If Dagmar Wilson were alive today, she’d be shaking her head about the recent nuclear activity negotiations with Iran. Fifty years ago Dagmar fought a similar issue, but against the Soviet Union. She was enough of a pragmatist to realize one person alone cannot bring about an end to nuclear armament, but she hoped that many voices raised together might be hard to ignore.
In 1961, she and her husband Christopher Wilson, and their three daughters, were living in Washington, D.C. Like many other young mothers of that time, Dagmar worried about potential radioactive fallout from atmospheric nuclear testing and how it might affect the lives of her children and millions of other children throughout the world. Unlike most people, however, she decided to do something about it. She started a telephone tree – calling friends, neighbors, and parents of her children’s school acquaintances, asking them in turn to call other women, sharing their concern about nuclear weapons and asking if they would be willing to join her in a protest. Her goal was to demonstrate that American wives and mothers would not sit by while men of powerful nations allowed the possible destruction of the planet via nuclear weaponry.
A short two months later on November 1, 1961, a massive one-day mobilization of over 50,000 women marched in some sixty cities across America. They marched side by side – mothers holding babies, grandmothers clutching toddlers, and women of many occupations walking away from typewriters and telephones. That day, Dagmar and 1,500 women stood at the foot of the Washington monument in Washington D.C. chanting, “End the arms race, not the human race.” President John F. Kennedy supposedly watched their gathering from a window at the White House, while First Lady Jackie Kennedy penned a note supporting their endeavors.
Together, Dagmar’s women formed a sisterhood spearheaded by Dagmar and New York Congresswoman Bella Abzug. Called, Women’s Strike for Peace, it became the largest women’s national peace protest group of the 20th century. Less than six months later, Dagmar led a contingent of 51 of the members to an international disarmament conference in Geneva, Switzerland (April 1962). The women carried with them over 50,000 signed petitions from women all over America asking for a halt to nuclear testing in the atmosphere. Remember that these signatures were garnered in an era before email, social media, or even computer technology.
Dagmar’s goal was attained in the fall of 1963, when the Limited Test Ban Treaty was signed by the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union. The treaty prohibited nuclear testing in the atmosphere, outer space, and underwater. A success by all accounts, the multi-nation ban finally occurred after a decade of negotiations. President Kennedy said that the actions of the Women’s Strike for Peace were a significant factor in bringing the awareness of nuclear armament into every American home. This national awareness might have helped to force the issue of the dangers of radioactive fallout.
Women Strike for Peace, or WSP as they became known, did not stop there. They launched peace protests against the War in Vietnam, against the House on Un-American Activities Committee, and against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. They marched in force supporting the Civil Rights Movement. In short, the WSP sought to make this world a better place, thanks to the vision of Dagmar Wilson and others like her who earnestly believed by linking together, women can make a difference.
Dagmar Wilson passed away in 2011 at the age of 94, after a highly successful career as peace activist, artist, and illustrator of children’s books. One of her daughters, artist Jessica Wilson, has reprinted some of Dagmar’s holiday art onto cards with winsome letters forming “PEACE”, so that Dagmar’s message will never be forgotten. These cards are available from Around the Block Books 540-751-9161, Natural Mercantile 540-338-7080, or from firstname.lastname@example.org.
Strong women live on through their legacies.
Thank you to Dixie Hallaj, my ardent proof reader.