Bailey, Hannah Johnston (1839–1923)

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Bailey, Hannah Johnston (1839–1923)

American suffragist, philanthropist, and superintendent of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union's department of peace and arbitration. Pronunciation: BAY-lee. Born Hannah Clark Johnston on July 5, 1839, in Cornwall-on-the-Hudson, New York; died in Portland, Maine, on October 23, 1923; daughter of David Johnston (a tanner, farmer, and Quaker minister) and Letitia (Clark) Johnston; attended public schools and Friends boarding school; married Moses Bailey, on October 13, 1868 (died 1882); children: Moses Melvin.

Worked as a school teacher (1858–67); undertook religious mission to New England (1867); named superintendent of the National Woman's Christian Temperance Union's department of peace and arbitration (1887), and of the World WCTU's comparable department (1889); began publishing peace journals, The Acorn and Pacific Banner (1889); elected presidentof Maine Equal Suffrage Association (1891–97); resigned as superintendent of national WCTU department of peace and arbitration (1915); joined Woman's Peace Party (1915) and Woman's International League for Peace and Freedom (1918).

In 1887, Hannah Johnston Bailey of Winthrop Centre, Maine, accepted a new challenge. Frances Willard , national president of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), asked Bailey to become the first superintendent of the recently created WCTU department of peace and arbitration. Upon assuming this position, Hannah Bailey quickly transformed the department into the most active separate women's peace agency in the United States. Within three years, she convinced 30 state auxiliaries of the WCTU to create their own peace departments, began publishing two periodicals, and founded the peace department of the World WCTU. Drawing in part from her considerable personal wealth, as well as from WCTU funds, she published and distributed a large volume of peace literature. Bailey also wrote extensively for the popular press, met frequently with leading politicians, and addressed countless women's and gender-mixed groups. In sum, she became one of the most effective publicists in the United States dedicated to the cause of peace and internationalism.

The eldest in a family of seven children, Hannah Clark Johnston was born at Cornwall-on-the Hudson, New York, in 1839. Her father David Johnston was a tanner and farmer who, like her mother Letitia, was an active member of the Society of Friends. Hannah attended a Friends' boarding school and public schools near her home in Plattekill, Ulster County, where she would continue to live for the first 30 years of her life. From the time Hannah was a young girl growing up in the Hudson River Valley, her faith and extensive Christian learning influenced every aspect of her life. As a Quaker, she was devoted to serving God by undertaking good works within and beyond her community. As she recorded in her diary, "It is [God's] blessing alone which prospers me in my labors. Without that I would be a useless drone on earth."

In keeping with the Quaker peace testimony, Hannah Johnston viewed war as evil. But like many other Friends, she faced a great trial in 1861 as the Civil War began. Her brother Frank, only 19, was one of only a few hundred Quaker men who enlisted to fight. Hannah supported his decision because, as she told him, "our Country has called you … to aid your fellow countrymen in putting down rebellion and slavery and instituting freedom and peace in a permanent reign over a land so long noted for its freedom." A year later, her 17-year-old brother Joseph also joined the Union army. Critically wounded at the battle of the Wilderness, Joseph died in November 1864, an event that certainly intensified Hannah's hatred of war.

Hannah worked as a school teacher until 1867, then left her position to accompany a Quaker preacher on a six-month mission to New England. She attended Friends meetings and visited various Protestant churches, almshouses, prisons, and asylums. She offered public prayer and sought, in various ways, to administer to the needs of the most unfortunate members of society. At one of her last stops, in Winthrop Centre, Maine, she met Moses Bailey, a recently widowed Friend and wealthy manufacturer. A deep mutual affection developed quickly between the two. They married on October 13, 1868, then took up residence in Winthrop Centre, where Hannah would live the rest of her life. Consistent with prevailing attitudes regarding married women, Hannah Bailey gave up missionary work but, in spite of chronic ill health during the 1870s, remained a very active member of the Society of Friends. The Baileys had one son, Moses Melvin ("Melvie"), born in 1869.

The subject of peace is one of vital importance to women. It is her mission to bring life, not death, to this world.

—Hannah Johnston Bailey

The elder Moses also experienced poor health dating from about the time he married Hannah, and in 1882 he died after a long battle with lung disease. Hannah inherited substantial wealth, which she used in part to fund various philanthropic projects. But she became much more than a monied benefactor, devoting tremendous energy to a number of causes. Like many other leading female political activists of the 19th century, Bailey's career as a reformer began in earnest only upon the death of her husband. She also managed Moses' businesses: a large farm in Winthrop, an oil-cloth factory in New Jersey (until selling it in 1889), and a retail carpet store in Portland, Maine, which her son took over in 1891. She taught Sunday school, served on countless Friends committees, and acted as treasurer of the Women's Foreign Missionary Society of the New England Yearly Meeting of Friends. In 1883, she joined the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), the leading anti-drink organization in the country. Four years later, in 1887, she assumed leadership of the department of peace and arbitration.

Long active in Quaker Meeting and a successful manager of three businesses, Hannah Bailey brought administrative experience and confidence to her new position. She transformed her department into one of the most active in the WCTU. By the early 1900s, the various WCTU state departments of peace and arbitration were reporting a yearly distribution of up to a million pages of peace literature, the presentation of thousands of lectures and sermons, and a wide variety of other activities. Though occasionally concerned with lobbying government officials, Bailey's efforts usually targeted women and children. She argued, for instance, against the participation of children in "military drills." She saw such activities as harmful because they instilled in young people the sense that fighting is natural and even desirable. To Bailey, "peace" was not simply an absence of war but a state of mind. This explains why she also hoped to abolish prize fighting, capital punishment, and military parades.

Bailey's WCTU department also agitated against the manufacture and use of military toys. As she argued, playing with "toy soldiers, drums, swords or guns … may create or foster in the little people a love for such things, and skill in handling them, which will culminate in a desire for real ones and a spirit of war." Her department produced volumes of literature attacking military toys. But Bailey went even further. She wrote to company owners (and encouraged others to do the same), calling upon them to voluntarily abandon the manufacture of such toys.

As the WCTU crusade against military drills and toys indicated, a primary focus of the WCTU peace effort was to influence the development of children's attitudes about war and peace. Bailey encouraged local WCTU chapters to create "children's peace bands" who would meet regularly. In her suggested outline of duties and ideas, children were to elect officers of the band or club (an adult would serve as the "general superintendent," an advisory position), sing and recite peace-oriented verse at meetings, "pledge themselves to keep from quarreling," write letters to disabled soldiers, and "carry flowers, reading matter, [and] fruit to the sick or unfortunate." According to the annual reports of the WCTU department, many local temperance unions encouraged the formation of children's peace bands.

Beginning in 1889, Bailey began publishing and editing The Acorn, a monthly periodical for children. In her first editorial, she explained to her young readers the purpose of the journal. "While I want you all to be happy and cheerful and enjoy a free-hearted childhood," she wrote, "I want you also to be my helpers in a cause which will make you individually happier. And I tell you the name of the Cause. It is 'Peace and Arbitration.'" In subsequent issues, the Acorn included short stories, poetry, letters from children, and a variety of information about many subjects. Bailey encouraged her readers to secure new subscribers by offering prizes, cash included, for convincing others to buy the journal.

In many ways, the efforts of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union were consistent with Victorian notion's about gender differences. Not only did WCTU literature concentrate on building support among women, it often referred to their "special" nature. Its rhetoric focused on women's unique hatred of war, and women's natural role as peacemakers. Like many of her WCTU colleagues, Bailey, who served as president of Maine's Equal Suffrage Association from 1891 to 1897, worked from the assumption that women were morally superior to men. She claimed, "The subject of peace is one of vital importance to women. It is [their] mission to bring life, not death, to this world." She also noted that women, who "have more feeling than men," find it "simply inconceivable … to realize how men can heartlessly engage in warfare." She accepted without question that women tended to view some issues differently than men, and that it was their duty as the nation's "moral housekeepers" to take the lead in eradicating evils such as intemperance and warfare.

At age 75, Hannah Bailey joined the Woman's Peace Party in 1915 and later became a member of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. She remained superintendent of the national WCTU department of peace and arbitration until 1916 and head of the World WCTU's comparable department even longer. With her health failing somewhat, though, she rarely left southern Maine as she approached her 80th birthday. But thousands of old friends and colleagues visited her at her summer home, the Pine Bluff Chalet, on Belle Isle in Lake Cobbosseccontee, before her death in 1923 at the age of 83.

It was fitting that Hannah Bailey joined the Woman's Peace Party and Women's International League for Peace and Freedom in the decade before her death. Her work in molding the WCTU department of peace and arbitration into the most successful separate women's peace agency in the United States paved the way for these groups. Believing that the "motherhood half of humanity" had a special obligation to help bring an end to war, Bailey and her female colleagues constructed an effective crusade for peace. If it was not in their power to end war, their effort was notable.


Craig, John M. "Hannah Johnston Bailey: Publicist for Peace," in Quaker History. Vol. 84. Spring 1995, pp. 3–16.

Tyrell, Ian. Woman's World, Woman's Empire: The Woman's Christian Temperance Union in International Perspective, 1880–1930. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1991.

suggested reading:

Alonso, Harriet Hyman. Peace as a Women's Issue: A History of the U.S. Movement for World Peace and Women's Rights. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1993.

Bordin, Ruth. Woman and Temperance: The Quest for Power and Liberty, 1873–1900. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1981.


Papers of Hannah Johnston Bailey, Swarthmore College Peace Collection, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania.

John M. Craig , Professor of History, Slippery Rock University, Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania, author of Lucia Ames Mead and the American Peace Movement and numerous articles on activist American women

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Bailey, Hannah Johnston (1839–1923)

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