’ exhibition to accompany the centenary programme using materials from the Temple of Peace archives, for use by local groups.