Monday, December 1, 2014

Dorothy Detzer - feminist, pacifist, activist

Like I mentioned last week, one of my favorite things about this blog is the fascinating women I get to 'meet' on a regular basis. Today's amazing woman is Dorothy Detzer -- peace activist and lobbyist, and all-round kick ass woman. What resonates with me most about her story is that she didn't start off on the path that she eventually ended up on, but instead went following her instincts, and found her personal mission almost by accident.

Dorothy Detzer was born on December 1, 1893, in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Her parents, a drugstore owner and a librarian, raised Dorothy and her brothers during the Progressive Era, and that upbringing had a tremendous influences on Dorothy's life.

After graduating from high school in 1914, Dorothy decided to use her college fund to travel the world, spending time in Hawaii, China, Japan, and the Philippines. Upon her return, World War I was getting started, and following her patriotic and progressive upbringing, she attempted to volunteer with the Red Cross, but was turned away for being too young. So instead, in a move that would alter the course of her entire life, she took a spot at Hull House in Chicago, working with low income children and investigating child labor abuses.

It was here where she was first introduced to pacifism and while it may not have been her own philosophy at the time, she continued working with Jane Addams and the rest of Hull House for the duration of the war. Afterward, in 1920, Jane Addams encouraged her to join a group of Quakers organizing relief missions to Austria and Russia, two countries devastated by World War I. The poverty and suffering she encountered quickly set her against the violence of war. And when her beloved twin brother finally succumbed to lung injuries he'd suffered on the battlefield when doused with mustard gas, the die was cast.

She joined the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), and went to work in Washington, D.C. as their lobbyist, where she quickly gained a reputation as a shrewd, fashionable, and out-spoken influence on senators and representatives from both parties. Her idealism was well-known, and to protect her cause, she refused personal gifts, favors, or dinners, and would not abide backroom deals. While this would be difficult to imagine in modern politics, keep in 1920s and '30s politics, this was still something of a novelty.

She was also quite tough. She took the goals of the WILPF seriously, and worked to create a world without violence of all forms -- including physical, economic, psychological, racial, ethnic, or any other form. The legislation she worked on often focused on demilitarization and disarmament, by way of improving transparency in military contracts, international military and relief aid. But she also worked to improve representation by women on foreign delegations and programs, diversify domestic economic relief programs, and desegregate the military.

But she's most well known for her work as a pacifist, and for her successes in bringing more women into that movement in the decades after the 19th Amendment. Women had had a taste of political activism, and were not necessarily content to go back to quiet, private lives. Many longed for that connection to a cause greater than themselves, and found that within the pacifist movement.
"Yet the movement for peace which developed during the crucial years which spanned two wars was never a private crusade; it was a co-operative, shared adventure. A movement rises out of the expanded aspirations of a few, and those who are identified with it soon recognize that painful but paradoxical truth: how unimportant to a movement is any individual - and how important."
I think this quote is especially appropriate today, in that today's movements are so personal to many of us, and yet so much larger than any of us. It may sometimes feel as though one person cannot make much of a difference, but without all the collective efforts of each person involved, things would never change.

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