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Tribute to incredible band of Welsh women who campaigned for peace 100 years ago

THE SENEDD paid tribute to an incredible band of Welsh women who took the country’s campaign for peace to the White House 100 years ago this week.

Sioned Williams led a short debate to mark the century since four campaigners landed in New York in 1924 with a seven-mile-long petition signed by 390,296 Welsh women.

The Plaid Cymru MS said their goal was to urge the US government to join the League of Nations as a means to avoid conflict after the horrors of the First World War.

On February 21, 1924, Annie Hughes Griffiths, Mary Ellis, Gladys Thomas and Elined Price met Calvin Coolidge – one of the 16 US presidents to have Welsh origins.

Bessie Evans’ signature

Ms Williams said they presented President Coolidge with a beautifully written, leather-bound document at the White House in Washington DC.

She quoted the appeal to the women of the US as urging them to “aid in the effort to hand down to the generations which come after us the proud heritage of a warless world”.

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The South Wales West MS said the four Welsh women secured a pledge from President Coolidge that the signatures would be kept at the Smithsonian museum.

She told the chamber: “The appeal was not one to governments but to ordinary American women to use their influence to persuade their government to join this early attempt to make international law a means of securing peace.

“Although it attracted a great deal of attention in the press at the time, this campaign was more or less forgotten. And at the Smithsonian, the petition remained in its chest, until 2023.”

Ms Williams praised campaigners for helping to bring the story back to public attention.

She told MSs the Smithsonian offered access to the petition for further study and it was welcomed back to Wales at the national library in April.

Ms Williams, who was thrilled to find her ancestors among the signatories, said hundreds of volunteers have helped transcribe the names into a searchable database.

Mark Drakeford told MSs there are descendants of the campaigners in his cabinet, including Eluned Morgan whose great aunty Dil was a petition organiser in Pembrokeshire.

He described the petitioners as a formidable, determined and incredible band of women, and he marked the wider contribution of three women.

The first minister paid tribute to Minnie James, from Dowlais, who lost her three sons in the Great War and opened Cardiff’s Temple of Peace in 1938.

He also hailed Edith Picton-Turbervill, the first woman MP with Welsh connections who led a campaign to abolish the death penalty for pregnant women.

And Prof Drakeford reserved a special mention for Mrs Morgan, a suffragette he met, who, aged 16, would get a tram to the bay to work in a munitions factory as part of the war effort.

Carolyn Thomas, a Labour backbencher, who represents North Wales, described the petition as an example of Wales’ proud history as a nation of peace.

Warning of today’s volatile world, she said voices for peace are more important than ever and the Senedd’s recent vote for a ceasefire in Gaza shows Wales continues to speak up.

Jane Dodds, the Liberal Democrats’ leader in Wales, told the chamber research shows women can change the picture of war all over the world.

She said: “A study of 40 peace processes in 35 countries over the past three decades showed that when women’s groups were able to effectively influence the peace process, an agreement was almost always reached.

“When women didn’t participate, the rate of reaching an agreement was much, much lower.”

Mabon ap Gwynfor raised the role of Welsh women, including his mother, in protests against nuclear weapons at RAF Greenham Common, Berkshire, in the early 1980s.

Heledd Fychan, a fellow Plaid Cymru MS, said the peace petition project shows the importance of safeguarding Wales’ national collections.

The party’s shadow culture minister raised concerns about threats posed by cuts to the national library in the Welsh Government’s draft 2024-25 spending plans.

“We must safeguard our heritage because of what it means today,” she said.

“In the international context, it’s crucial that we do understand that we’re not just little old Wales – we’re a great nation where everyone’s voice counts.

“And that’s the power of this petition to encourage us – we must raise our voice now too.”

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