A lot of the research we’ve done in the project has found fairly accidental uses of material culture in American religious life. Its users are often unaware of its symbolism. In this paper, however, Patricia Appelbaum (who has recently completed her doctorate in American religion from Boston University). reveals the profoundly thoughtful symbolic activity of mid-twentieth century American pacifists. For these people, material practices carry a profoundly important political, religious, and ethical meaning.
When I was at work on my dissertation on the religious culture of Protestant pacifism, I sometimes explained my project to casual acquaintances by means of a shorthand question, “Why do pacifists wear Birkenstock sandals?” Of course not every pacifist does so, nor is everyone who wears Birkenstocks a pacifist. But the question evoked an immediately recognizable image, one that suggests that pacifists do have a distinctive and visible material culture.
Although its mythic antecedents go back centuries, the immediate origins of that culture lie in the peace movements of the twentieth century. The end of the First World War precipitated the first broad popular groundswell against war in United States history. This movement encompassed both “religious” and “secular” organizations. In its religious manifestations, it owed less to radical pacifist sectarians such as Quakers and Mennonites than to modernist “mainline” Protestants, who constituted much of its leadership, shaped much of its rhetoric, and contributed a substantial proportion of the rank and file. Mainline Protestants shaped and participated in nominally secular organizations as well as in explicitly religious ones.
Pacifism redefined itself gradually during the turbulent 1930s, when events challenged and fragmented the confident postwar peace movement. By the beginning of World War II pacifism had become a separatist position rather than one embedded in the mainstream; absolute-pacifist organizations grew while more broad-based peace groups collapsed. The character of pacifism also changed. Drawing on elements that were already present in the post-World War I movement, this new pacifism laid the groundwork for Vietnam-era and later peace movements. This essay will cover Protestant pacifism from World War I until about 1960, just before the large-scale peace movement of the Vietnam period.
Religious pacifists have never been known for attention to material things. Yet, as in other religious communities, material signs and practices were everywhere in Protestant pacifism. The activist and lecturer Muriel Lester, a Baptist and later an independent Protestant, practiced and signified voluntary poverty by wearing a cape instead of a coat. The pacifist writer Sarah Cleghorn, Episcopalian and later Quaker, wore a homemade paper badge during World War I on which she wrote a text from the Sermon on the Mount, “Love Your Enemies.” The ecumenical, Protestant-based pacifist organization Fellowship of Reconciliation issued Christmas cards. The visual realm of Protestant peace posters, statuary, and commemorative pieces was extensive. Pacifists also experimented with film. All these material manifestations signified, communicated, and negotiated meanings of pacifism.
The present essay is concerned with three material manifestations of religious pacifism between World War I and the Vietnam period: Protestant peace iconography, international-friendship items, and a phenomenon I call whole-life pacifism. It will also look briefly at some connections between pacifism and the business world. Protestant peace iconography flourished particularly during the interwar peace movement. The international-friendship approach to peace focused on building mutual appreciation and warm relationships among the peoples of the world. It relied in part on material things to make other peoples real to an American audience. Whole-life pacifism was the attempt to make the whole of one’s life consistent with one’s pacifist beliefs. Those who embraced it scrutinized their occupations, clothing, food, housing, and possessions for evidence of complicity with the material order that led to war and social injustice.
The material history of religious pacifism illustrates the complicated relationship between mainstream Protestantism and pacifism. We have already noted the permeable boundaries between “religious” and “secular” pacifism in the interwar period. At the end of that period, around 1940, the strongly mainstream-Protestant pacifism of the interwar years diverged into three manifestations: pacifist organizations constituting a minority voice within mainstream Protestant institutions, individual Protestant pacifists exercising a private religious option within a more broadly construed religion of pacifism, and various ideas and practices that arose from Protestant pacifism but were no longer associated with explicit professions of Protestantism. Iconography and international-friendship practices crossed boundaries between religious and secular institutions, but operated within a distinctly Christian and, for the most part, mainline Protestant conceptual framework. The material aspects of whole-life material pacifism, on the other hand, were integral to the religion of pacifism that emerged in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Instead of insisting that pacifism was a requirement and result of true Christianity, these religious pacifists emphasized a more broadly defined spiritual life and a general ethic of love. This broad theology, however, was in large measure Protestant-derived, and many Protestants participated in groups that adopted it.
The Bible visualized. Pacifists often cited biblical texts in support of their position; their favorites were the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” (Ex 20:13, KJV), the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7), and the prophecy “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks” (Is 2:4 and Mic 4:3, KJV). These texts, especially the latter two, were translated into a variety of visual images. Many of these images appeared in “secular” settings, a fact that indicates the wide reach and recognizability of biblical allusions in the interwar period.
I will focus here on the image of swords and plowshares, which lent itself particularly well to material uses. It was probably the most common image in posters, which made use of several associations audiences might have had with plows. Plows could evoke peace, by contrast with the instruments of war; productivity, because of their use in food production; and rural life, farm work, and land.
For example, a 1919 broadsheet, reprinted from the New York Tribune of Easter Sunday, 1919, urged people to join the League of Free Nations Association “for the building of the New Kingdom” (fig. 1). The center of the broadsheet was filled with text. In the right border was a standing Christ figure from whom rays of light emanated across the printed text. Across the top of the sheet were war scenes; down the left border spilled guns and swords as far as the point where the rays of light crossed the page. Below that point were scythes, spading forks, and sickles, and across the bottom of the page a man plowed a field with oxen.
An Armistice Day poster from 1920, headed “Let us have peace,” incorporated an array of symbols (fig. 2). Two men, one holding a book and one a hoe, stood one on each side of a enthroned mother and child. The border behind them rose in a circular shape suggestive of a halo. A dove hovered overhead. In the background was a city skyline, in the left foreground a pile of the implements of peacetime progress, such as books and a telescope. The right foreground was dominated by a plow.
An undated Methodist Peace Fellowship poster interpreted the text somewhat more freely, but by quoting it at the top, the poster made sure the audience could not miss the point. The image, in an industrial-art style, showed a male worker at a set of factory controls. Implements of war flew into a hopper above him, and by some unclear means, his machinery transformed them into wheelbarrows, teakettles, furniture, etc. Below were scenes of peacetime productivity: factories, farms, laboratories, houses.
The image of swords and plowshares appeared in the stained-glass windows of progressive churches built in the 1920s. The 1928 “peace window” of a Methodist church depicted “a sower, a reaper, a child standing beside a cannon, and a blacksmith beating swords into ploughshares.” A window in Trinity Methodist Church, Springfield, Massachusetts, was one of a series representing “The Final Triumph of the Kingdom” (fig. 3). It showed a blacksmith hammering a sword on an anvil, with a finished plowshare beside it. The text said simply, “Peace.”
The uses of this image went far beyond the two-dimensional, into drama, parade floats, statuary, and more. A three-dimensional object attempted to make associations with swords and plowshares even more timely than the Methodist poster. Here, the “sword” was a World War I artillery shell, and the “plowshare” was a table lamp (fig. 4). The shell was the base of the lamp. Around it ran a metal band inscribed with the Isaiah text. A fringed lace shade looked somewhat incongruous, but perhaps made a point about embedding peace in everyday domestic life.
Another three-dimensional rendition was entirely literal: a plow made out of discarded swords. It predated the period covered in this work—it was made for the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876, out of Civil War weapons—but was resurrected in a different context in the 1930s. Zonia Baber, a professor of geography and a member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), made a project of collecting and publicizing “peace symbols,” principally public monuments of various kinds. She assembled pictures and explanations of these objects into books, traveling exhibits, and presentations, which circulated in both religious and secular settings: “schools, churches, conferences, or missionary societies.” A photograph of the peace plow figured prominently in her productions.
The “swords into plowshares” text continued to generate images after the Second World War. When the Community Church of New York, whose founding minister was the well-known Unitarian pacifist John Haynes Holmes, constructed a new building in the late 1950s, it included a statue of the prophet Isaiah “snapping a sword to bits and holding up the broken pieces as he stands beside a ploughshare in the fields.” This piece accompanied existing statues of other pacifist icons: St. Francis of Assisi and Mahatma Gandhi.
Protestants, then, did not resist making biblical texts into visual images and using the images for self-representation, persuasion, and religious formation. Since the images were not confined to institutional Protestant settings, it is clear that their users expected them to be recognizable to “secular” audiences. Verbal imagery from the Bible became visual imagery in a largely Protestant world despite Protestant resistance to images.
Extrabiblical narratives. Pacifism also developed a set of narratives of its own. I have treated these elsewhere as “exempla,” stories and anecdotes that were used to teach a lesson, make a point, or model a way of acting. A number of them generated visual images or had close associations with such images.
For example, both the story and the picture of the “Christ of the Andes” circulated freely among educational, missionary, and peace enterprises. The story concerned the resolution of a boundary dispute between Chile and Argentina in 1902. Instead of going to war, the two nations turned to Edward VII of the United Kingdom to mediate the dispute. Peace narratives emphasized the role of Christian leadership and popular pressure in averting armed conflict and in the subsequent decision to build a peace monument.
This monument was a statue of Christ standing on a globe with his feet on a map of South America, his right hand gesturing upward, his left holding a tall, narrow cross, like a processional cross. A plaque, added in 1937, showed the words of a pledge made at the dedication of the statue: an English rendition is “These mountains will crumble into dust before the people of Argentina and Chile break the peace which at the feet of Christ, the Redeemer, they have given their word to keep.” The bronze for the statue came from unused weapons—swords turned into plowshares, so to speak. Pictures of the statue appeared in exhibits, in “picture talks,” on postcards, and in children’s books (fig. 5).
Other narratives presented “heroes of peace.” Initially, during the 1920s, peace heroes were most often individualists who practiced moral equivalents of war such as exploration, “conquest” of diseases, and scientific discovery. The archetypal “peace hero” of the late 1920s was Charles Lindbergh, a popular public figure whom the burgeoning peace movement adapted for its own purposes. After his transatlantic flight in 1927, Lindbergh made international “goodwill flights,” carrying messages of friendship among nations and symbolically enacting international connection and communication. These themes of goodwill and international friendship were compatible with 1920s pacifism. The ideals of technological progress and of the pioneering individual—the “Lone Eagle,” as Lindbergh was nicknamed—were also appealing.
Trinity Methodist Church of Springfield, Massachusetts, built in 1929, used the visual language of iconography to make Lindbergh a modern saint (fig. 6). The window depicted Lindbergh standing, dressed in aviation clothing. The words “Good Will” appeared on a banner behind his head. Circular insets in the two upper corners of the window showed, respectively, a map of the world marked with latitude and longitude lines and a flying airplane, which cast a shadow on the ground in the form of a cross. Allusions to the “Lone Eagle” appeared in the stylized image of an eagle at the top center and in a biblical text, “They shall mount up with wings as eagles” (Is 40:31, KJV). A rectangular inset beneath Lindbergh’s feet depicted the signing of the Kellogg-Briand Pact in 1928. Like the image of a saint, this image placed the heroic figure in a network of associations: the Bible, the cross, the saint as bearer of the cross, the multiple meanings of the eagle, the pacifist virtue of good will, and anecdotes of Lindbergh’s life and accomplishments.
In these images Protestants moved beyond the Bible into a language of symbolism asociated with peace. References ranging from the “swords into plowshares” text to the Kellogg-Briand pact were recognizable enough to form a pacifist iconography.
The practices of “international friendship” linked material culture with a broadly defined ideal of international peace. Like peace iconography, international-friendship practices crossed boundaries, not only between “religious” and “secular” settings but between absolute pacifists and peace workers of less certain commitment. Advocates of international friendship thought that a friendly appreciation of other societies would be conducive to peace. The way to cultivate this appreciation, they maintained, was to study and practice the customs of other nations—to try on their national costumes, sample their food, learn their folk songs and dances, tell their favorite stories, and so on. For children, these activities were often part of educational programs in churches and schools. For youth groups and adults, international-friendship practices—particularly folk songs and dances—occurred at social events and in informal rituals as well as in educational settings. “International friendship” was a seedbed of the later connection between folklife and pacifism.
In education, the practices of international friendship drew on earlier habits in missionary education. Missionaries visiting Sunday schools had long shared the dress, food, and other customs of the countries where they served. In the 1920s some Protestants, especially women, began to draw connections between missions and peace: for example, mission committees wrote peace curricula and supplied costumes for “international friendship” lessons.
One favorite enactment of international-friendship, exchanging dolls in international dress, had been a staple of missionary communications. In 1927 the Committee for World Friendship among Children, a Protestant peace effort whose advisory board included several prominent pacifists, organized a shipment of dolls bearing “messages of peace” to Japan. This event lived a long time in pacifist memory, and one peace-education text recounted the story of the “doll messengers” alongside such pacifist icons as the Christ of the Andes narrative and the work of the missionary and mystic Frank Laubach. A similar use of dolls occurred at Fellowship House, a pacifist-influenced interracial project in Philadelphia: the project maintained a lending library of interracial and international dolls for instructional purposes. Other educators recommended dolls in international dress as suitable toys for teaching peace.
Gardens were another favorite representation of international friendship. Zonia Baber, the collector of “peace symbols,” described some twenty “peace gardens” along the US-Canadian border. These were built after World War I in commemoration of the Rush-Bagot agreement a hundred years earlier. During the 1950s the Peace Garden project in Lemont, Illinois, sought metaphorically to cultivate peace by growing seeds from around the world. Its tireless volunteer director, Mary Phillips, was a Methodist and a member of WILPF. She acquired seeds initially from Methodist missionaries and later from individual citizens, with the aim of building concrete connections between nations. The Peace Gardens generated a particularly noteworthy doll: a representation of Jane Addams, founder and icon of WILPF, made from gourds. Together with half a dozen smaller dolls representing children of various races, it was exhibited at the Gourd Society of America in a display entitled “Gourds for World Friendship.” The display’s peace message was intellectual as well: two books were exhibited with the dolls. These were an early pacifist work, Addams’s Peace and Bread in Time of War (1922), and a late one, Philip Noel-Baker’s The Arms Race: A Programme for World Disarmament (1958). Gardens and dolls, then, were not merely exercises in sentimentality.
The interwar peace movement was extensive enough to make some connections with the business world. The advertising man Bruce Barton, author of the Protestant bestseller The Man Nobody Knows, was particularly attuned to the possibilities of material pacifism. In his 1932 article “Let’s Advertise This Hell!”, Barton argued that peace advocates should not rely only on reasoned persuasion to promote peace, but should use more colorful advertising techniques in their posters and slogans. This proposal had far-reaching effects: the publicity organization World Peaceways, founded in response to Barton’s article, was one of the most influential of interwar peace organizations.
I cannot resist noting another use of pacifism in business, though it is only peripherally related to religious pacifism. Warren Bowman, a Philadelphia businessman, made surprising profits during the late 1930s from a product called “Horrors of War Bubble Gum” (fig. 7). Each piece of gum, which sold for one cent, came with picture card depicting the “horrors of war”— mostly atrocities committed by the Japanese. There was some suspicion that older children bought the gum precisely for the gruesome pictures. The manufacturer insisted, however, that he was trying to teach peace by “exposing the horrors of war,” and he claimed to have received commendations from World Peaceways. If nothing else, Bowman’s rationale for producing Horrors of War Bubble Gum confirms that the ideal of peace carried substantial weight with the public.
Material pacifism, then, moved beyond iconography into objects that could be touched and handled, made and worn. The genres of iconography and international friendship survive down to the present, though their content in some cases has changed. Dorothy Day, not Charles Lindbergh, is now the preeminent iconic figure of pacifism. International-friendship practices were not so different from the lessons in “multiculturalism” we now have. An outdoor sculpture in Hartford, Connecticut, erected in 1993, uses a representation of swords and plowshares to call gang members to lives of peace.
But a different form of material pacifism took precedence beginning in the late 1930s. Pacifists began to develop personal, everyday forms of material expression and to reflect intentionally on their ownership and use of material things. The habit of careful examination of conscience, already well established among pacifists, began at that time to extend into the realm of the pacifist’s possessions and standard of living.
Serious modernist Protestants typically argued that true Christianity was not a set of doctrines but a “way of life,” and after World War I many of them were persuaded that absolute pacifism was part of that life. But it was not until the late 1930s that pacifists developed a “way of life” that explicitly incorporated bodily and material practices. The most important of these practices were handwork, physical labor, folk arts, and cooperative living, and their economic standard was simplicity or frugality. Not all pacifists adopted this “way of life” in all its aspects, but most took it for an ideal.
This phenomenon was not completely new, of course; consider Muriel Lester’s cloak. Pacifists believed that their historical models—Jesus and the disciples, the early church, separatist Anabaptists, Franciscans—had practiced community of goods and simple modes of living. The eighteenth-century Quaker John Woolman had admonished his readers to “try whether the seeds of war have any nourishment in these our possessions.” Pacifist heroes Tolstoi and Gandhi had both, at various times, admired peasant life and advocated rural self-sufficiency.
Whole-life pacifism also had nearer antecedents. During the 1920s and 1930s the pacifist press followed experiments in cooperative economics, government and church-based rural aid, and homesteading. Protestant activists including Reinhold Niebuhr and pacifist Sherwood Eddy organized Delta Cooperative Farm in 1936, and its neighbor Providence Farm in 1939, to assist and teach struggling farmers in southern Mississippi. The American Friends Service Committee promoted homesteading for displaced West Virginia coal miners in the early 1930s. Educational trends were also a factor. Some pacifists experimented with folk schools, after the Danish model, which fostered traditional crafts for both practical and ideological reasons: crafts honored survival skills and rural self-sufficiency, and they signified resistance to the dehumanizing tendencies of industrialism, both by preserving self-reliance and by allowing individual variations in products. Similarly, the progressive-education movement that followed John Dewey’s philosophy valued individuality over uniformity. This appreciation of individuality dovetailed with the modernist Protestant emphasis on the value of “personality,” meaning individual uniqueness. A third factor in the emergence of whole-life pacifism was the American tradition of high regard for the natural world, a view that pacifists shared.
In contrast to the Protestant-dominated religious culture of interwar pacifism, whole-life pacifism took a step away from mainline Protestantism. Although many of the pacifists who participated in this movement were Protestants or had come from Protestant backgrounds, they often subordinated their individual confessional commitments to a broad theology that was meant to accommodate many religious affiliations, or indeed none at all. Yet this broad theology was in large measure derived from modernist Protestant piety. It emphasized the essential goodness of humanity, the loving nature of God, the possibility of unmediated divine-human communication, the supreme value of love, and, of course, the practice of religion as a “way of life” rather than a belief system. Its ethical and practical center was pacifism rather than Christ or the triune God.
Richard Gregg and material culture. A catalyst of the whole-life pacifist movement was the work of Richard B. Gregg. Gregg, a convert to Quakerism from a Congregational minister’s family, went to India in 1925 to study Gandhi and began in 1929 to interpret Gandhi’s work to Americans. His most significant book, The Power of Non-Violence (1934), described Gandhi’s spiritually-based nonviolent political action in terms accessible to modernist Protestants. Its importance lay in the fact that it offered American pacifists a way out of the apparent dichotomy between absolute pacifism and political effectiveness—and it was only after pacifists absorbed this message that “active nonviolence,” rather than opposition to war or refusal to bear arms, became the litmus test of true pacifism.
Gregg followed The Power of Non-Violence with several practical guides to the nonviolent way of life, two of which are of particular interest here. The first one, The Value of Voluntary Simplicity, was published by Pendle Hill, a Quaker intentional community devoted to education. Gregg defined simplicity as a harmonious combination of inner singleness of purpose with removal of “exterior clutter,” or material possessions beyond the necessities. Advances in technology, he said, had promised to make life simpler but had not in fact done so. Faster communication and transportation meant only that people had to communicate more often and travel farther. The abundance of goods meant that they had to work harder to acquire and maintain these material things. Moreover, the production of unnecessary luxuries tended to exploit workers, who were treated as dispensable with every change of fashion, and who were deprived of the moral satisfaction of producing useful goods.
Citing Arnold Toynbee, Gregg argued that the highest goal of civilization was not technological progress but relationship. Simplicity—which for most people meant reducing consumption—would move society toward this goal, he thought. Free of the preoccupation with material goods, people who lived simply would be available to others, open to their needs, and free to love them. Simplicity thus accorded with the principal values of many religions. In Christian terms, for instance, the simple stored up treasure in heaven; in Buddhist terms, they practiced detachment. Gregg also noted that beauty was available without luxury, citing as an example the typical Japanese house, in which beauty resided in proportion and arrangement.
Most significantly, Gregg wrote that simplicity was integral to nonviolence. Inequality of wealth, he argued, necessarily led to violence in the form of police protection for the rich and envy on the part of the poor. The practitioner of nonviolence who lived simply would have more credibility. Simplicity also meant that he or she would be ready for anything: jail, if necessary, or hospitality to the needy, or geographical mobility, or rapid social change.
The second booklet, Training for Peace, outlined in some forty pages the shape of pacifist culture for the next two generations. “Like war,” Gregg wrote, nonviolence “requires training and discipline.” Under the dual threats of fascism and war, Gregg and his readers expected to lie low and practice resistance in small, intimate groups, which they later called “cells.” The groups would build moral and physical discipline and would model and preserve a better way of life. Gregg laid out a pattern for building group solidarity which is still familiar in pacifist circles: study, discussion, meditation, singing, folk dancing, handcrafts, and physical labor.
Training recommended “manual work” of all kinds. Gregg devoted twelve of his forty pages to physical activities based in folk and traditional practice. While such activities should, he thought, ideally serve the wider human community in some way, any kind of domestic or local activity—sweeping, cooking, making beds, carrying coal—was desirable. “Men,” added Gregg severely, “should get over the foolish idea that it is not fitting or is beneath their dignity to do any of such things.” Manual work, he wrote, would not only diffuse tension and restrain “mystical or sentimental” tendencies, it would help pacifists develop a common “imagery” with the unemployed and undereducated.
The paradigm of manual work in Training was knitting, presumably the functional equivalent for the United States of Gandhi’s spinning. Knitting, said Gregg, was practical, accessible, and morally pure. It produced one of the necessities of life, clothing, from materials that were at least theoretically available outside the industrial economy. Within the pacifist movement, it would be a way for everyone to contribute—the elderly and disabled, women caring for small children, children themselves. It would offer the gratification of reaching short-term goals in a context where the long-term goals were out of reach. And it was portable and could be done concurrently with mental activities such as discussion. “In the context of this movement,” said Gregg, “spinning or knitting would be work for a better order of society.”
Gregg also argued that manual work would have wider social benefits, particularly for the unemployed. It would provide tangible goods and increase self-reliance and self-esteem, thus helping the unemployed help themselves. “The spindle, knitting needle, loom, pick, shovel, hoe and other hand tools are the creative pacifist’s substitute for the soldier’s weapons,” wrote Gregg. In other words, these tools were the equivalent of plowshares instead of swords.
Material pacifism here moved a step away from imagery and instruction to production of goods and rejection of industrial systems. It also shifted its gaze from international to interclass solidarity; it encouraged pacifists to identify with the experience of other social classes as well as with citizens of other nations.
Cooperatives. “Can it be said, ‘Rural life is the pacifist pattern?’” asked the Rural Life Committee of the FOR in 1942. “Should a rural culture be the foundation of pacifism?” The idea of the cooperative farm as the ideal mode of pacifist living caught fire quite suddenly around 1940, and pacifist cooperatives, especially farms, proliferated over the next two years. A second wave of cooperative farming began after the war and continued into the late 1950s. Yet there is no necessary, self-evident, or biblical connection between milking goats, grinding one’s own wheat, and world peace. Why did pacifists make this connection?
First, cooperative living was the logical end point of Protestant pacifist thought and action. It is not surprising that peacemaking as a “way of life” would ultimately be thought to encompass livelihood, housing, food, family life, and community. And Richard Gregg’s work elevated the status of small communities, manual work, and folk arts to pacifist essentials. It is only a short step from practicing simplicity and manual labor in intimate groups to settling on a communal farm.
Cooperative farming was also a concrete, material way to avoid participating in a system—economic, political, and social—that produced war. Despite pacifists’ hopes, no large-scale system of cooperative economics emerged during the 1930s, and after Stalin, communism no longer appeared to be a reasonable alternative. The small cooperative or commune and the individual homestead were virtually the only alternatives left. Homesteading, wrote one pacifist, “goes far to remove one from the errors of materialistic, exploitive culture.” And it “makes it almost possible to secede from the government, too.” Ralph Templin of the School of Living in Suffern, New York, justified linking pacifism with farming in this way: “‘Total pacifism’ takes the soil as ‘radical’ (‘getting at the roots’),” he wrote. Farming was a way of “opposing centralized, intrenched privilege with its violence.”
Cooperative farming involved the whole person, necessarily and inescapably. It was material by its very nature. To be sure, most coops tried to attend to intellectual and spiritual life. And some succeeded, at least some of the time. A member of Ahimsa Farm, one of the first coops, wrote in 1940:
A day’s WORK AT THE FARM started at seven . . . At eight, we each went to whatever work was to be done that day. As for my personal work, I was from time to time, bookkeeper, electrician, baker, cook, ditch-digger, farmer—including plow-jocky [sic], house-keeper, & plumber, besides the more specialized but less obvious—educator. . . . After lunch, we spent time in reading, writing, discussing, and planning. This period was followed by preparing for dinner, feeding the chickens, and finishing up odd jobs. The evenings were free for reading, discussing, visiting, and going to meetings . . . 
Similarly, in 1952 a longtime pacifist and communard described a balanced life. He rose early, he wrote, to milk the cows. Afterward, “Mary [had] breakfast ready . . . eggs that were laid yesterday, toast from whole wheat bread that Mary baked, coffee, some honey from Koinonia [another cooperative farm].” He had managed to find time for playing the recorder with his wife and for reading and writing in “the cool quiet of our open, stone-walled home.” The community held biweekly suppers “with singing and folk dancing.”
But such balance between the material and the spiritual was more the exception than the rule. Few of the coops ever realized the economic self-sufficiency for which they hoped. Many relied on benefactors for land or cash. Lack of skill often hampered their progress: the pacifists who joined them were seldom experienced farmers. Most came from the educated middle to upper class, not from farm families; they were more likely to be Congregationalists than Mennonites. Even those who learned the skills and persisted in the life found the work never-ending:
But, you say, it’s the simple life for me. . . . Does it sound simple to you to be able to wake up in the morning and think that, besides getting in 4 or 8 or 10 hours at whatever your remunerative work is, you really should, before you go to bed again, fix that flat tire, fertilize the orchard, clean the chicken house, mow the weeds in the would-be “patio,” burn rubbish, dig a new hole for cans, detick the dog, get at those kitchen cupboards you scheduled to build month before last, stop putting off building a swing for Johnny, and more and more and more?
Whole-life pacifism, as it developed in the form of rural cooperative living, was inescapably material; was indeed embedded in material things. These things were not consumer goods, however, but were signs of opposition to consumerism and capitalism. They symbolized and embodied self-reliance, traditional crafts, and interclass solidarity. Unlike pacifist iconography and international-friendship items, the material aspects of whole-life pacifism did not represent peace explicitly. Instead, they signified it indirectly by enacting withdrawal from and resistance to the systems that produced war.
Pacifist poverty. The ideals of simplicity and anticapitalism persisted in pacifist life until the beginning of the Vietnam era, and most probably beyond it. In an article in The Nation in 1960, the journalist and radical pacifist Barbara Deming described the first time she participated in active nonviolence, at Polaris Action in Groton, Connecticut.
...[M]y first impression was vivid but disheartening. An abandoned three-story tenement had been rented for the occasion . . . The place had been furnished hastily with rented folding chairs, three long tables, stove, icebox and enough army cots for some (the rest slept on the floor). Water dropped from the ceiling . . . The first evening, as the group sat about in discussion, a sudden crackling report brought us all to our feet. I thought for a moment that a bomb had been thrown in among us; but it turned out that a beam in the cellar had just given way. Not long after, the building was condemned.
Deming went on to describe the participants. First there were young men in “dirty bluejeans and khakis.” Later came women and families, of whom “none looked prosperous.” Deming soon realized that most of them were practicing “voluntary poverty.” She also showed the reader the incongruous source of much of this activity: “an older man, gray-haired, mild and grave, dressed in a neat brown business suit . . . This was Richard Gregg.”
Deming made two points about these material conditions. The first was explicit: the protesters, she said, connected voluntary poverty with protest because poverty gave them freedom to take risks, including the risk of imprisonment. Her second point was more subtle; she suggested that material conditions were a social signal of membership in one group and rejection of another. Deming recounted an exchange between a reporter and a protester on the way to a ritual trespass at the submarine base. The reporter asked repeatedly about the possible effect of the marchers’ “sloppy clothes” on public opinion. The protester thought the reporter seemed inordinately worried about “middle-class conventions.” “Why be nervous about it [one’s appearance]?” she asked.
This mutual incomprehension suggests that clothing was by this time a mark of pacifist identity. To be sure, it was anti-consumerist, anti-capitalist clothing: plain, worn, and lacking the appearance of prosperity. It was clothing that conveyed a paradoxical lack of concern with clothing. Nevertheless, it constituted both a personal statement and a signal to people of like mind: individuals did adopt this mode of dress and sympathizers recognized its symbolic meaning, while outsiders were left in the dark. Condemned housing and make-do furnishings were probably becoming similar marks of identity.
Religious pacifism between World War I and the Vietnam era had a distinctive vocabulary of visual and material images. When this vocabulary was developing, Christian pacifism was closely allied with modernist mainline Protestantism. Pacifists did not so much generate the visual and material vocabulary as select and assimilate imagery from Protestant Christianity and from wider American culture. They also used media available in the wider culture. Pacifist culture incorporated narratives of heroes and saints, iconography, metaphors for peace, and representations of other nations and peoples.
In the decade of the thirties—with the depression, the rise of fascism, military aggression in Europe and Asia—pacifists’ optimism was increasingly difficult to sustain. Progressive movements such as labor and socialism refused to renounce violence; cooperative economics never took hold. Gandhi’s ideas and practices, as mediated by Richard Gregg and others, provided the catalyst for a new set of pacifist practices allied with a generalized theology and building on numerous antecedents—social action, alternative economics, folk education—in earlier Protestant pacifism. Material life was integral to these practices. Pacifism developed a material culture that embodied anticapitalism, privileged traditional and rural cultures, fostered mutual support, and represented interclass and international solidarity.
And what about Birkenstock sandals? Here my conclusions are somewhat speculative, but perhaps they will stimulate further thought. To begin with, sandals of any kind evoke a range of associations: with the hippies of the Vietnam era, with St. Francis, with Jesus, with wandering and traveling, with simplicity. Birkenstocks seem to have primarily to do with “natural” health, the urge to maintain and strengthen the body as given, rather than altering it. To wear them signifies closeness to nature, rejection of artificiality, and rejection of the standards of fashion, with their overtones of corporate power and mass appeal. In all these meanings Birkenstocks overlap with pacifist values—including those associated with sandals in general.
Fig. 1. L F N A: Do You Want Peace?, 
Broadsheet, League of Free Nations Association
Poster Collection, Swarthmore College Peace Collection (SCPC)
Fig. 2. Let Us Have Peace/Armistice Day
Poster, source unknown
SCPC Poster Collection
Fig. 3. Swords into plowshares peace window
Photograph by the author
Trinity Methodist Church, Springfield, Mass.
Fig. 4. Lamp made from World War I artillery shell, with inscription: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks,” 192?
Photographs by the author
Fig. 5. The Christ of the Andes
From an illustration in Florence Brewer Boeckel, Through the Gateway (1926)
Fig. 6. Charles Lindbergh peace window
Photographs by the author
Trinity Methodist Church, Springfield, Mass.
Fig. 7. Horrors of War Bubble Gum wrapper, 1938 (photocopy)
Art in War and Peace, SCPC
It is difficult to give precise figures here. For more detailed discussions, see Patricia F. Appelbaum, “The Legions of Good Will: The Religious Culture of Protestant Pacifism, 1918-1963" (Ph.D. diss., Boston University, 2001), 80-87; Charles Chatfield, For Peace and Justice: Pacifism in America, 1914-1941 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1971), 124-135; Lawrence S. Wittner, Rebels Against War: The American Peace Movement, 1933-1983, rev. ed. (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1984), 5-6.
Catholics and Jews were a small minority in the 1920s peace movement. The Catholic Worker movement of the 1930s and beyond poses a slightly different problem, since its values and practices paralleled Protestant pacifism and social activism in many respects. Neither group acknowledged common or mutual influences, although they began to work together after World War II. The possible connections and parallels between Catholic and Protestant activists call for further study.
Muriel Lester, It Occurred to Me (New York: Harper, 1937), 91. Lester was British, not American, but she was a leader of American pacifists and spent substantial amounts of time in the United States.
Sarah N. Cleghorn, Threescore: The Autobiography of Sarah N. Cleghorn (New York: Harrison Smith & Robert Haas, 1936), 188. Cf. Colleen McDannell, Material Christianity: Religion and Popular Culture in America (New Haven: Yale, 1995).
But see also, for example, Sermon on the Mount, poster, [192?], World Peace Posters, Swarthmore College Peace Collection (SCPC) Poster Collection; Sermon on the Mount, poster, 1931, National Council for the Prevention of War, SCPC Poster Collection, Box P2a; Sermon on the Mount, poster, n.d., World Peace Posters, SCPC Poster Collection, Box P2; Florence Brewer Boeckel, Disarmament Poster Program (Washington: National Council for the Prevention of War, 1931), 5-11, Subject File Art in War and Peace, SCPC; Sermon on the Mount, poster, Peace House, [193?], SCPC Poster Collection, Box P2; “The Sermon on the Mount,” illustration, in Frederick A. Barber, ed., Halt! Cry the Dead: A Pictorial Primer on War and Some Ways of Working for Peace (New York: Association, 1935), 46.
L F N A: Do You Want Peace?, poster, , League of Free Nations Association, SCPC Poster Collection, Box P8.
The literature of “peace heroism” of the 1920s and 1930s, which I will discuss below, often presented intellectual and scientific discovery as a substitute for the heroism of war and violence. See, for example, Hermann Hagedorn, The Book of Courage (Philadelphia: John C. Winston Co., 1929); Archer Wallace, Heroes of Peace (New York: Harper, 1929).
Let Us Have Peace/Armistice Day, poster, n.d., source unknown, SCPC Poster Collection, Box P7A.
They Shall Beat Their Swords into Plowshares, poster, [193?], Methodist Peace Fellowship, SCPC Poster Collection, Box P11a.
The church window was one of eleven in the First Methodist Episcopal Church of Meadville, Pennsylvania (Elizabeth Miller Lobingier and John Leslie Lobingier, Educating for Peace, Boston: Pilgrim, 1930, 55-56).
For drama, see Dorothy Clarke Wilson, The Friendly Kingdom: A Play in one Act (Boston: Baker’s Plays, 1940), a naive play in which a boy king sets about building friendship between nations and training his own people to do other work than war preparations. Men take off their swords and are given hammers, shovels, and plows. For floats, see the description of a float from an Armistice Day parade in St. Louis in 1934 in Christian Youth Peace Demonstration: A Handbook of Information and Suggestions (Chicago: Joint Committee on United Youth Program, 1935), Subject File Religion, Peace, and War, SCPC, 17.
Artillery-shell lamp, [192?], provenance unknown, SCPC, Memorabilia.
Several other material explorations of peace were the projects of WILPF members, notably the Peace Gardens (1951-1963) and Art for World Friendship (1946-69). Is there, contra McDannell, a relationship between gender and non-verbal representation? Did WILPF foster a certain kind of individual creativity?
The plow itself was housed in Geneva, Switzerland. See Peace Symbols, Media Kit 11, SCPC; Peace Monuments, Photo Collection, DG 43, WILPF, SCPC; Zonia Baber, Peace Symbols (booklet), reprinted from Chicago Schools Journal (March-June 1937), 1; Baber, “Build Monuments to Goodwill,” Fellowship, Jan. 1938, 7; Baber, Peace Symbols, WILPF and Society for Visual Education, n.d. [after 1948], 18-19.
“The Ministers’ Corner,” , clipping, Subject File Peace Monuments, SCPC. Photographs of the statue appeared on the church’s stationery and at the head of its web site in the late 1990s (www.ccny.org).
St. Francis was a hero, model, and icon to Protestant and other pacifists; see Appelbaum, Legions, 1-3. Visual and material representations of St. Francis in the pacifist context call for further study. Other churches of the mid-twentieth century also incorporated images representing progressive ideas and modern heroes; examples are Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, Fellowship Church of All Peoples, San Francisco, and Trinity Methodist Church, Springfield, Massachusetts. See John Haynes Holmes, I Speak for Myself: The Autobiography of John Haynes Holmes (New York: Harper, 1959), 87-88. This mode of church architecture and decoration also calls for further study.
"Christ of the Andes,” postcard-sized lecture illustration with text, National Council for the Prevention of War, n.d., author’s collection; “Christ of the Andes,” in “Toward Peace” set, 1930, Records of the National Council for the Prevention of War, SCPC, Postcards; NCPW Christmas card, 1922, NCPW Records, SCPC, Postcards; Florence Brewer Boeckel, Across Borderlines (Books of Goodwill, Vol. 2, Washington: National Council for the Prevention of War, 1926), facing p. 56; The Exhibit on Friendship Between Nations, Sesquicentennial Exhibition, Philadelphia, 1926 (Philadelphia: Edward Stern, 1927), 26, in Subject File Art in War and Peace, SCPC; Baber, Peace Symbols (1937), 4. The text of the story appeared in Mary Kirkpatrick Berg, Story Worship Services for the Junior Church (New York: George Doran, 1927), 60-62; Florence Brewer Boeckel, Through the Gateway, Books of Goodwill, 1 (Washington: National Council for the Prevention of War, 1926), 23-25; Educating for Peace: A Book of Facts and Opinions (New York: Foreign Missions Conference of North America, 1926), 81; Elizabeth Miller Lobingier, Ship East—Ship West (New York: Friendship, 1937), 53-59; Imogene M. McPherson, Educating Children for Peace (New York: Abingdon, 1936), 178; Mary Esther McWhirter, “Christ of the Andes,” in Margaret Cooper Brinton, McWhirter, and Janet E. Schroeder, Candles in the Dark: An Anthology of Stories to be Used in Education for Peace (Philadelphia: Religious Education Committee, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, 1964), 98-102; Anna D. White, “Christ of the Andes,” in Anna Bassett Griscom, ed., Peace Crusaders: Adventures in Goodwill: A Book of Recitations for Children (Philadelphia: American Friends Service Committee, 1928), 68-70; and elsewhere. Berg, Story Worship Services, gave as her source a pamphlet from the “Missionary Education Movement” (60).
Although this model of heroism survived into the 1960s, another kind of peace hero gradually supplanted it: from the late 1930s onward, “heroes of peace” tended to be antiheroes who resisted war and violence.
The context of the window is a church designed, in part, to express a socially progressive religious sensibility. The building is Gothic in style, and its stained-glass windows use medieval symbolic conventions to express modern ideals. The figures depicted include Galileo, Pasteur, Livingstone, Frances Willard, Shakespeare, and St. Francis. I am grateful to Trinity Methodist Church for allowing me to see and photograph the Lindbergh window and others in its sanctuary. For well-known examples of progressive church design, consider John Haynes Holmes’s Community Church of New York and Grace Cathedral (Episcopal) in San Francisco.
The Kellogg-Briand pact, an agreement that outlawed war as an instrument of international policy, was hailed by pacifists as the beginning of a new era.
In addition to the biblical text cited, the eagle called to mind St. John the Evangelist, and hence the Gospel of John, in Christian iconography, and the United States in national iconography. Other examples of Lindbergh as symbol include his appearance in the pageant described in chapter 5, and the use of his 1927 flight to Mexico City as the entree to a four-week Sunday School course on Mexico, which was in turn connected to a peace organization’s project with that country (Lobingier and Lobingier, Educating, 70-78).
Dana L. Robert, American Women in Mission: A Social History of their Thought and Practice, The Modern Mission Era, 1792-1992: An Appraisal (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1996), 272-278. Lobingier and Lobingier included a number of references to missionary-education literature (Educating, 206-207), and cited peace plays and pageants published by the Missionary Education Movement and the Women’s Missionary Society of the United Lutheran Church (Educating, 165, 174, 177). John Lobingier’s work began in missionary education (cf. his Projects in World Friendship, Missionary Education Movement, 1925). Mason Crum cited Baptist missionary sources on international costumes for the stage (Crum, Guide to Religious Pageantry, New York: Macmillan, 1923, 72). Boeckel described a shift in missionary attitudes in the direction of world peace and brotherhood, articulated at the Jerusalem Conference in 1928 (The Turn Toward Peace, 169-171). See also Education for Peace: A Book of Facts and Opinions (New York: Foreign Missions Conference of North America, 1926).
See, for example, the collection of the American Baptist Historical Society in Valley Forge, Pa.
The pacifists were the Quaker Rufus M. Jones, the Baptist Harry Emerson Fosdick, and the Presbyterian Jane Addams. Elizabeth Lobingier, a Congregationalist, was on the Executive Committee.
Elizabeth Miller Lobingier, Ship East—Ship West (NY: Friendship, 1937), 81-82; see also Committee for World Friendship among Children, “Doll Messengers,” 1927, brochure, Subject File Children and War and Peace, SCPC; Florence Brewer Boeckel, Between War and Peace (New York: Macmillan, 1928), 451. Lobingier was surprisingly blunt for a children’s author: “Munition makers all over the world are so greedy that sometimes they even try to start wars. .. . War kills the fathers of little boys and girls” (Elizabeth Lobingier, Ship East, 65, 71).
See, for example, Ruth L. Frankel, “Choosing the Right Toys: An Article on the Teaching of World Peace to Our Children,” Hygeia, Dec. 1931, 1106-1109. Of course peace workers also advocated, and sometimes enacted, rejection of war toys and toy weapons. "Toy guns and pistols burned in Chicago street ceremony,” 1935, clipping from Christian Science Monitor, and “The toy army retreats,” Dec. 14, 1939, press release, No-Frontier News Service, both in Subject File Children and War and Peace, SCPC; Andy Wallace, “Robert Horton, 90; Devoted Life to Peace,” [Feb. 1991], clipping from Philadelphia Inquirer, CDG-A Robert Horton, SCPC.
Baber, Peace Symbols (1937), 7. Baber’s text said there were seventeen gardens, but she named at least twenty.
The Rush-Bagot agreement of 1812, which issued in the removal of U.S. and British warships from the Great Lakes, was another favorite subject of peace narratives, which generally gave the agreement credit for disarming the entire U.S.-Canadian border. The story appeared in Boeckel, Through the Gateway, 17-19; Eleanor Holston Brainerd, Broken Guns (New York: Friendship, 1937), 84; Lobingier and Lobingier, Educating, 37; Elizabeth Lobingier, Ship East, 4-6; and Brinton, McWhirter, and Schroeder, Candles, 94-97. See also Anna D. White, “The Rush-Bagot Agreement,” in Griscom, Crusaders, 74-75.
Mary Phillips, How to Grow a Peace Garden (Lemont, Ill.: Peace Garden Nursery, 1954), , , CDG-A, Mary Phillips, SCPC.
Jane Addams papers, DG 1, SCPC.
Bruce Barton, "Let's Advertise This Hell!", The American Magazine, May 1932, 15.
Allan A. Kuusisto, “The Influence of the National Council for Prevention of War on United States Foreign Policy, 1935-1939" (Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 1950), cited in Chatfield, For Peace, 97.
Bowman’s gross income from sales of penny bubble gum was over a million dollars in the first half of 1938. See “Warren Bowman, Gum Maker, Dies,” New York Times, Feb. 11, 1962; “Bubblegum’s War to Put War Over,” Philadelphia Record, May 14, 1938; “The Japs Won’t Chew Chicle from Philadelphia, By Gum!”, Record, May 21, 1938, all clippings in the collection Gum, Inc., Urban Archive, Temple University, Philadelphia. Sample gum wrappers are in “Horrors of War Picture Card and Bubble Gum,” 1938, Subject File Art in War and Peace, Misc. Graphics, SCPC. See also Leo Cullinane, “He Drives Parents Crazy,” Saturday Evening Post, Nov. 1, 1947, 20. With respect to pacifism and popular culture see Jennifer Frost, “Conscientious Objection and Popular Culture: the Case of Lew Ayres,” in Peter Brock and Thomas P. Socknat, eds., Challenge to Mars: Essays on Pacifism from 1918-1945 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999), 360-369.
In the last two decades of the twentieth century, painted icons from the Eastern Orthodox traditions began to gain acceptance in Protestant churches, and a few artists began producing images of modern figures in an iconic style. One of the first to appear represented Dorothy Day (Robert Lentz, Dorothy Day of New York, icon, 1983).
The sculpture, by Windsor, Conn., artist Lon Pelton, was deposited anonymously on the grounds of Hartford’s City Hall in November 1993. It bears the inscription, “To all youth in gangs in our state: please rise up, confront one another, and beat your swords into plowshares.”
John Woolman, A Plea for the Poor, or a Word of Remembrance and Caution to the Rich, 1793, chapter 10, in Phillips P. Moulton, ed., The Journal and Major Essays of John Woolman, Library of Protestant Thought, New York, Oxford University Press, 1971, 255.
See, for example, Kirby Page, Living Creatively (New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1932), 42-44, and his Living Prayerfully (New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1941), 51; and
“Job Report, Ahimsa Farm,” 1940, Ahimsa Farm collection, SCPC.
The nearest parallel to this pacifist “umbrella theology” is Alcoholics Anonymous, which replicates a Christian conversion experience but makes the object of conversion a loosely defined “higher power” rather than a Christian deity.
Richard B. Gregg, The Power of Non-Violence, introduction by Rufus M. Jones (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1934).
Richard B. Gregg, The Value of Voluntary Simplicity, Pendle Hill Essays, no. 3 (Wallingford, Pa.: Pendle Hill, 1936).
Gregg, Simplicity, 3.
Richard B. Gregg, Training for Peace: A Program for Peace Workers (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1937), 3.
Gregg, Training, 23.
Gregg, Training, 24-25. Here again, the relationship of gender to pacifist culture is not straightforward. Certainly male pacifists’ refusal to fight was a major transgression against gender assignment. But, as Susan Lynn and Rachel Goossen have pointed out in different contexts, within pacifist circles there was little questioning of gender ideology or gender roles (Susan Lynn, Progressive Women in Conservative Times: Racial Justice, Peace, and Feminism, 1945 to the 1960s, New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1992, 139; Rachel Waltner Goossen, Women Against the Good War: Conscientious Objection and Gender on the American Home Front, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997, 10). Gregg took pains to defend masculinity in the case of dancing. But he disputed other particulars of gender roles, asserting for example that men should knit—probably in adherence to Gandhi’s example, spinning. On the other hand, Gregg refers casually to the “servant or wife” when discussing domestic cleanliness (Training, 11). Moreover, while pacifist men certainly did take up manual work like building and farming, I find little evidence that they adopted feminine-gendered practices such as knitting, sewing, or child care.
Gregg, Training, 26. The folk schools used a similar rationale. Compare also the Highlander Folk School of Monteagle, Tennessee, which sought among other things to increase self-reliance among miners and hill farmers through the use of traditional crafts.
Gregg, Training, 33.
Draft report, FOR Commission on Rural Life, 1942, p. , Subject File Conscientious Objectors, SCPC.
Bob Reynolds, letter, “Says Homesteading is Valuable,” in Peacemaker, Aug. 27, 1956, 3. Cf. “Brief for Community,” Communiteer, Jan. 1944, 1-2.
"Job report,” 1940. This report may have been written for the work-study program at Antioch College. Spelling and punctuation are reproduced as in the original.
Stanley Gould, “Advice to the Landlorn,” Fellowship, Sept. 1949, 9.
Barbara Deming, “The Peacemakers,” The Nation, Dec. 17, 1960, 471.
Deming, “Peacemakers,” 471.
Deming, “Peacemakers,” 472-473.
They are also, of course, a mass-produced consumer product. Like others in the present day, including some branches of the “voluntary simplicity” movement, pacifists construct and show their identity in part through consumer goods, even when that identity is itself anti-consumerist. This issue calls for further discussion.
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