106 Central Street, Wellesley
Wellesley College is a liberal arts college for women in the affluent town of Wellesley, about 19 miles west of downtown Boston. An elite institution, it has about 2,400 students and an endowment of almost $2 billion. Its alumnae association has been characterized as the world’s most powerful women’s network. Two out of the three women who have served as U.S. secretary of state (Madeline Albright and Hillary Clinton), for example, are graduates. Less well known is a Wellesley professor who worked to challenge war and militarism, at a high cost to her academic career, and who eventually won the Nobel Peace Prize: Emily Greene Balch.
Balch helped to found Denison House (part of the settlement house movement, and a site in A People’s Guide to Greater Boston) in Boston’s Chinatown in 1892, serving as its first headworker. After graduate studies, she became a professor at Wellesley and the chair of its Department of Economics and Sociology, teaching courses (from 1869 to 1918) on a variety of topics including the history of socialism, labor issues, immigration, and the economic role of women.
Balch was a strong supporter of worker’s rights and helped to found the Women’s Trade Union League. She self-identified as a socialist, while rejecting the notion of class struggle. An internationalist, feminist, Christian (first Unitarian and later Quaker), and pacifist, Balch attended the International Congress of Women at The Hague in 1915, as a U.S. delegate and helped found the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (which still exists today). Balch worked to end World War I through international mediation, while publicly opposing U.S. entry into the conflict and the military draft and supporting the rights of conscientious objectors and non-citizens. Her activism and the positions she took ultimately led Wellesley’s board of trustees to refuse to reappoint Balch, at 52, when her contract expired in 1918—despite her having the support of departmental colleagues and the College’s president.
After her firing from Wellesley, Balch continued her activism, particularly with the WILPF, and worked to oppose war as well as to racism and imperialism—the U.S. occupation of Haiti (1915-1934) a key concern. In 1946, Balch received the Nobel Peace Prize “for her lifelong work for disarmament and peace.”
From 1898 to 1900, Emily Greene Balch lived on the Wellesley College campus at Stone Hall, a building destroyed by fire in 1927. On the same site now stands Stone-Davis Hall. Balch died in Cambridge in 1961, at the age of 94. She is buried at Forest Hills Cemetery, two miles away from where she was raised (130 Prince Street) in Jamaica Plain.
Commuter rail (Worcester Line) from South Station to Wellesley Square. 1.0 mile (20-minute) walk.
To learn more:
Robert W. Dimand, “Emily Greene Balch, Political Economist,” American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Vol. 70, No. 2, 2011: 464-479.
Melinda Plastas, “A Different Burden: Race and the Social Thought of Emily Greene Balch,” Peace and Change, Vol. 33, No. 4, October 2008: 469-508.
Judy D. Whipps, “The Feminist Pacifism of Emily Greene Balch, Nobel Peace Laureate,” NWSA Journal, Vol. 18, No. 3, 2006: 122-132.