Pacifist, political activist, college professor, and social reformer, Emily Greene Balch (1867-1961) dedicated her life to humanitarian causes. In 1946 she shared the Nobel Peace Prize with John R. Mott.
Emily Greene Balch was born in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, on January 8, 1867. Her father and mother, Ellen Noyes and Francis V. Balch, were educated Unitarians who raised their six children to cherish high moral and religious standards.
When selecting a college after attending Miss Catherine Ireland's School in Boston, Balch chose Bryn Mawr. Entering in 1886, she studied economics and graduated with an A.B. degree in 1889. The initial recipient of the European Fellowship at Bryn Mawr, she went first to New York City to work under social reformer Jacob Riis, then used her award to attend the Sorbonne. From 1890 to 1891 she applied herself to "the social question," and upon her return to the United States she worked in Boston with Charles W. Birtwell at the Children's Aid Society.
Now in her element, Balch became acquainted in 1892 with three other reform-minded women: Jane Addams, Katherine Coman, and Vida Scudder. That same year she helped found the Boston settlement Denison House, acting as its director for a brief time.
Following her social work experience, Balch turned to college teaching as a way to further advance the cause of reform. She prepared for this by studying at the University of Chicago, at Harvard University, and at the University of Berlin. In 1896 Balch joined Coman at Wellesley College as an assistant, teaching economics courses. She illustrated her lectures with her social work experiences and was highly regarded as an imaginative and dedicated teacher.
In 1902 Balch became president of the Women's Trade Union League of Boston, which she co-founded, and sat on a state commission organized to investigate minimum wages for women. In 1906 she announced her affinity for socialism and worked closely with others to advance its principles. These radical activities cost her the chance to move up quickly in the academic hierarchy at Wellesley.
Balch's research led to the publication of Our Slavic Fellow Citizens in 1910. She was appointed chairwoman of the economics and sociology department at Wellesley College in 1913. Two years later, in April 1915, she travelled to The Hague, where she was an American delegate to the International Congress of Women. The 42-member delegation included such notables as Addams, Alice Hamilton, and Louis Lochner.
Balch was on leave from Wellesley between 1916 and 1918. During that period she became active in pacifism and was connected with such groups as the American Union Against Militarism and the Women's Peace Party. Because of her outspoken views and radical behavior, renewal of Balch's contract at Wellesley was denied in 1919. That same year she accompanied another delegation to the International Congress of Women. While there, she was elected secretary-treasurer of the newly-formed Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), which had Addams as its president.
Balch relied heavily on her spiritual convictions during these years and in 1921 joined the London Society of Friends. She dedicated herself to the success of the League of Nations, helping to ensure that the interests of smaller nations and of women and children were upheld.
By 1922, due to poor health, Balch resigned as secretary-treasurer of the WILPF, although she continued to work for the group on a voluntary basis. She travelled to Haiti with a commission established by Herbert Hoover in 1930 to investigate conditions in that occupied nation. Hoover subsequently removed U.S. troops from Haiti on the basis of the commission's report.
In 1935 Wellesley College invited Balch to speak at an Armistice Day program, ending its public disapproval of the former faculty member.
Balch worked tirelessly on behalf of world peace and in 1939 published Refugees as Assets, urging the United States to admit refugees from Nazis out of respect for humanitarian principles. After Pearl Harbor in 1941, Balch advocated support for Japanese-Americans held in U.S. detention camps.
Balch won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1946, an award she shared with John R. Mott, international Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) official. Among those supporting Balch's nomination for the prize was Wellesley president Mildred McAfee Horton. Balch donated her $17,000 share of the prize money to the WILPF.
In poor health and living on a limited income during her later years, Balch nevertheless continued her activism. She was honorary chairwoman of the Women's International League, and in 1959 served on a commission that organized a 100th anniversary celebration in honor of Jane Addam's birth held the following year.
Balch entered Mr. Vernon Nursing Home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1956 and died there of pneumonia at age 94 on January 10, 1961.
Further Reading on Emily Greene Balch
Both John Herman Randall, Jr.'s Emily Greene Balch of New England, Citizen of the World (1946) and Improper Bostonian: Emily Greene Balch (1964) by Mercedes M. Randall, are biographies of note. Further insight into Balch's activism can be found in Beyond Nationalism: The Social Thought of Emily Greene Balch (1972) by Mercedes M. Randall.