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Remarks to the Delegation of Working Women of France in Paris

January 25, 1919

Mr. Thompson and Ladies:

You have not only done me a great honor, but you have touched me very much by this unexpected tribute; and may I add that you have frightened me? Because, realizing the great confidence you place in me, I am led to question my own ability to justify that confidence. You have not placed your confidence wrongly in my hopes and purposes, but perhaps not all of those hopes and purposes can be realized in the great matter that you have so much at heart, the right of women to take their full share in the political life of the nations to which they belong. That is necessarily a domestic question for the several nations. A conference of peace, settling the relations of nations with each other, would be regarded as going very much outside its province if it undertook to dictate to the several States what their internal policy should be.

At the same time, those considerations apply also to conditions of labor, and it does seem to be likely that the conference will take some action by way of expressing its sentiments at any rate with regard to the international aspects at least of labor, and I should hope that some occasion might be offered for the case not only of the women of France but of their sisters all over the world to be presented to the consideration of the conference. The conference is turning out to be a rather unwieldy body, a very large body, representing a great many nations, large and small, old and new, and the method of organizing its work successfully, I am afraid, will have to be worked out stage by stage. Therefore, I have no confident prediction to make as to the way in which it can take up questions of this sort.

But what I have most at heart to-day is to avail myself of this opportunity to express my admiration for the women of France, and my admiration for the women of all the nations that have been engaged in the war. By the fortunes of this war the chief burden has fallen upon the women of France, and they have home it with a spirit and a devotion which has commanded the admiration of the world. I do not think that the people of France fully realize, perhaps, the intensity of sympathy that other nations have felt for them. They think of us in America, for example, as a long way off, and we are in space, but we are not in thought. You must remember that the United States is made up of the nations of Europe: that French sympathies run straight across the seas, not merely by historic association but by blood connection; and that these nerves of sympathy are quick to transmit the impulses of the one nation to the other. We have followed your sufferings with a feeling that we were witnessing one of the most heroic and, may I add at the same time, satisfactory things in the world—satisfactory because it showed the strength of the human spirit, the indomitable power of women and men alike to sustain any burden if the cause was great enough. In an ordinary war there might have been some shrinking, some sinking of effort, but this was not an ordinary war. This was a war not only to redeem France from an enemy but to redeem the world from an enemy, and France, therefore, and the women of France strained their heart to sustain the world.

I hope that the strain has not been in vain. I know that it has not been in vain. This war has been peculiar and unlike other wars, in that it seemed sometimes as if the chief strain was behind the lines and not at the lines. It took so many men to conduct the war that the older men and the women at home had to carry the nation. Not only so, but the industries of the nation were almost as much part of the fighting as what actually took place at the fronts. So it is for that reason that I have said to those with whom I am at present associated that this must be a people's peace, because this was a people's war. The people won this war, not the governments, and the people must reap the benefits of the war. At every turn we must see to it that it is not an adjustment between governments merely, but an arrangement for the peace and security of men and women everywhere. The little, obscure sufferings and the daily unknown privations, the unspoken sufferings of the heart, are the tragical things of his war. They have been borne at home, and the center of the home is the woman. My heart goes out to you, therefore, ladies, in a very unusual degree, and I welcome this opportunity to bring you this message, not from myself merely, but from the great people whom I represent.

Woodrow Wilson, Remarks to the Delegation of Working Women of France in Paris Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/317828

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