Mary Emma Woolley


This is a picture of Mary Woolley on May 8, 1932.

Mary Woolley was President of Mount Holyoke College from 1901-1937. In 1932, she went to Geneva to the Conference for the Reduction and Limitation of Armaments, which was organized by the League of Nations. She was the only female delegate sent form the United States, and one of only five female delegates. The others were from Canada, Poland, Uraguay and Great Britain.

Mary Woolley

Mary Woolley was not a typical woman of her times. She was the first woman to get a degree from Brown University. After graduation she moved on to teach at Wellesley College and then, in 1901, she became President of Mount Holyoke College, the oldest women's college in the nation. During her tenure as President of the College, she served as President of the American Association of University Women. Mary Woolley had a novel approach to disarmament. She felt that moral disarmament was as important if not more important than physical disarmament. She also felt that women could make a difference in the peace process. Both of these made her unusual among the delegates to the Conference for the Reduction and Limitation of Armaments. Mary Woolley had a unique view of how people could accomplish peace which was influenced by a life spent living and working mostly with women; as a result she placed a great emphasis on what women could do to create an international peace.

While at the Geneva Conference, Mary Woolley was a member of the Moral Disarmament Commission. As a member of that Commission, she presented a resolution which the Moral Disarmament Sub-Committee seemed to be sending back to the larger assembly of delegates. The presenters asked that the others : "Agree in such form as the special regulations in force in each country permit, to undertake to develop a good understanding and mutual respect among peoples by all methods of education available, particularly through the work of educational institutions, the formation of teachers and the education of the young;" and also that they "Agree further to recommend to their competent educational authorities the study of the principles and application of pacific settlement of international disputes and of the renunciation of war as an instrument of national policy." Mary Woolley had a clear focus on disarmament through education which was evident in her actions before, during and after the Conference for the Reduction and Limitation of Armaments.

 The Conferencefor the Reduction and Limitation of Armaments

On the afternoon of February 2, 1932, the Conference for the Reduction and Limitation of Armaments convened in Geneva. The Conference was one in a long line of disarmament conferences which had been occurring since the end of World War I. One of these was the London Naval Conference of 1930, where delegates from Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom met successfully to create a naval treaty. The Conference for the Reduction and Limitation of Armaments had been in the planning stages for almost 7 years, since 1925. A preparatory committee was formed as the result of Article Eight of the Covenant of the League of Nations. This "preparatory commission held six sessions," starting in 1926 and ending in December of 1930. After all of these planning sessions, the preparatory commission finally set a date for the Conference and decided what the goals of the Conference would be. All of the delegates to the Geneva Conference would "undertake to limit and, as far as possible, to reduce their respective armaments." The members of the League of Nations who had worked to plan the Conference hoped that negotiations between all of the countries at the Conference for the Reduction and Limitation of Armaments would be as successful as the negotiations between the three countries at the naval conference had been, and that the Conference would be a big step towards a future with greatly reduced levels of armaments.

On her way to Geneva, Mary Woolley stayed with the mayor of Cherbourg, France. As she was leaving, he wished her luck and told her to "disarm everybody-except France." This summed up the attitude of the delegates to the Geneva Conference very well, even though the need for disarmament was clearly understood by most parties involved. The President of the Conference, Arthur Henderson stated his goals for the Conference as follows:
(1) To reach a collective agreement on a practical program for substantial reduction and limitation of armaments.
(2) To determine that no armaments may be maintained outside the scope of that agreement.
(3) To plan for similar conferences in the future at reasonably short intervals of time.

In Henderson's opening speech, he said, "'The world wants disarmament, the world needs disarmament. We have it in our power to help fashion future history.'" The challenge was to find a way to "fashion future history" upon which all of the delegates could agree.

Reactions to Mary Woolley, on Campus and off

The students who contributed to the Mount Holyoke News saw Mary Woolley's appointment as a thoroughly wonderful event. The News printed pages of letters from Chairs of all of the campus organizations and the head of each class wishing Mary Woolley well while she was away. This letter, by Margaret Dunlop, Head of the Student Government at the time, demonstrates the feelings expressed in the letters: "We send with Miss Woolley our best wishes and that which she values so highly-our utmost confidence, for this reason, all that we could ask for in nobleness of character, all that we could wish for in strength of purpose, all that we could desire of broad insight and sympathetic understanding may be summed up in two words-Mary Woolley." The students who were at Mount Holyoke when Mary Woolley left for Geneva supported her efforts towards disarmament wholeheartedly. An organization called the Green Shirts was also mentioned in the Mount Holyoke News during the first months of 1932. This seems to have been a group of student peace activists on the Mount Holyoke Campus. If the letters and articles in the news about Mary Woolley are at all indicative of the way the Mount Holyoke community was reacting to her trip to the Conference for the Reduction and Limitation of Armaments, then there was overwhelming support for President Woolley while she was abroad.

Will Rogers, a columnist for the New York Times, perceived and wrote about Mary Woolley from a different perspective than that of her students. After meeting her for the first time, he wrote in his column in the New York Times: "Our female delegate, Miss Woolley, is the outstanding novelty…Didn't know whether to call her Miss, Mrs., Professor, Doctor or what, so I just called her Doc, and Doc and I got along great…She is very plain, likable, broad in mind and body, feet and plenty of 'em right on the ground…Thirty million women of the world have hope and faith in her common sense versus diplomacy. It's no joking matter getting the world to disarm. Maybe a woman can do it. It's a cinch men can't, so good luck to you, 'Doc.'" Throughout the column, he alternates between regarding her as a delegate who will make a difference where past delegates have not and regarding her as a strange delegate because she is a woman. Although the end of his column wishes her success disarming the world, more of the article discusses the fact that she is a woman. The rarity of women in international delegations can be seen by his awkwardness with Mary Woolley - he doesn't know what to call her and he cannot completely avoid relegating her to the female sphere by describing her looks. Would he have described a man by his feet or by his accomplishments?


This is where Mary Woolley stayed while in Geneva.

This is where Secretary of State Henry Stimson stayed while in Geneva. He was also a delegate to the Disarmament Conference.

 This is my favorite story that I came across while looking through Mary Woolley's scrapbook in the Mount Holyoke Archives.

"Dr. Paulina Luisi (delegate of Uruguay) described an interesting educational feature of her country. Schools were called by the names of different countries; they learned the history of the countries whose names they bore and paid visits to schools bearing the names of other countries. An international spirit was thus fostered at an early age. With this end in view changes had also been made in the historical text-books. War had threatened Peru and Chili; Paraguay and Bolivia, and other South American countries, but arbitration had always been resorted to in spite of the desire of armament manufacturers for war."

I don't know how well Uruguay does with war now, but if it worked before it could work again. Perhaps if more countries followed their example we could have a more peaceful world.

 For another page with information about Mary Woolley, click here.

 Here is a list of some of the sources where I found a lot of my information about Mary Woolley and the Conference for the Reduction and Limitation of Armaments:

Anna Mary Wells, Miss Marks and Miss Woolley. Houghton Mifflin Company,
Boston, 1978.

Herbert Hoover, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Herbert Hoover, 1931-1932. United States Government Printing Office, Washington, 1977

Jeanette Marks, Life and Letters of Mary Emma Woolley. Public Affairs Press,
Washington, DC, 1955.

Richard Fanning, Peace and Disarmament. The University Press of Kentucky, 1995.
South Hadley, Massachusetts. Archives and Special Collections, Mount Holyoke
College. Papers of Mary Emma Woolley.

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