Emily Greene Balch was born in Boston in 1867. She attended Bryn Mawr College, receiving a degree in Greek and Latin in 1889, and did graduate work in economics at the College de France in Paris from 1890-1891. While in Paris, Balch researched and wrote Public Assistance of the Poor in France. She returned to Boston in 1892 and established Denison House, a settlement house modeled on Toynbee Hall in London and Jane Addams‘ Hull House in Chicago.
After subsequent graduate work at Harvard and the University of Chicago, Balch spent 1895-1896 in Berlin, where she studied socialism. She later attended the Socialist Trade Union Congress of 1896, and would publicly declare herself a Socialist in 1906.
In 1896 Balch joined the faculty of Wellesley College, first as a lecturer, then as professor of social economics. She was a pacifist who opposed World War I and the entry of the United States into that conflict. She joined the Women’s Peace Party and was one of the delegates to the International Women’s Conference (ICW) at The Hague in 1915. From this conference evolved in 1919 the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), of which Balch was Secretary from 1919-1922 and again from 1934-1935. She was dismissed from her teaching position at Wellesley in 1918, not for her pacifist views but on the grounds that her work with the ICW caused her to miss too much class time.
WILPF was believed even in the 1920s to be a communist front organization that existed to protect anarchists, radical trade unionists, and socialists (subsequent WILPF positions have demonstrated the essential truth of those early beliefs). It was only when Balch realized that Hitler was serious about ruling the world that she reversed herself on pacifism. Her outrage did not extend to Stalin’s Soviet Union.
After the War, Balch wrote two socialist classics that argued for internationalism, including One Europe and Toward Human Unity, or Beyond Internationalism.Balch received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1946; she died in 1961.