A year as a government agent
|Vira Boarman Whitehouse.|
At the time our country went into the great war Switzerland had become known as the center of international war intrigue. Wild stories were heard about the activities thereof German spies and of the plots and propaganda with which they were busy.
The general situation in Switzerland was recognized in diplomatic circles as complicated and difficult, because of that country's geographical and political position. There it was, a little neutral state in the very middle of Europe, surrounded by warring countries, the meeting-place of the representatives of all those countries. It was not strange that it was nervous about its security and jealous of its neutrality. When I was appointed to direct the work of the Committee on Public Information in that 2 A Year as a Government Agent a particular country many people were undoubtedly surprised.
What experience could a woman have had to fit her for such work in so delicate a situation? The mere fact that a woman was chosen was in itself enough to cause comment. Of course, sex had really nothing to do with the fitness of the choice. The time had come when liberal men recognized that there is no sex inability, and when conscientious men wanted their country's work done by the people they thought most capable to do it.
Whether I was the most capable person is quite another question, and that question was one for George Creel, the Chairman of the Committee on Public Information, to decide. Mr. Creel is a liberal man and free from the usual prejudice against placing women in positions of responsibility. He knew my ability to work hard, because he had worked with me in the 1915 New York State Women Suffrage campaign. In fact, when he asked me to go he said it was because he remembered how hard I had made him work, I had slave-driven him, he said.
On my part, when the position was offered to me I accepted it without hesitation, and I shou|d have done so even if I could have foreseen the loneliness, the difficulties, and the strange obstacles I was to meet. I had learned in the suffrage campaigns in which I had worked that one of the great stumbling blocks to the advance of women in our very general reluctance to accept responsibility. Since the beginning of By Appointment 3 the world we have been h3rpnotized and have h3rpnotized ourselves into doubt of our ability. I
had talked to other women so often about the necessity of assuming responsibility, and accept- ing other people's judgment as to our own ability, that I could not hesitate on that score. I had also taken the war very seriously from the beginning. Every phase of suffering for which it was responsible had pictured itself vividly to my imagination. I had longed to join the women who were doing their share directly to help toward the final victory, although I had never had any dreams of being a heroine, of nursing at the very front under shell fire, or of inspiring others to deeds of bravery.
I knew that my part at best would be only hard, picturesque work at an office desk in safety. But I wanted to do what I could. During the first years of the war, there was no question of it. I was working with every ounce of energy I possessed for democracy at home — ^to pass the suffrage amendment in New York State. I felt comparatively free when the amendment was adopted in November, 191 7. The following month, after having finished a thousand and one details left over from the campaign, having helped make and put into operation plans for educational and patriotic work for the suffrage organization,
I went to a National American Women Suffrage convention in Washington, and while there I saw George Creel.
Contents of the book:
- I. My appointment I
- II. Diplomatic methods 22
- III. The vanishing news service 46
- IV. Apparent defeat 70
- V. To America and back 91
- VI. At work Ill
- VII. Success under difficulties 136
- VIII. One thing after another 160
- IX. Swiss problems 180
- X. The approaching end 201
- XI. Grief and adventure 222
- XII. Strife and confusion 248
- XIII. The end of the year 267
- Appendices 289
Vira Boarman Whitehouse (September 16, 1875 – April 11, 1957) was the owner of the Whitehouse Leather Company, a suffragette, and early proponent of birth control
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