Julia Grace Wales and the Peace Movement | Wisconsin Historical Society

Classroom Material

Pacifist Julia Grace Wales and the National Peace Movement

Conflict on the Homefront: Wisconsin During World War I

Julia Grace Wales and the Peace Movement | Wisconsin Historical Society

Grade level: Secondary

Duration: One class period

In times of war American ideals of civil liberty and national security often clash. The resulting tension has brought out both the best and worst in Americans. Students will learn firsthand how the people of Wisconsin experienced the tension and conflict of wartime emotions from the posters, documents, photographs, and newspaper articles in this unit. Inspired by a temporary exhibit at the Wisconsin Historical Museum, Conflict on the Homefront: Wisconsin During World War I will help you engage your students in complex thinking and analytical skill-building activities.


Students will:

  • Analyze primary source documents
  • Compare and contrast different opinions on historical events
  • Learn about Julia Grace Wales and the pre-WWI Peace Movement


Julia Grace Wales, an instructor of English at the University of Wisconsin, was working in Madison when war erupted in Europe in August 1914. The young Canadian-born scholar was deeply troubled by news reports of the brutal struggle. A close friend of Wales wrote that "the pity and horror of it seized upon her," to the point that Wales was physically sickened by accounts of the war. She became convinced that the conflict was not only irrational but also un-Christian. Throughout the autumn of 1914, with President Wilson requesting that Americans be "impartial in thought," Wales struggled to think of a logical method for finding a solution to stop the fighting.

In December 1914, Julia Grace Wales formulated a plan, aptly described by its title, Continuous Mediation Without Armistice. The plan proposed that the United States organize a conference consisting of intellectuals from all neutral nations. This "world thinking organ" would meet for the duration of the war, inviting suggestions from all nations at war and simultaneously preparing proposals to end the war. The mediators recommendations would be guided by two principles: (1) that peace must not mean humiliation to any nation, and (2) that it must not include any compromises that might later restart the war.

In early 1915 the recently formed Wisconsin Peace Party endorsed Continuous Mediation Without Armistice, printing and distributing copies in pamphlet form. It quickly became known as the Wisconsin Plan and achieved wide popular support among state officials and pacifists nationwide. Led by pioneer social reformer Jane Addams, the National Peace Party also endorsed the plan and sent a delegation to Washington, D.C., to present the idea to President Wilson and Congress. Within months Wales was in the Netherlands for an International Congress of Women (ICW). The ICW considered dozens of proposals but unanimously selected the Wisconsin Plan as a proposed solution. The ICW had the Wisconsin Plan printed in four languages and distributed thousands of pamphlets throughout Europe and North America.

Promoting a policy of "strict neutrality," President Wilson received thousands of telegrams urging him to offer mediation, and the president seemed genuinely interested in the plan. Yet the German U-boat sinking of the British liner Lusitania in March 1915—with the loss of 1,200 lives, including 128 U.S. citizens—resulted in a new uncertainty concerning the policy of neutrality. Administration officials backed away from mediation.

Lacking official support from the U.S. government, pacifists appealed to Henry Ford for leadership and financial support. America's most famous industrialist advocated the Wisconsin Plan and organized an unofficial Neutral Conference for Continuous Mediation in Sweden. In the winter of 1915–1916, Julia Grace Wales accompanied Ford and other leading pacifists to Europe, but the peace movement had begun to decline. Led mostly by educated professionals, the peace movement never achieved significant public support among middle- and working class Americans. Although the majority of Americans remained in favor of "strict neutrality," they also increasingly considered "preparedness" a logical action.

With the United States' declaration of war against the Central Powers in April 1917, most pacifists, like most Americans, considered it vital to back the Wilson Administration. Stressing that Wilson's call for a League of Nations was equivalent to the goals of Continuous Mediation, Wales argued it was the "duty of the neutrals to throw their fight on the right side and so hasten a just and durable peace." Following the declaration of war, American pacifists who continued expressing their objections did so at great personal risk, challenged not only by state and federal laws but also by neighbors and vigilante groups who considered such expressions unpatriotic.

Resource Materials


  1. Have students examine both documents with the analysis sheets.
    Discuss responses out-loud.

  2. Suggest that each student find another individual in history who shared Wales's devotion to world peace and prepare an electronic or traditional presentation about this person for the class. Students should demonstrate in their presentation their chosen person's beliefs and actions for world peace.

  3. Under point number 6 in the Continuous Mediation Without Armistice document, Wales described "a world thinking organ ... a World Federation." Use this point to discuss with students the underlying ideas for the League of Nations and the United Nations. Encourage students to do further research to gain an understanding of the role the United Nations plays in our world today. Students may focus their research around actions taken during the conflict in the country formerly known as Yugoslavia.

  4. Compare and contrast the general outlook toward humanity in the Continuous Mediation Without Armistice document with a circular letter from the executive committee of the Madison Branch of the Woman's Peace Party. What differences and similarities exist between the two documents? How did the Madison Branch of the Women's Peace Party suggest members deal with individuals who express their dissatisfaction with American policy? How does this differ from the earlier opinions of the Woman's Peace Party?


  • Cary, Lorin Lee. "The Wisconsin Loyalty Legion, 1917-1918," Wisconsin Magazine of History, Autumn (1969): 33-50.
  • Cornebise, Alfred E. War as Advertised: The Four Minute Men and America's Crusade, 1917-1918. Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society, 1984.
  • Creel, George. How We Advertised America. New York: Arno Press, 1972.
  • Crowell, Benedict. The Giant Hand: Our Mobilization and Control of Industry and Natural Resources, 1917-1918. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1921.
  • Cuff, Robert D. The War Industries Board. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1973.
  • Darracott, Joseph, and Belinda Loftus. First World War Posters. London: Imperial War Museum, 1972.
  • Falk, Karen. "Public Opinion in Wisconsin During World War I," Wisconsin Magazine of History, June (1942): 389-407.
  • German-Americans. Produced by Jerry Baber. 30 min. Schlessinger Video Productions, c. 1993. Videocassette.
  • Glad, Paul. The History of Wisconsin, Volume V, War, a New Era, and Depression, 1914-1940. Madison: The State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1990.
  • History Committee of the Four Minute Men of Chicago. The Four Minute Men of Chicago. Chicago: 1919.
  • Krog, Carl E. "The Battle Against the Kaiser: Social and Cultural Conflict in Marinette, Wisconsin During the World War I Era," The Yearbook of German-American Studies, 26 (1991): 231-247.
  • Lorence, James J. Enduring Voices: Document Sets to Accompany The Enduring Vision. Lexington: D.C. Heath and Company, 1993.
  • Lorence, James J. The Enduring Vision: A History of the American People. Lexington: D.C. Heath and Company, 1993.
  • Mock, James R. and Cedric Larson. Words That Won the War. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1939.
  • The Moving Picture Boys in the Great War: Hollywood Goes to War with Cameras Blazing. Produced by David Shepard. 52 min. Republic Pictures Home Video, 1986. Videocassette.
  • The Papers of Woodrow Wilson-November 11, 1917- January 15, 1918, Volume 45. Princeton: Prince ton University Press, 1984.
  • Paris, Michael. The First World War and Popular Cinema. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999.
  • Stevens, John Dean. "Suppression of Expression in World War I." Ph.D. diss., University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1967.
  • Tindall, George Brown. America: A Narrative History, Volume II. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1988.
  • Tolzmann, Don Heinrich. The German-American Experience. Amherst: Humanity Books, 2000.
  • Tolzmann, Don Heinrich. The German-American Soldier in the Wars of the U.S. Bowie: Heritage Books, Inc., 1996.
  • Trask, David. World War I at Home. New York: Wiley, 1969.
  • Trattner, Walter J. "Julia Grace Wales and the Wisconsin Plan for Peace," Wisconsin Magazine of History, Spring (1961): 203-213.
  • Vogt, George. "When Posters Went to War," Wisconsin Magazine of History, Winter (2001), 38 -47.
  • Zeitlin, Richard H. Germans in Wisconsin. Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society, 2000.
  • Zwick, Jim. "World War I Posters: Artists Mobilizing the Home Front," BoondocksNet.com. (2001)


This lesson was developed by the Office of School Services for the secondary-level classroom. Please adapt to fit your students' needs.

Primary Sources Used in "Conflict on the Homefront" Lessons

Additional World War I Resources