Women, war and peace

Women, war and peace

  • Third International Women's Congress for Peace and Freedom.

    ZERRITSCH Fritz (1888 - 1981)

  • War on War!

    STEINLEN Théophile Alexandre (1859 - 1923)

Third International Women's Congress for Peace and Freedom.

© Contemporary Collections

© Contemporary Collections

Publication date: May 2011

Historical context

A pacifism born of the Great War

The European unions, anti-capitalist, positioned themselves away from the International, where political parties reigned, and in 1901 founded the International Trade Union Secretariat (S.S.I.). But after the war, the internationalists returned to pacifism all the more violently as a traumatized generation "never wants that again!" ". Théodore Alexandre Steinlen (1859-1923), who unvarnished and relentlessly designed society at war, agreed to create in 1922 a poster on the theme of "war against war", which was then flourishing.

Internationalists are not the only ones fighting against war. As of April 15, 1915, 1,136 delegates from twelve nations met in The Hague, despite the obstacles placed in their way by their respective governments. The second congress meets in Zurich at the same time as the “Peace” Conference in Versailles. Delegates from nineteen nations found the International Women's League for Peace and Freedom; the headquarters, located in Geneva, serves as a base for missions throughout Europe and lobbying the S.D.N. Fritz Zerritsch (1888-1981, Viennese artist, is responsible for creating the poster announcing this event to European women.

Image Analysis

War to war

The typography chosen to announce the Third International Women’s Congress for Peace and Freedom evokes the classical Greek alphabet. In fact, the central image represents, rather than a real woman, an allegorical statue of perfect proportions, inspired by antiquity. Naked like the Truth, this profile figure turns to the left, the space of past events that she rejects with her raised hand. On his left hand is a dove carrying an olive branch in its beak, a symbol of peace.

The style that Steinlen developed during the conflict is easily recognized in War on War!, poster where the pencil sketch is imposed on a blue flat at the top. In the foreground, a man who rears his head to face Death hugs his family. The little girls are snuggled up against their mother, the gray hatchings erase their social membership and just reveal the innocent faces of the children and the impenetrable sadness of the mother figure. The size of his father's hands and the protruding muscles of his neck reflect his strength, but also his tension in the face of this tenacious opponent, crowned with laurels. The scythe skeleton emerges from a cloud that evokes the smoke of explosions from trench warfare in a barren landscape.


The international of pacifists

Women, who contributed significantly to the war effort, and not just as nurses, struggle after the conflict to be recognized in a renewed social role. Yet few European nations - France, Yugoslavia,… - have yet to grant women the right to vote. Pursuing a policy hostile to any internationalist movement, the French authorities thus "patriotically" refuse to allow the German delegates to the second Congress of the League to enter the national territory, hence its holding in Zurich. The third Congress is part of the new international movement led by the "fourteen points" of US President Wilson (disarmament, rights of peoples including colonial) and aims to rebuild the principles of living in common. The delegates of the League share a common faith in education, in the development of a common international language, and have a project to purge textbooks of all militarism. They claim the right to express as women their pacifism, which is different from that of ex-combatants.

On the neutral territory of Switzerland, in Zimmerwald (1915) and then in Kienthal (1916), only a small fringe of pacifist revolutionaries rose up against the war, led by Lenin and Trotsky. This fault line can be found in rebuilding Europe. Reformist, the F.S.I., which had 22 million members in 1920, refused to join Profintern, the trade union equivalent of the Comintern, proposed in 1921 to the European unions by the Russian Bolsheviks. This does not prevent the "Amsterdam Federation", to which many veterans belong, from promoting uncompromising pacifism and from attempting to implement another cultural mobilization, against war as much as for peace. Before the war Steinlen had frequented socialists and anarchists and even illustrated the cover of a work by Kropotkin. His denunciation of the daily misery of the people in The Little Sou or from the ravages of war finds its logical continuation in a poster which can only strike a public familiar with its style and its positions.

  • women
  • feminism
  • War of 14-18
  • pacifism
  • League of Nations (League of Nations)
  • freedoms
  • Comintern


Jean-Jacques BECKER and Serge BERSTEIN, New history of contemporary France, volume XII "Victory and frustrations, 1914-1929", Paris, Le Seuil, coll. “Points Histoire”, 1990. Jean-Jacques BECKER and Gilles CANDAR (eds.), History of lefts in France, flight. II "20th century: put to the test of history", Paris, La Découverte, coll. "The Space of History", 2004.

To cite this article

Alexandre SUMPF, "Women, war and peace"

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