The Misses Balch
by Stephen Pepper, Docent and Dorothy Clark, Board Member
Ranged along the western side of the second-floor hallway of the Loring Greenough House are three delicate mahogany Chinese Chippendale chairs and a matching settee. Tags dangling underneath the pieces of furniture record that “The Misses Balch” loaned the furniture to the Jamaica Plain Tuesday Club in 1926—and presumably made the loan permanent later. Who were “The Misses Balch”? What was their relationship to the Loring Greenough House and the Jamaica Plain Tuesday Club?
Chinese Chippendale style settee and chairs, probably made in England circa 1800. The set originally included 12 chairs. A framed label reads, “Gift of / the Francis Balch family and the Life Members / This furniture was taken from a French ship by one of grandfather William Bartlett’s privateers in the undeclared war between France and the United States, 1798-1801. American privateers were active then in the West Indian waters, and French planters imported this type of furniture in considerable quantities.” William Bartlet [later generations added the second T] of Newburyport (1746-1841) was the grandfather of Anne and Emily Balch’s mother Ellen Maria Noyes. He became the richest man in Newburyport, owning a fleet of ships that traded in Europe and the East and West Indies. While there is no direct evidence, his cargos suggest some participation in the slave trade, since sugar and molasses were not only produced by enslaved people in the Caribbean but also traded for them.
Anne Lathrop Balch (1865-1950) and Emily Greene Balch (1867-1961) were the two eldest of six siblings who grew up in a comfortable home at 130 Prince Street near Jamaica Pond and within a half-mile of the Loring Greenough House. Anne and Emily had three sisters and a brother; two other girls were toddlers when they died. The surviving siblings continued to live together on Prince Street after the deaths of their mother in 1884 and their father in 1898, some for many years.
Anne and Emily were charter members of the Jamaica Plain Tuesday Club, which was organized in 1896.
Anne was active in the club until her death. She served at various times on the Literature, Science, Art, Legislative, Program, and Current Events committees, as a director for two terms, as secretary for three years, and was one of three vice presidents for three years. Minutes for a meeting on January 15, 1918, say, “Miss Balch presented to the Club a request for a protest against the action of the Park Department in cutting down trees along the Parkway, but no action was taken.” (The more things change, the more they stay the same!) On the final page of the club’s Year Book for 1950-1951, “Miss Anne L. Balch, Charter Member” is listed under the heading “The Club Holds in Loving Remembrance” in larger type than the rest of the names.
Emily was one of three speakers at a club meeting organized by the Philanthropy Committee on March 8, 1898. According to the minutes, she “traced the gradual growth of poverty and the conditions under which organized charitable work began.” This talk reflected the values of her family and the work she had already been doing for several years. In 1864 her father began working in Washington, D.C., as secretary to Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, the staunch abolitionist, and as clerk to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, headed by Sumner. In 1889 Emily received her bachelor’s degree as a member of Bryn Mawr College’s first graduating class. The following year she studied economics in Paris. Back in Boston she worked with the Children’s Aid Society and with three other women’s college graduates founded Denison House in the South End to help poor immigrant families. In July 1896 she attended the International Socialist Workers’ and Trade Union Congress in London; that fall she began a 20-year career teaching economics and sociology at Wellesley College. And that was only the beginning of a life lived on the global scene for 94 productive years.
Though Emily’s membership in the Tuesday Club lapsed from 1900 to 1907, she rejoined and served on the Philanthropy Committee in 1907-08 and the Social Service Committee in 1908-09. Beginning in 1911 and continuing until her death, “Miss Emily G. Balch” was listed as the sole Honorary Member in each Year Book.
In January 1915 Emily was in Europe for the first international conference of the Woman’s Peace Party, which had been organized by progressive social reformer Jane Addams and suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt. Emily increasingly wrote and lectured about continuous negotiation and mediation as alternatives to war, even after World War I broke out in Europe. She, Addams, and others worked with Henry Ford on a well-financed but ultimately futile effort to persuade governments on both sides to end the war and talk to each other. After the 1918 armistice that ended the war, Emily, Addams, and other leaders of the International Committee of Women for Permanent Peace turned their efforts to support the founding of the League of Nations. In May 1919, while the Allies were negotiating the Treaty of Versailles, they transformed their organization into the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), which continues today.
Having lost her teaching position at Wellesley because of her pacifist and socialist commitments, Emily established WILPF’s headquarters in Geneva to be near the new League of Nations’ offices and worked there for most of the next 17 years. The Nobel Peace Prize for 1931 was given to Jane Addams, “for her social reform work and leading the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom” and to Nicholas Butler, international peace activist and president of Columbia University. In 1946 the prize was awarded to the 79-year-old Emily for her work with WILPF—after WILPF had appointed a committee in 1945 to push for her nomination. Like Addams, she shared the honor with a man: Emily’s co-laureate was John R. Mott, longtime leader of the YMCA. She was only the third woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize since its beginning in 1901, and it would be 30 more years before the next women laureates were chosen.
Emily was hospitalized with bronchial asthma when the prize was awarded, but attended the Oslo ceremony two years later. She also spoke to great acclaim at the Tuesday Club’s meeting on March 25, 1947. The 1946-47 Year Book says, “We rejoiced as citizens of the world, as citizens of the United States, as citizens of her native town, and as friends, because many of us knew it was the crowning of many years of hard work, keen thinking, valiant pioneering, and persistent following of her convictions.”
Despite continuing health problems, Emily, from her home base in Wellesley, persisted in efforts toward peace through the 1950s, especially urging international oversight of air and sea resources. She also published a small book of poems, The Miracle of Living. A charming example of her legacy is a post and artwork by 10th-grader Arturo Luis in Camarillo, California, in honor of the centennial of women’s suffrage, though suffrage was not a main focus of her work. Interestingly, her brother, Francis Noyes Balch—a politically engaged lawyer—vehemently opposed extending the right to vote to women.
Kristen E. Gwinn, in her 2010 book Emily Greene Balch: The Long Road to Internationalism, tells a vivid story of Emily’s life in 1960, when her family had placed her in a nursing home in South Natick:
“Even this did not slow her down. Frances Hayward, the first friend Balch made as a child in Jamaica Plain, encouraged Balch’s seemingly endless drive to continue. When both women were in their nineties, they exchanged letters frequently. The women came to believe that they would fare better under each other’s care. Balch somehow managed to sweet talk a doctor at the nursing home into driving her to Maine so that she might stay with Hayward. Not surprisingly, the journey proved too much for Balch and she soon returned to Boston. This vignette of two women in their nineties, convinced of their own fortitude, revealed their determination not to let age stop them from living each day as thoroughly as they wished.”
Both Anne Lathrop Balch and Emily Greene Balch carried out lives of dedicated service for many decades, one at the local level, the other on the international scene. Both of “The Misses Balch” modeled the ideals and strength of the women who founded the Jamaica Plain Tuesday Club, guided it to purchase and maintain the Loring Greenough House, and continue to lead it today.