Mead, Lucia Ames (1856–1936)

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Mead, Lucia Ames (1856–1936)

American writer and lecturer who promoted reform causes, including women's suffrage and world peace . Name variations: Lucy True Ames; Lucia Ames. Pronunciation: Meed. Born Lucy Jane Ames on May 5, 1856, in Boscawen, New Hampshire; died in Boston, Massachusetts, of injuries suffered in a fall, November 1, 1936; daughter of Nathan Plummer Ames (a farmer) and Elvira (Coffin) Ames; aunt of Mary Ware Dennett (1872–1947); attended public and private schools in Illinois and Massachusetts, graduated from Salem Normal School; married Edwin Doak Mead (a writer and reformer), on September 29, 1898.

Mother died (1861), moved near Chicago; father died (1870), moved to Boston to live with brother Charles; began career as piano teacher (1875); offered courses for women on literature, history, and philosophy (1886); published novel, Memoirs of a Millionaire (1889); attended first peace conference, Lake Mohonk Conference on International Arbitration (1897); elected president of Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association (1903–09); selected as peace committee chair, National American Woman Suffrage Association (1904) and National Council of Women (1905); wrote Patriotism and the New Internationalism (1906) and Swords and Ploughshares (1912); named national secretary, Woman's Peace Party (1915–18); named national secretary, U.S. branch of Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (1919–21); lectured for National Council for the Prevention of War (1922–33); wrote Law or War (1928).

In 1897, Lucia True Ames traveled from her home in Boston to the Catskill Mountains of New York, site of the third annual Lake Mohonk Conference on International Arbitration. The writer and reform activist had never attended a major peace conference before, but meeting organizers prevailed upon her to deliver an address. Ames' talk focused on the role that women, as mothers and teachers, could play in promoting peace. While instructing children, they should discuss the negative economic consequences of warfare, portray patriotism as not simply "pride in our country but … service to our country," and encourage toleration of all peoples and diverse beliefs. In addition, Ames urged peace advocates to start employing imaginative techniques, such as placing advertisements in street cars, to bring their message before a larger number of Americans of all classes.

This address by Lucia Ames, a talented writer and speaker who became a leader of the U.S. peace movement within a few years of her first visit to Lake Mohonk, foreshadowed her subsequent peace activism in two ways. First, she focused on the potential role of women within the movement. Second, she argued for a campaign of public education. Though she contributed to the cause in many ways during the next 40 years, her attempts to involve women's groups and individual women in the peace crusade, and her personal efforts to publicize anti-war sentiment among non-elites, render her among the most important American peace activists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Born in Boscawen, New Hampshire, in 1856, Lucy Jane Ames was the second daughter and third child of Elvira Coffin Ames and Nathan Plummer Ames. Her father, a farmer, served as a colonel in the New Hampshire Militia during the Civil War. After the death of his wife in 1861, Nathan Ames moved his family near Chicago, where Lucy attended both public and private schools. In 1870, following her father's death, she returned East to live with her older brother Charles, a recent college graduate who worked for a publishing house. Together with their maternal uncle Charles Carleton Coffin, the well-known war correspondent, brother Charles provided an excellent informal education for his inquisitive sister which served to supplement her training at Salem High School in Massachusetts, from which she graduated. Lucy devoted tremendous energy to examining literature, history, theology, and philosophy, among other subjects, often setting rigid goals for completing her studies.

Shortly after moving to Massachusetts, Lucy changed her name to Lucia True Ames, undoubtedly in anticipation of becoming a published author. Beginning in the mid-1870s, she worked as a piano teacher, an occupation which allowed her to avoid the life of dependency most women of the era faced. She wrote some articles for newspapers and journals while in her 20s, and her first books—one a manual for Sunday School teachers and the other a reform novel—appeared in 1888 and 1889 (she ultimately wrote four others, including three on peace). Her earliest scholarly interests were primarily in theology and philosophy. A devout Congregationalist who later became a Unitarian, Lucia recognized that her "whole instinct [was] for religion … [and her] strongest, deepest feeling religious." This led to a thorough study of philosophy, and her studying with one of the nation's leading philosophers and educators, William Torrey Harris, who later served as U.S. Commissioner of Education. Ames attended the Concord Summer School of Philosophy, run by Harris after 1879, and arranged an annual "Saturday Club" of friends who met regularly to hear Harris' teachings. When Harris was away, Lucia Ames directed the sessions, a practice which ultimately evolved in 1886 into Ames offering her own classes to women on "Nineteenth-Century Thought."

By the early 1890s, Ames had authored a number of pamphlets and journal articles favoring a host of reform causes. She called for the creation of an educational system that would provide adequate training for recent immigrants, blacks, and other underprivileged Americans. She attacked municipal government corruption and irresponsibility, the greed of the large corporations, and "extravagant self-indulgence" among the wealthy. She also delivered lectures on these subjects, and others, to church congregations, literary societies, and women's clubs, earning a reputation in the Boston area as a fine public speaker.

In 1898, she married reformer Edwin Doak Mead, editor of the New England Magazine. Over the next few years, the commitment of the Meads to the peace movement gradually intensified, fueled initially by the couple's outrage over American involvement in the war with Spain. After the fighting with Spain ended, Lucia Mead joined the Anti-Imperialist League. She wrote and lectured in opposition to America's Philippine policy, and was among the first three women named as vice-presidents of the organization in 1904.

Lucia Mead also began attending international peace congresses in Europe. A 1901 trip to the Glasgow Universal Peace Congress brought her for the first time into direct contact with leading European pacifists, and provided the final push which caused the Meads to devote their lives to the movement. Between 1902 and the outbreak of World War I, Lucia Mead emerged as arguably the most prominent female peace activist in the nation. She served on the American Peace Society's board of directors, attended every Lake Mohonk Conference between 1902 and 1916, and traveled as a delegate to dozens of national and international peace congresses. Like most peace advocates of the period, she argued for the establishment of international peacekeeping mechanisms such as arbitration treaties, a world legislature, and a world court. But it was not her ideas on peace and war that rendered Lucia Mead an extraordinary peace activist. It was her actions. No American pacifist of the immediate pre-World War I movement came close to equalling Mead's efforts to recruit women into the crusade, or to publicize the goals of pacifists among the general population.

The teacher who has the spirit of internationalism is alone fitted to lead today.

—Lucia Ames Mead

After 1902, Mead spoke to thousands of audiences, about three out of four of which were women's groups or school assemblies. Her goal, as she often told her pacifist colleagues, was to awaken "the great body of hitherto silent women," to encourage them to learn about the dangers of war and the promise of international cooperation. Mead undertook a concerted effort to interest the major women's organizations in peace activism. By 1905, she chaired the peace committees of both the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and the National Council of Women (NCW). At each organization's annual convention, she urged prominent female activists in attendance to do more to promote peace. Mead, who served as president of the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association from 1903 to 1909, called on suffragists to closely link the fight for the ballot with the pacifist crusade. "Suffragists may work for the abolition of war," she observed, "not merely because it is a great evil, but because whenever militarism obtains, women's influence decreases." Chairing the peace committees also afforded her a small budget to distribute pamphlets to women, or, as she did in 1910, send copies of two of her pamphlets to every congressional representative.

Lucia Mead never achieved her goal of inaugurating a massive women's war against war, but her efforts were notable. The same can be said of her attempts to reach all non-elites, including men. During the first three decades of the 20th century, she became "the most successful newspaper letter writer in the United States," as pacifist Frederick J. Libby noted. She turned out scores of short articles and letters each year in hundreds of publications. She usually produced two pieces a week, then sent them off to varied publications, usually in different locales so that the same letter could appear in a number of newspapers and journals.

To supplement her literary efforts, Lucia Mead also undertook extensive annual lecture tours. As many contemporaries noted, she was a fine public speaker whose ability could shock audiences. Jane Addams believed that "no one [of her day] in the United States has done more through that most valuable method of instruction, direct speech, to educate the public in the history of the peace movement, nor has any one been more successful in securing new adherents" to the cause. The Boston activist usually made a five- or six-week lecture tour in January and February, then embarked on another trip in the fall. All told, she would speak to a hundred or so audiences on "The End of International Dueling," "Women's Work for Peace," "The New Internationalism," and similar topics.

When World War I broke out in the summer of 1915, Lucia Mead helped found the Woman's Peace Party. Named national secretary of the group, she helped devise policy as a member of the executive board throughout the war, lectured under the auspices of the group, wrote its annual reports, and generally played a crucial leadership role within the first significant national women's peace organization in American history. Before the American war declaration in 1917, Mead's speeches and writings focused on minimizing armament and other military expenditures, and resisting attempts to begin compulsory military training for all young men. After April 1917, she shifted her focus to making sure conscription ended with the cessation of hostilities, defending conscientious objectors, minimizing intolerance of dissenters during war, calling for a just war settlement, and most important, supporting the idea of a postwar league of nations.

In April 1919, Lucia Mead joined a large American contingent who attended the international women's peace congress in Zurich, where the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom was born. During the 1920s, often speaking under the auspices of the National Council for Prevention of War, she brushed aside repeated attacks upon her by the American Legion, Daughters of the American Revolution, and other intolerant groups. She challenged her adversaries to radio debates to take advantage of this new propaganda opportunity. Lucia Mead, one of only a few American women who made the "short list" of great activists considered for the Nobel Peace Prize, continued to write extensively on peace and other issues until the middle 1930s.

In late October 1936, while Mead waited to board a Boston subway, a crowd of schoolchildren knocked her from the platform by accident. The fall broke her hip, and "ill more from the shock than from the fracture," she died a few days later. Her passing deprived the peace movement of an important transitional figure whose career spanned the period from the Spanish-American War to the year of Germany's occupation of the Rhineland. Though her colleagues were slow to respond to the call for a campaign of education among non-elites and women, the peace movement finally moved in this direction during the 1920s.


Craig, John M. Lucia Ames Mead and the American Peace Movement. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1990.

Patterson, David S. Toward a Warless World: The Travail of the American Peace Movement, 1887–1914. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1976.

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.

Crapol, Edward P., ed. Women and American Foreign Policy: Lobbyists, Critics, and Insiders. Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 1992.


Papers of Lucia Ames Mead, 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