Emily Greene Balch Biography

Educator, Activist, Activist (1867–1961)
Social activist and pacifist Emily Greene Balch won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1946 for being a lifetime advocate of the persecuted and oppressed.


Born in 1867 in Boston, Emily Greene Balch began teaching at Wellesley College in 1896. A pacifist and socialist, she founded the Women's Trade Union League of Boston in 1902, and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom in 1915. During WWII, she encouraged governments to accept refugees, and supported the Japanese interned in the United States. Balch won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1946.

Early Career

Educator, political and social activist Emily Greene Balch was born on January 8, 1867, in Boston, Massachusetts. A dedicated pacifist and crusader for women, workers, and others, Balch won the 1946 Nobel Peace Prize. One of six children, she had a strong sense of morals and ethics instilled in her by her parents. Balch attended Bryn Mawr College, graduating with a degree in economics in 1889. After graduating, she studied sociology for a time and received a fellowship, which she used to go abroad to continue her education in economics.

In 1896, Balch began teaching at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, becoming a professor in 1913. While at Wellesley, she wrote Our Slavic Fellow Citizens (1910), based on her immigration research on people from Austria and Hungary. Balch was a well-respected economist and sociologist, but her career suffered somewhat because of her support for socialism. This economic and political theory was considered quite radical at the time.


Emily Greene Balch committed much of her time outside of class to social activism. She helped found the Women's Trade Union League of Boston in 1902 and served as its president. Concerned about world affairs, Balch attended two peace conferences in the Netherlands in 1899 and 1907 before the outbreak of World War I. The war fueled her passionate pacifism, and she became one of the delegates to the International Congress of Women at The Hague in the Netherlands in 1915. Other distinguished social reformers, including Jane Addams and Alice Hamilton, also attended the event.

Formation of WILPF

At the conference, Balch helped found an organization that later became known as the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. She worked with Addams and Hamilton to write a report based on the event entitled Women at The Hague: The International Congress of Women and Its Results (1915).

With such strong antiwar feelings, Balch left her position at Wellesley to focus on her work for social change. She served as secretary of the WILPF from 1919 to 1922. In 1926, Balch traveled to U.S. occupied Haiti and wrote a report about poor conditions there. The report is believed to have influenced President Herbert Hoover's decision to remove the troops.

With the rise of the Nazis in Germany during the 1930s, Balch sought to help people being persecuted under Adolf Hitler's regime. She wrote Refugees as Assets (1939) to encourage the government to allow those who were being victimized by the Nazis to immigrate to the United States. Later, Balch offered her support to Japanese Americans imprisoned in detention camps in the United States.

Nobel Peace Prize

In 1946, Balch received the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her life's work. She shared the prize with John R. Mott, an official with the Young Men's Christian Association. Rather than keep the prize money, Balch decided to donate it to the organization she had supported for so long: the WILPF.

Emily Greene Balch spent her last few years in declining health. She entered a Massachusetts nursing home in 1956, and died on January 9, 1961, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Fact Check

We strive for accuracy and fairness. If you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!