ONE WOMAN'S PASSION FOR PEACE AND FREEDOM: The Life of Mildred Scott Olmsted by Margaret Hope Bacon


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From Bacon, veteran historian of feminism and the Quakers (The Quiet Rebels, 1985, etc.): a history of suffragist and peace-activist Mildred Scott Olmsted (1890-1990) that's as much mirror to a turbulent age as an account of a remarkable woman. Born in Philadelphia to moderately affluent parents, Olmsted decided early on to challenge the status quo and defend freedom at a time when women were still expected to marry and stay at home. Olmsted's fierce determination, Bacon shows, served her well in the public domain but had troubling consequences in her private life--which is dutifully described here but is treated as secondary to her public career. After graduating from Smith, Olmsted began social work in Philadelphia but found that her talents lay in organizing and leading rather than in working in the field (she was ""the sort of person around whom new projects developed""). Soon, she was establishing social programs, promoting birth control, and working with suffragists. Her activities expanded during WW I as she worked with relief agencies in war-torn Europe and, at Jane Addams's suggestion, made contact with the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom--an organization that was to become the focus of Olmsted's energies and ambitions until her death. Here, Bacon chronicles not only the changing fortunes of the peace movement but also Olmsted's rocky marriage to Allen Olmsted, her demanding friendship with Ruth Mellor, and her troubled relations with her children. A tireless advocate of many of the century's great causes, Olmsted ""may not have changed the course of history, but she believed that in a democracy social change had to come from private citizens willing to advance unpopular ideas...."" That belief, Bacon demonstrates, Olmsted embodied in her life. Not a critical study--the merits of Olmsted's causes are taken as given--but an engrossing introduction to an interesting woman living in interesting times.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1992
Page count: 396pp
Publisher: Syracuse Univ. Press