JP Observer: What Happened to the Major Memorial for Emily Greene Balch? We Still Don’t Have One!

By Sandra Storey / Special to the Gazette

​Jane Addams Memorial Park, 4.31 acres in size, is located near the Navy Pier in Chicago, Illinois, the city and state where she spent much of her adult life. A six-piece sculptural group honoring Addams resides in the Chicago Women’s Park and Gardens.

​Illinois renamed its Northwest Tollway in 2007 the “Jane Addams Memorial Tollway.” The residence at Hull House, a settlement house she founded, and another building in Chicago now serve as a museum and monument to Addams. Even a plaque on a pedestal in New York’s City Hall Park, of all places, celebrates her.

​Educational institutions have named colleges, programs, centers, high schools and residence halls for Addams, and she has received many awards over the years, even since her death in 1935. Addams was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.

​Meanwhile, Emily Greene Balch from here in Jamaica Plain, Boston, Massachusetts—and Addams’ ally in the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)— was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1946.

​In high contrast to the similar stories so far, no major memorial here or anywhere else provided by city, state or organization bears only Balch’s name.

​Theories have been put forward about why that is, even by academics as long ago as the mid-1990s. Amazing and incredibly sad, the disappointment and speculation about that neglect continue.

​The influential peacemaker certainly deserves at least one prominent tribute to her. So does this neighborhood and area of the country that tends to share her humanistic values.

​Balch, born on Prince Street in 1867, would fit in very well in JP today. She lived her life in every way as what we now would call “progressive.” She worked for women’s suffrage, workers’ and immigrants’ rights, and racial justice.

​Our Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who lived to age 94, wrote at least 11 books about sociology and economics, one of which was Conditions of City Life focused on Boston.

​She and her family were members of First Church Unitarian Universalist of JP at the Monument. She was also an active member for years in the then-women-only Tuesday Club that came to save the historic Loring Greenough House across from the street from being torn down.

​Cooperating at times with Addams, Balch championed services for poor people. She was a social worker in Boston for a while, helping to found a settlement house. She later traveled the world advocating for peace.

​Balch, an ardent pacifist, was a founder of WILPF in 1915. She shared the peace prize that year with a leader of the YMCA.

​Balch has been credited by some sources, including WILPF, for having coined the wonderful adage about advocacy strategy many peace and justice-loving people have repeated ever since: “There is no way to peace; peace is the way.”

​The Bryn Mawr graduate taught economics and sociology at Wellesley College beginning in 1896. But in 1919, when she asked to take a leave to concentrate on what were called “reform” activities, the Wellesley board— said to be embarrassed by her pacifism and outspoken socialism—refused to renew her contract.

​The Nobel Peace Prize award statement praised Balch’s persistence: “She has taught us that the reality we seek must be earned by hard and unrelenting toil in the world in which we live…”

​The fact that Balch hasn’t received a bigger, more lasting memorial isn’t for lack of trying by people in the community.

​Quite a few people here have persistently said they would like to see a bigger, better memorial to Balch than what we have. A small marker rests near where her home used to be. And what president of the JP Historical Society (JPHS) Gretchen Grozier called a “wee” bronze plaque sits beside a bench that faces Jamaica Pond on the south side.

​“Yes, I do think there should be something” created that is a more significant memorial, like a street name as an example, she wrote in reply to an email from me.

​JP Forum, the JP Historical Society and the Boston branch of WILPF hosted a talk by Balch biographer Kristen Gwinn at First Church in December 2017. There’s a stained glass window in the church that was donated by Balch’s family.

​Chuck Collins and other forum organizers proposed seeking funding then to endow an Emily Greene Balch lecture by a national figure every year. After the 10-year-old forum “didn’t really weather the pandemic” Collins said, that never came to fruition.

​Where Balch’s house used to be is the first stop on the Jamaica Plain Women’s History Trail, thanks to local historian Mary Smoyer’s design, with a great deal of assistance from the Jamaica Plain Historical Society, local residents and friends in 1992. Two JPHS summer tours go there as well.

​Smoyer and other board members from the Boston Women’s Heritage Trail have advocated renaming Boston Public Schools, especially those with generic names, after women, including Balch.

​Then City Councilor Matt O’Malley joined JPHS’s Grozier at First Church on Jan. 8, 2017 (the laureate’s birthday) to celebrate Emily Greene Balch Day. Kristen Gwinn-Becker, who gave a speech at the birthday event, is the author of Emily Greene Balch: The Long Road to Internationalism.

​They all expressed hope that the date would be officially named for the Nobel Laureate every year, but that has not happened.

​JP resident Stephen Pepper, docent, and Dorothy Clark, board member, wrote “The Misses Balch” about Balch and her sister Anne in relation to the Tuesday Club and the Loring-Greenough House on the website

​Calling her a “neglected hero,” Pepper wrote in an email to me, “Though she became a global citizen and traveled the world, EGB never forgot her roots in JP. Naming a street for her would bring her spirit home.”

​The late JP resident Sandra White Stone, a Boston Public Schools teacher, wrote a letter to the editor published in the Gazette in 2010 advocating that everyone in the neighborhood, especially girls and young women, be educated about Balch. She also suggested that Jamaica Pond should be renamed Emily Balch Pond.

​Others have proposed that the Jamaica Pond boathouse and various streets be named after her over the years to no avail.

​Some academics have theorized that conservative social and political attitudes have played a role in the relative lack of respect that has been shown to our Nobel Peace Prize Laureate compared to Addams and others.

​Letter to the editor writer Mary Jo Deegan agreed in 1996 with an article previously published in The Journal of Women’s History of Johns Hopkins University Press by Harriet Hyman Alonso in 1995.

​Deegan and Alonso both suggested the two Nobel Peace Prize winners have “very different public reputations and honors in the United States.”

​But Deegan somewhat disagreed with some of Alonso’s theories about why. Deegan indicted that Addams’ work in social settlements and her lack of criticism for capitalism didn’t bother the establishment as much as Balch’s peace work, open declarations for socialism and support of groups not favored politically did.

​On top of those differences, Alonso pointed out that Addams received the Nobel Peace Prize during a time of relative peace; Balch got hers near the beginning of the Cold War.

​Deegan wrote that Addams and Balch were “lifelong allies, friends and leaders in the WILPF and were both “in an international spotlight.’ She pointed out that both also “shared the philosophy of pragmatical feminism.”

​In 1955, Balch wrote a poem addressed to “Dear People of China” that could be directed to most of the world today, including JP. The last stanza reads:

​“Let us be patient with one another/And even patient with ourselves/We have a long, long way to go/So let us hasten along the road/The road of human tenderness and generosity/Groping, we may find one another’s hands in the dark.”

​I will just add a post script here: “And find a way for the public to create a memorial to pay tribute to Emily Green Balch and all her good work for us and the world.”

​Note: A small amount of content in this column appeared in a JP Observer column in 2012 that also advocated creation of a significant Emily Green Balch memorial to honor our Nobel Peace Prize winner.

​Sandra Storey is Publisher Emerita of the Jamaica Plain Gazette.

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