In April 1915 Kate Frye was still working with the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage when it was announced that an International Congress of Women would convene at The Hague. Around 1200 delegates from 12 countries attended the Congress hoping that the women of the warring countries could be organized to exert a moral force for peace. The British government, however, prevented interested British women from attending by refusing them passports and suspending the ferry service across the Channel. The Peace Conference led to the founding of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom but, as Kate relates, the issue divided suffragists.
‘Tuesday April 20th 1915
Some office work then to finish off the Hall – put things out for Sale etc. I arranged a stall of Workroom things – haberdashery etc. Meeting at 3 o’clock. Afterwards there was a great disturbance. Mrs Cecil Chapman from the Chair condemned the Peace Conference which is to take place at The Hague. I agree with her. How can English Women at the moment go and prattle with German Women of peace when there will and can be no peace until Germany has withdrawn her hosts from Belgium, France and Poland?
At the moment when thousands are laying down their lives for women to talk like that is to my mind showing a tremendous lack of nationalism. We didn’t want to fight – we were totally unprepared – the more credit in one way to us – and if German women want peace let them begin to preach it in Germany. I very much suspect this talk.
However to go back. Miss Wiskemann, who is half German, didn’t like it – and, instead of publicly protesting, she was heard saying things to people by several of our members who are most fiery the other way and told Mrs Hartley we had a traitor in our midst, and Mrs Hartley, never too cool in an emergency, went for Gladys, whose friend Miss W. is – and I’m not sure didn’t go for Miss W. herself. Anyhow Miss W. is not coming amongst us again but going over heart and soul to the United Suffragists who I think are utterly mad and will do our cause much harm by pressing the question of ‘Votes’ at this minute. How can they – in this life and death struggle? If the NCS took that line I should have to leave them. I couldn’t bear it – it’s wicked and selfish and small – nothing matters except we beat Germany – but people are leaving us because we do not press Votes. It is a mad world.’
‘Miss Wiskemann’ was Eugenie Wiskemann, elder sister of the future historian, Elizabeth Wiskemann; Mrs Beatrice Hartley was one of the founders of the NCS, as was Gladys Wright.
Click here to see a short documentary, ‘These Dangerous Women’, about the 1300 women who held a Peace Conference at The Hague in April 1915. These were the women whom Kate condemned as prattlers for peace.
You can read about Kate Frye’s work as an organiser with the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage in Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s suffrage diary. – for full details see here.