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Balch, Emily Greene

in: People

Emily Greene Balch (1867-1961): Social Worker, Reformer, Peace Activist and Recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, 1946

By Catherine A. Paul

Emily Greene Balch[View Image]
[View Image]
Emily Greene Balch
Photo: Library of Congress
Digital ID hec 18336

Emily Greene Balch was an American economist, sociologist, and pacifist. She was born January 8, 1867 in Boston, Massachusetts to a prominent family, and she attended Bryn Mawr College from 1886 until 1889, where she studied economics. After spending a year independently studying sociology, she was awarded the European Fellowship through Bryn Mawr and moved to Paris. There, she studied economics under Émile Levasseur, a French economist and historian, and wrote Public Assistance of the Poor in France, published in 1893 (Nobel Prize, 2016). Upon her return to the United States, Balch worked in Boston at the Children’s Aid Society with Charles W. Birtwell (“Emily Greene Balch,” 2014). Soon after, Balch attended a summer institute sponsored by the Ethical Culture Society where she met Katherine Coman, Vida Scudder, and, most significantly, Jane Addams, the founder of the Hull House. Adams became Balch’s role model and idol, shaping the rest of her career. Later in 1892, Emily Balch helped to establish Denison House,which was modeled after Addams’ Hull House. Balch acted as Denison House’s head worker for a short period of time (Trattner, 1986).

Between 1892 and 1896, Balch attended Radcliffe, the University of Chicago, and the University of Berlin (Trattner, 1986). Emily Greene Balch joined the faculty of Wellesley College in 1896, published an elaborate study of Slavic immigration called Our Slavic Fellow Citizens in 1910, and ultimately became a professor of sociology and economics at Wellesley in 1913 (Nobel Prize, 2016; Trattner, 1986). There, Balch developed pioneering courses in economic history, immigration, and social pathology, and took her students on field trips to introduce them to the realities of immigrant neighborhoods, sweatshops, and union halls (Trattner, 1986). During this time, Emily Balch was also a member of two municipal boards, one regarding children and the other urban planning, and two state commissions, one on industrial education and the other on immigration. She became involved with movements for women’s suffrage, racial justice, control for child labor, and better wages and conditions of labor (Nobel Prize, 2016). However, due to her outspoken views and radicalism, Balch’s contract with Wellesley was not renewed after 1918 (“Emily Greene Balch,” 2014).Emily Greene Balch[View Image]
[View Image]
Emily Greene Balch
Photo: Public Domain

At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Balch decided to dedicate her lifework to furthering humanity’s effort to rid the world of war. As a delegate to the International Congress of Women at The Hague in 1915, Balch adopted and spearheaded several special projects. She founded the Women’s International Committee for Permanent Peace, later known as the Women’s International League for Peace of Freedom (WILFP), prepared peace proposals for the warring nations, urged Scandinavian countries and the Russian government to initiate mediation, and collaborated with Jane Addams and Alice Hamilton in writing Women at The Hague: The International Congress of Women and Its Results (1915). Additionally, in 1915 Balch became a member of Henry Ford’s Neutral Conference for Continuous Mediation in Stockholm, for which she authored the International Colonial Administration, which proposed a system of administration that mirrored the mandate system later implemented by the League of Nations (Nobel Prize, 2016).

Between wars, Emily Balch worked with governments, organizations, and commissions, including the League of Nations, on issues such as disarmament, the internationalization of aviation, drug control, and the United State’s involvement in the League. As a member of the WILPF committee in 1926, she investigated conditions in Haiti and wrote Occupied Haiti (Nobel Prize, 2016).

In 1935, Emily Balch became the leader of the WILFP, where she cautioned against fascism and criticized western democracies for not stopping Hitler and Mussolini’s aggressive policies (Nobel Prize, 2016). At risk to her pacifist reputation, Balch came out in support of World War II, but she devoted her time to guarantee humane treatment for conscientious objectors and Japanese Americans (Trattner, 1986). In 1946, Balch was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her dedication to disarmament and peace. Even after her receipt of the Peace Prize, Balch maintained her association with the WILPF and co-chaired a committee to mark the centenary of the birth of Jane Addams. She died at the age of 94 on January 9, 1961 (Nobel Prize, 2016).


This work may also be read through the Internet Archive.


“Emily Greene Balch.” (2014). Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved October 22, 2016 from

Nobel Prize. (2016). Emily Greene Balch. Retrieved from

Trattner, W. I. (1986). Balch, Emily Green. Biographical dictionary of social welfare in America (46-48). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

For further reading:

Public Assistance of the Poor in France

Our Slavic Fellow Citizens

Women at The Hague: The International Congress of Women and Its Results

Occupied Haiti

Emily Greene Balch Papers, 1842-1961

Denison House. Records of Denison House, 1890-1984: A Finding Aid

How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Paul, C. A. (2016). Emily Greene Balch (1867-1961): Social worker, reformer, peace activist and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, 1946. Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved [date accessed] from


3 Replies to “Balch, Emily Greene”

  1. Kathleen Walsh RN says:

    thanks for this; Emily Balch is one of my most powerful inspirations. I learned about her while doing research for a book I’m writing, set in the years 1914-1922. I wish we’d learned about Emily and so many other courageous people working for justice when we were in grade and high school Best to all

  2. […] During WWII, Emily changed her pacifist view, in light of the excessive cruelty of the Nazi regime. She wrote to persuade the U.S. government to allowed refugees from the Nazi violence into America, and worked to assist Japanese American held in detention camps. In 1946, Emily received the Nobel Peace Prize for her work with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Read more about Emily Greene Balch here: […]

  3. […] admin. (n.d.-a). Balch, Emily Greene. Retrieved from […]

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