David Pulsipher is a professor of history at Brigham Young University-Idaho. David was a 2007-2008 Fulbright scholar at Jamia Millia Islamia (University), in New Delhi, India. His research and scholarship focuses on peace and non-violence, and particularly how Mormons have appropriated and/or responded to these ideologies. He has presented papers at the Mormon History Association, Claremont Graduate University, BYU Studies Symposium, and the Congress of the Asian Political and International Studies Association. David is currently working on a volume of collected essays (co-edited with Patrick Mason and Richard Bushman) called War and Peace in Our Time: Mormon Perspectives; and a second co-authored book with Patrick Mason exploring a distinctively Mormon theology and ethic of peace. Please join us in giving David a warm and generous JI welcome.
In honor of women?s history month, we might remember an all-to-brief moment when Mormon women led in the public sphere and men followed—the ?Peace Meeting? movement. Given the prevalence of martial imagery and military heroes in contemporary Mormon culture, it is easy to forget that the Church officially endorsed and organized anti-war protests during the first decade of the twentieth century. These centrally directed and locally produced affairs were held annually—usually on or around May 18, to commemorate the first Hague Conference—and were no small productions. Meetinghouses were draped in international peace colors (gold, purple, and white). Ward choirs prepared and sang patriotic hymns and anti-war songs. Poems were specially composed and recited. Peace resolutions were adopted and signed. And ward leaders (male and female) disavowed war and called for international institutions for arbitration.
The peace meetings have attracted little historical attention. Leonard Arrington?s excellent overview (available here) is a rare exception but mostly limited to central institutional sources such as the Woman?s Exponent. My interest is decidedly more local. I have spent the last several months sifting through hundreds of ward Relief Society minutes (where official proceedings for these meetings were sometimes recorded) looking for clues as to how Mormon women (and men) responded to instructions from Salt Lake City and how they interpreted and articulated their own logic for peace.
Like most peace activists of the time, the Mormon women and men who attended these meetings placed great hope on international institutions, especially the new Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. This provides yet another example of how national and internationally minded many Mormons (especially women) were at this time, and how deeply engaged many were with a broader progressive world (as Amanda recently reminded us here). Consequently, general instructions for the peace meetings—coming first from the National Council of Women, then filtered through the central offices of the Relief Society and YLMIA—called for speeches supporting international arbitration efforts and for votes on ?peace resolutions.? The language from a 1906 resolution is typical:
Resolved that we members of this peace meeting?will support this movement, having for its aim universal peace, the brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of God, and by our act emphasize the declaration of the heavenly hosts to the humble shepherd. ?Peace on earth and good will to men,? and voice the sentiments of the Prophet of older time in speeding the day when nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor learn war any more? Then the brutal clash of arms, the useless shedding of blood, and the wanton destruction of human life will be averted, an international tribunal may be established before which all questions of contention may be brought for adjudication, and in witness of these sentiments we avow ourselves to be disciples of peace.
While votes on such resolutions were almost always recorded as ?unanimous,? not everyone was fully supportive. Adreana Holley, a ward Relief Society president, introduced the 1908 meeting in Slaterville with the observation that she ?did not favor the meeting? but ?felt like obeying both the president of the United States and the president of the Church.? The following year, another Slaterville resident, John C. Neal observed ?if all present expressed their opinion in the peace meetings it might lead to contention.? Then, as now, ?peace? could be a surprisingly controversial topic.
Nevertheless, principles of peace and international arbitration seemed to carry the day (at least on an annual basis) in Mormon communities. In the same meeting where John C. Neal noted that open opinion might lead to contention, Mary O. Webb spoke ?very ably and forcibly? on the history of arbitration efforts, tracing its development from ancient times to the Hague conference, which she called ?the first great Parliament of Man.? The next year, Bishop Slater stated that the peace meetings were ?doing much good in the world,? noting that ?a plan had been made that would establish peace, if rightly carried out,? and expressing his opinion that ?the czar of Russia [who initiated the first meeting] must have been inspired when he established the peace conferences.?
These meetings were well attended by both women and men, with the latter constituting roughly a third of program participants and resolution signatures. But while men often played prominent roles on the programs (as keynote speakers, for example), the women were the undisputed leaders. Bishops were usually in attendance (and almost always speakers on the program), but the official minutes for the meetings usually designated the local Relief Society president as ?presiding? or, in some cases, as co-presiding with bishops. Speakers referred to ?the sisters taking [the] lead in the Peace Demonstrations,? and the topics of their speeches often had a female slant (such as ?How can mothers best promote the cause of peace?). Likewise, although resolutions were voted on and signed by the entire assembly, the language was often decidedly woman-centric, as in this resolution from 1907:
Resolved, That the American women assembled May 18, for the purpose of considering the fruits of war and the fruits of peace, do solemnly pledge themselves to meet annually to hold a demonstration in behalf of peace and arbitration. . . . They rejoice that women throughout the world are beginning to feel their responsibility for human conditions outside of the home, as well as within its sacred walls. They ask all women everywhere to adopt as their own the task assumed by the International Council of Women, which is ?The application of the golden rule to society, custom and law.?
Such hopes were ultimately betrayed by the horrors of First World War, and in its wake the Mormon Peace Meetings were never revived (although the Relief Society maintained a standing Peace Committee for many years). Still the efforts of these women provided a brief glimpse of a possibility for a formal, concerted, institutional effort for Mormon peace-building (a possibility I like to hope still persists). As a 1908 Peace Meeting speaker noted: ?Latter Day Saints would appreciate peace as much as any other class of people for they have had contentions to contend with and [consequently] they should be foremost in hastening the approach of peace.?
 Relief Society Minutes, Baker Ward, Union Stake, 27 May 1906. This, and all subsequent references, are at the Church History Library, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.
 Relief Society Minutes, Slaterville Ward, North Weber Stake, 17 May 1908.
 Relief Society Minutes, Slaterville Ward, North Weber Stake, 16 May 1909.
 Relief Society Minutes, Slaterville Ward, North Weber Stake, 15 May 1910.
 Relief Society Minutes, Circleville Ward, Panguitch Stake, 15 May 1902.
 Relief Society Minutes, Lewiston 1st Ward, Richmond Stake, 19 May 1907.
 Relief Society Minutes, Baker Ward, Union Stake, May 1907.
 Relief Society Minutes, Slaterville Ward, North Weber Stake, 17 May 1908.