We Answered With Love: Pacifist Service in World War I
The Letters of Leslie Hotson and Mary Peabody
In 1918, the United States government required that all universities provide military training to prepare sufficient officers for a nation at war. When Harvard made military training mandatory for all students during World War I, John Leslie Hotson, took a leave of absence from his studies and went to France with a group of Quakers to do relief and reconstruction work. This project, the Friends Reconstruction Unit, became the first project of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). His dear friend Mary May Peabody, a socialist and political activist, remained at Radcliffe College. During the thirteen months he was overseas, Leslie and Mary wrote more than a hundred letters to each other. Their correspondence offers a delightful and compelling story of two young people caught up in the struggle, sacrifice, and adventure of participating in a noble cause (and, incidentally, falling in love.)
Leslie writes of living alongside refugees in devastated French villages, the work of the Quakers in rebuilding some of the destruction, the conditions of conscientious objectors in America under the atmosphere of fervent militarism, and his joy in experiencing art and culture in Paris. Mary’s letters tell of finishing her senior year at Radcliffe, sharing the campus with thousands of men from the Naval Radio School, the devastating Spanish influenza, the labor strikes at the local textile mills, and the disturbing rise of political conservatism after the Armistice. They struggle to define what it means to live a life of service and how they might be called to serve in the future. They also talk about poetry, literature, friends from Harvard and Radcliffe College, and their day-to-day activities. The letters are a romantic story of their friendship turning into a love which lasted for more than seventy years. In this book, I have edited their letters and provided additional material that puts their experiences in a broader historical context.
Their story is timely. In 2017, the American Friends Service Committee celebrated its one hundredth anniversary of its beginnings in the work in France. In 1947, AFSC was a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, on behalf of all Quakers for their work “…from the nameless to the nameless….” The organization now has dozens of programs throughout the United States and in thirteen other countries. Leslie and Mary’s appeal, however, will extend beyond students of Quaker history. This book will also be of interest to readers who are seeking an alternative and accessible look at the effects of the First World War and its immediate aftermath as experienced by two highly observant young people.
We Answered With Love: Pacifist Service in World War I was published in December 2016 by Pleasant Green Books.
Trade paperback: 412 pages