The creation of the Woman's Committee---Its purpose, as set forth by the Secretary of War---Its general plan of organization and operation---Some of its early activities

America was the first country in the world to give formal official recognition to women in the construction of its war machine, and to recognize immediately, upon a declaration of war, its woman power as one of its most valuable assets.

On April 21, 1917, fifteen days after Congress formally declared that a state of war existed between this country and Germany, the Council of National Defense gave out this statement: "Realizing the inestimable value of woman's contribution to national effort under modern war conditions, the Council of National Defense has appointed a committee of women of national prominence to consider and advise how the assistance of the women of America may be made available in the prosecution of the war. These women are appointed as individuals regardless of any organizations with which they may be associated. The body will be known as the Committee on Women's Defense Work. Its membership is as follows: Dr. Anna Howard Shaw Chairman; Mrs. Philip N. Moore of St. Louis, President of the National Council of Women; Mrs. Josiah E. Cowles of California, President of the General Federation of Women's Clubs; Miss Maude Wetmore of Rhode Island, Chairman of the National League for Woman's Service; Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt of New York, President of the National American Woman Suffrage Organization; Mrs. Antoinette Funk of Illinois; Mrs. Stanley McCormick of Boston; Mrs. Joseph R. Lamar of Atlanta, Georgia, President of the National Society of Colonial Dames; Miss Ida M. Tarbell of New York, Publicist and Writer." At a later meeting the name of Miss Agnes Nestor of Chicago, President of the International Glove Workers' Union, was added. And early in October, 1917, the Council of Defense notified the Woman's Committee of the appointment of Miss Hannah Jane Patterson as the eleventh member of the Committee. Miss Patterson immediately assumed the duties of resident director. The women composing this committee are, without exception women of distinction in their respective lines of public work, and this wholly unsought and unexpected call to volunteer national service, involving as it did sacrifice and added responsibilities, found them in the midst of the performance of their individual duties. Dr. Shaw was congratulated, at the close of a lecture she had given, on the new honor that had come to her, and she had to ask what that honor was, as she had not received the telegram announcing her appointment. There was no "slacker" among them. Every one answered "Present."

The governmental authority of the Woman's Committee is unquestioned. The council of National Defense is a body authorized by Act of Congress in August, 1916, consisting of the Secretary of War, the Secretary of the Navy the Secretary of the Interior the Secretary of Agriculture, the Secretary of Commerce, and the Secretary of Labor. This Council was directed to nominate to the President, and the President to appoint an Advisory Commission of not more than seven persons, believed to be especially qualified to assist in its work. The purpose of the Council of National Defense is the coordination of industries and resources for the national security and welfare and the creation of a new and direct channel of intercourse and cooperation between men and women and all departments of the Government. The Council has power to organize subordinate bodies and committees. The Woman's Committee of the Council of National Defense is such a creation. The purpose of the Committee is to coordinate the activities and the resources of the organized and unorganized women of the country, that their power may be immediately utilized in time of need, and to supply a new and direct channel of communication and cooperation between women and governmental departments.

All government departments are open to the Woman's Committee. Experts of these departments are advisors of the Committee, and through the Committee go out to women, direct, the prompt and authoritative requests and information which the Government wishes to pass on to them. The members of the Committee serve without compensation. The Council of National Defense provides headquarters, an executive secretary, clerical help and franking privilege. The headquarters provided by the Government are at 1814 N Street, N. W., Washington, D. C. This was formerly the Playhouse Club and Theater and is owned by Mrs. Henrietta M. Holliday who had previously offered it to the Government, rent free, to be used during the war in helping to relieve the congestion which national defense work had caused.

Shortly after the Woman's Committee was created the Secretary of War who is chairman of the Council of National Defense, wrote to Dr. Shaw as follows:

"The creation of the Advisory Committee on Women's Defense Work was prompted by an appreciation on the part of the Council of the very valuable service that the women of the country can and are anxious to render in the national defense, and the desire to establish some common medium through which the Council might be brought into closest touch with them and into the fullest utilization of their services.

Prior to the formation of the Women's Advisory Committee, a great variety of work had already been undertaken by various organizations of women throughout the country independently of each other; much of which work was, in part at least, in duplication of efforts undertaken by other organizations, and the Council determined upon the formation of the Women's Advisory Committee in order that this constructive effort might be coordinated and directed duplication being avoided and valueless work discouraged through its activities. Primarily, of course, the Committee on Women's Defense Work is an Advisory Committee to the Council, as are all other committees created under the Council.

The Council of National Defense is charged with the responsibility of taking whatever action is deemed wise upon consideration of the best advice obtainable from all sources, and the power to take affirmative action beyond the mere advisory coordinations which can be brought about through persuasive and explanatory means, rests in the several officers of the Government whose duties are made definite by law and are duties which cannot be delegated. The Women's Advisory Committee, therefore, should consider plan and projects of all kinds which, in their judgment, would be effective in the coordination of the activities of women harmoniously with the needs and aims of the Government. Such plans and undertakings as meet with the approval of the Women's Advisory Committee should thereupon be reported with that approval to the Council. When the Council approves such a project, it will select an agency for its execution; that is to say, if the project is one which can be executed best through one of the established governmental agencies, the Council will indicate that agency, place it in cooperative relations with you and direct it to carry out the plan. If, on the other hand, the project is one which can best be carried forward by some particular voluntary or unofficial agency, or is such a project as in the opinion of the Council could most effectively be pursued by the independent action of the Women's Advisory Committee, that course will be indicated.

I realize that this letter is necessarily somewhat indefinite, since it must deal in general phrases with varying, complicated and different situations. In general, however, I think it states the relationship which the law establishes between the Committee and the Council, and in the working out of this intent, I feel sure there will be found great opportunity for initiative on the part of the Committee, and work which will be of high value to the country."

With scarcely more than this letter to guide them the Woman's Committee held its first meeting on May 2, 3, 4 and 5 in Washington and formulated a tentative plan of organization which was approved by the Council of National Defense and immediately sent out to leading women in each of the forty-eight states. The plan of organization proposed to coordinate women's organizations and their working forces in order to enlist at once the greatest possible number in the service which the national crisis demanded. The Committee, in its initial announcement, urged that no defense work of any kind already done be lost; leaders in each state were asked to investigate the work under way and so to coordinate activities as to eliminate duplication and overlapping. It was realized that each state and city would find problems peculiar to itself, and the good judgment of the women was relied on to find the solution to these problems. The Committee directed attention to the importance of conserving everything useful in the way of work already started and in organization, and advised centralization in the interest of higher efficiency.

The Committee, at this first meeting, began its work of organization by the appointment of a temporary chairman in each of the forty-eight states and the District of Columbia. These temporary chairmen were instructed to call into conference at the earliest possible date the presidents or representatives of all women's organizations having state-wide scope, state branches of women's national organizations, and such individuals as they cared to select to represent the state at large and unorganized women. It was suggested that the invitation to participate in this conference be most democratic, and that recognition be given to clubs, religious denominations, fraternal societies, philanthropies, and patriotic and protective associations of all sorts.

The plan of organization provided that these groups with committees in counties, cities and towns, should constitute the state divisions, and become the official representatives of the Women's Committee of the Council of National Defense for the States. The state divisions were charged with the duty of seeing that all necessary forms of patriotic service or of defense programs, as outlined by the National Woman's Committee, were actively carried forward by organizations or individuals. The state divisions were planned to continue during the war and as long thereafter as the Council of National Defense may direct. The name given to the state division was "Woman's Committee of the Council of National Defense, [name of state] Division."

Thus, within a short time after it was created, the Woman's Committee had perfected a temporary working organization in every state, and women were mobilizing throughout the country under governmental direction.

The wisdom and foresight of the women composing the Woman's Committee has been demonstrated in no more striking way than in the promulgation of this general plan of organization for women's war work. With no precedent to guide them, and with little time to work out and develop ideas, these women, at their first meeting, decided upon a program which has stood the test of time and in the working out of which radical changes have been necessary-only expansion and development.

As later revised and enlarged, this plan provided ' that each state division should elect a permanent chairman a vice-chairman or vice-chairmen, an honorary vice-chairman (if desired), a secretary and a treasurer, and such other officers as were found necessary. Each state was left free to adopt such by-laws or rules as it found desirable for the conduct of its business. The elected officers, together with additional members, selected by the division, composed an executive committee, authorized to do business for the division under conditions which the division was expected to define. Each state division was advised to departmentalize its work with a competent chief or chairman for each department. It was suggested that the chairmen of departments be elected as members of the Executive Committee. They were to be selected for such chairmanships because of special fitness or training for such work, and were not necessarily heads of state organizations. The following departments were suggested as those which the Committee believed would prove necessary to coordinate and make effective the work of the women of the state: Registration; Food Production and Home Economics; Food Administration; Women in Industry; Child Welfare; Maintenance of Existing Social Service Agencies; Health and Recreation; Education; Liberty Loan and Home and Foreign Relief. It was suggested that committees on finance and publicity be appointed. State Divisions were asked not to appoint chairmen for Food Administration, Women in Industry, or Liberty Loan, without consultation with the Woman's Committee in Washington, as these chairmen were to work directly with or under national committees dealing with the respective subjects.

The general method of organization for a city or town was the same as that for the state. The officers of the state division, or committee deputized by it, were expected to appoint in each city and town a competent woman to serve as temporary chairman. Her duty was to call into conference the presidents or representatives of all local organizations as soon possible. City (or town) committees were formed composed of the president, or one representative, of each cooperating organization and certain women chosen from the city at large. This committee in all towns is known as [name of town] Unit of the Woman's Committee." The committee, in cities of over twenty-five thousand population, is known as the "Woman's Committee of the Council of National Defense of [name of city]". The city or town committees elect their own officers and executive and act under direction of the state division in all matters relating to the general defense program, as outlined in the departments; each community is allowed, however, to work out the details of the plan in accordance with local conditions

The city committees were urged to proceed as rapidly as possible to establish auxiliary units in each ward. The same process of the appointment of a temporary chairman was followed in the organization of state and city was suggested as the most promising plan. The ward organization conference, however, was usually a general meeting of the women of the ward, and the unit is composed of individual members the idea being to reach all women of every class and make the defense program comprehensible to them.

This plan, which rapidly began to operate in the various states, sought to link together in complete working cooperation existing organizations of women. The Woman's Committees of the states and cities were designed to be a federation of all organizations of women. Women, however, not members of any organization were entitled to representation in the city and town committees. or the benefit of such women, freedom to form or join other units was allowed, and they are eligible to serve on all committees of state, city or town; the primary object being to coordinate and make effective the patriotic service of as many women as possible.

The advantages of the plan were many. By this plan no organization lost its identity; existing machinery was utilized and centralized; duplication was to a large extent prevented and individual effort was made more far-reaching. It proposed to women, not that they join any new organization, but that they work in self-selected groups, along lines of their chosen activities; no work was to be interrupted, but all work was to be coordinated and directed. Because of the governmental authority under which the Woman's Committee operates, expert governmental advice was made available for local conditions and needs. The state divisions were to be financed by state funds, when available, by personal contributions, and by benefits of various kinds. Economy of administration was a natural consequence of such coordination and direct distribution to all divisions of authoritative standards and methods. The headquarters of the Woman's Committee serve as a clearing house of women's activities throughout the country, and the Committee itself is the agent to transmit promptly any demands of the Government which might concern women's organizations The plan was an elastic one and each community was left free to work out the details according to its own needs, being asked only to follow the general plan as outlined.

In order to further this plan, and to carry out the duty with which it was charged, the Woman's Committee, on June 9, 1917, issued a call to the heads of about two hundred national organizations of women to meet in Washington with the Woman's Committee on June 19. The object of the conference, stated in the call, was "to engage the understanding and hearty cooperation of all these organizations the work of the Woman's Committee, and to present the plan for the careful coordination of the work already in operation under the direction of the various organizations."

In response to this call representatives of more than fifty national organizations of women met in Washington on June 19, 1917, and gave brief reports of the work already under way or completed.

This meeting, remarkable at once for the surprising variety of interests it represented and for the unanimity of sentiment it expressed, was made further significant because it was then that the first definite task was imposed upon American women by Mr. Hoover the National Food Administrator. Mr. Hoover outlined his plan for enlisting the women of the country in the first nation-wide food conservation campaign and asked the fullest cooperation of the Woman's Committee in the development of this plan. This cooperation was heartily pledged.

A number of national organizations having given assurance of their willingness to cooperate in every possible way with the Woman's Committee, the heads of these organizations were appointed to constitute an Honorary Advisory Committee of the Woman's Committee of the Council of National Defense. The personnel of this committee is as follows: Mrs. Ethelbert Nevin American Fund for French Wounded; Mrs. Lois K. Mathews Association of Collegiate Alumnae; Mrs. Nathaniel Harris Council of Jewish Women; Mrs. George Thacher Guernsey National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution; Mrs. J. Willis Martin Garden Club of America; Mrs. Josiah E. Cowles, General Federation of Women's Clubs; Mrs. Emma C. Ocobock General Grand Chapter O. E. S., Eastern Star; Mrs. Theodore Booth Girls' National Honor Guard; Mrs. Juliette Low Girl Scouts; Mrs. W. H. Brown International Child Welfare; Miss Clara I. Cogan International Federation of Catholic Alumnae; Miss Stella Wood International Kindergarten Union; Kate Davis International Peoples Aid Association; Mrs. A. J. Ochsner National Federation of Music Clubs; Miss Maude Wetmore National League for Woman's Service; Mrs. Henry Ollesheimer National League of Women Workers; Mrs. Thomas P. Gore National Library for The Blind; Miss Anna A. Gordon National American Woman's Christian Temperance Union; Bertha Van Hoosen M.D., National Woman's Medical Association, Committee on War Relief; Mrs. Mary S. Lockwood National Woman's Press Association; Mrs. Raymond Robins National Women's Trade Union League; Mrs. J. R. Lamar National Society of Colonial Dames of America; Mrs. Robert Hall Wiles National Society United States Daughters of 1812; Mrs. William Alexander National Special Aid Society; Mrs. Robert E. Speer National Young Women's Christian Association; Mrs. Truman H. Newberry Needlework Guild of America; Miss Maude Wetmore Woman's Department of National Civic Federation; Mrs. W. P. Thirkield Woman's Home Missionary Society of the M. E. Church; Miss Belle H. Bennet Woman's Missionary Council, M. E. Church, South; Mrs. Francis King Woman's National Farm and Garden Association; Mrs. George Dewey Woman's Section Navy League; Mrs. Israel Unterberg Young Woman's Hebrew Association; Woman's Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church; Frances E. Burns Ladies of the Maccabees; Mrs. lsaac Pearson League of American Penwomen; Mrs. Carrie C. Catt National American Woman Suffrage Association; Mrs. Arthur M. Dodge National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage; Mrs. Frederick Schoff National Congress of Mothers and Parent Teachers Association; Mrs. Philip N. Moore National Council of Women; Mrs. Myra K. Diller National Federation of College Women. All other organizations were cordially invited to cooperate and thus maintain a vital affiliation with the Woman's Committee.

Miss Ida M. Tarbell writing in the government bulletin of the status of woman's war work at this time, gives a faithful analysis of the seeming unrest and uncertainty that was apparent among women everywhere. Miss Tarbell said:

"Quietly, almost unconsciously, there is going on in this country, an extraordinary gathering of its woman power. Multitudes of organizations and of individual women are flowing together in a great union. This movement is a natural response to a need which was scarcely recognized until it was suggested What is behind it

Under an impelling sense of the awful suffering which the great war was causing in Europe there has been for the last three years a constant increase in the relief efforts of women. They have knitted and they have raised money. They have formed societies and occasionally they have gone to the other side to offer their services. Probably the most important thing they have done, however, has been to keep the suffering in Europe before the country's eyes They have refused to forget or let the world forget.

As the shadow of the great tragedy stretched its dark lengths toward us, women everywhere multiplied their efforts. Before war was declared we had great organizations of women, and many unorganized groups, offering themselves for active service. It was inevitable that these efforts, springing mainly from a desire to do something, and quite undirected by any authority, should be more or less wasteful. It was inevitable that many things should be undertaken for which at the moment there was no need and that other things which were needed should be over looked.

These groups, eager for service and also, it must be said, more or less eager to be leaders, soon ran athwart one another. Confusion grew and they finally began to appeal to Washington for advice and recognition. Out of this pressure there came, naturally and possibly without much realization of what was being done, a government order that a central committee of representative women should be called to Washington to sit through the war and to do what it could to pull the woman power together.

It is now two months since the women chosen, known officially as the Woman's Committee of the Council of NationaI Defense, first met. When they gathered there was more or less mystification about what was wanted of them.

They were told that they were to act as a clearing house for the war work of women. There was probably a doubt in the minds of most of the appointees as to whether the great groups of women which were already in action would be willing to recognize their authority; but orders are orders, and the Woman's Committee accepted theirs.

They sent out right and left all over the land a call to all sorts of associations and societies, no matter what their creed, no matter what their purpose, no matter what their color, to merge their war work under one direction. What was proposed was an organization so all-inclusive and so flexible that not only the most powerful organized bodies would find themselves at home in it, but the remotest woman on the Kentucky mountains or the plains of the West.

It sounds quixotic. The wonder of it is that no sooner had the call gone out than the forces of the women began to flow together. States which had been already organized for patriotic services promptly and cheerfully put themselves under the direction of the Woman's Committee. Great societies whose work was well developed and which had had the ambition themselves to be leaders in patriotic work quickly promised allegiance. That is, what most observers probably would have said was impossible, immediately began to happen.

We have been saying that we are not a nation, but this gathering together of the woman forces of the country seems to argue an amazing sense of nationality. Could it have happened if there had not already been a growing consciousness everywhere that this great enterprise for democracy which we are launching is a national affair, and if an individual or a society or a state is going to do its bit it must act with and under the government at Washington? Nothing else but some such sense can explain the action of the women of the country in coming together as they are doing today under one centralized direction.

While working steadily but quietly to perfect the organizations in the various states and to coordinate the efforts of the existing societies, the Woman's Committee was being used as the channel through which many national messages were conveyed to the women of America.

One of the first things undertaken by the committee after its first meeting was that of assisting to make registration day on June 5th a day of patriotic service on the part of the women as well as of the men of the nation. On May 29,1917, the Committee sent out to the chairmen of the various State Divisions letters urging all organizations of women to utilize that day for patriotic service by stationing women at each registration booth. These women were asked to distribute copies of President Wilson's great war message to every man that registered. "It is a well known fact," to quote from this letter, "that thousands of men are fighting in the armies of Europe who have no well defined idea of the causes which led their countries into the war. Let us see to it that no man enters our army who has not a true understanding of the ideals which have led his country to take up arms in defense of the things we hold dear as a nation." Women were urged to put all available machinery to work at once to secure the distribution of this message at every registration booth throughout the country. Through the generosity and cooperation of Mrs. Emmons Blaine of Chicago, the Woman's Committee was able to furnish copies of the President's address to the various State Divisions. In this work the Committee had the approval of the President and the Secretary of War.

At frequent intervals during the trying first months of war the Woman's Committee sent out helpful and inspirational letters and bulletins to the various state chairmen and to their sub-chairmen as well as to the heads of women's organizations everywhere. It turned the full power of its organization toward forwarding the National Food Administrator's first drive for food conservation. It began very soon after its creation a systematic plan for registering both the Volunteer and the wage-earning women of the country for national service. In cooperation with existing agencies already at work to solve the problem of women in industry it forwarded many helpful plans. At the request of the Secretary of the Treasury it put the machinery of its organization at the disposal of the Liberty Loan Committee. At the request of the Secretary of War it became active in enlisting the rest of women of the country in the effort to safeguard the morals of enlisted men in the camps. Bulletins were sent out giving valuable figures and information concerning the cost of deliveries, and at the request of the National Economy Board it aroused the women of the country to a sense of their duty along this line. As the fall approached the Committee interested itself and sought the cooperation of women throughout the country to keep the children in school. It also favored and sent out broadly among women a bulletin from Miss Julia Lathrop head of the National Children's Bureau, in the interest of the enforcement of the new Child Labor Law; with equal enthusiasm the Committee favored and worked in the interest of the bill pending in Congress providing insurance and indemnities for our soldiers and sailors. And it concerned itself vitally with the questions of health and recreation for men of the camps.

By October 1,1917, the Committee had so far perfected its organization that the work was divided into twelve divisions as follows: Food Conservation; Food Production and Home Economics; Education; Woman in Industry; Social and Welfare Work; Liberty Loan; Health and Recreation; Child Welfare; Organization; Registration; Maintenance of Existing Social Agencies; Home and Foreign Relief.

The work of these divisions, under their respective chairmen, will be described in subsequent chapters. An account will also be given of how the plan formulated and promulgated by the Woman's Committee has been worked out and developed in the various states.

Chapter III. Organization.

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