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Men gathered for Thanksgiving in 1919 in the Conscientious Objector Prison Camp dining hall at Fort Douglas, Utah.  Photo courtesy of Swarthmore College Peace Collection.

Bearing Witness In War And Peace

A Quaker family with deep Swarthmore roots carries forward a legacy of conscientious objection

On a summer day in London during this centenary of the Great War, sadness salts the air where I stand. A remembrance garden of red poppies adorns the grounds of London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral, a symbol seen all over a country that lost a generation of young men from every walk of life.

Also worth remembering is Quaker nonviolence during wartime and revolution. The College—and its people—played an important role in the violent drama of World War I a century ago. One Swarthmore family was greatly involved in matters of conscience and creative nonviolence. 

I met a member of that family, Lucy Rickman Baruch ’42, a British Quaker, in her West London home in July. Everything was perfectly English about her, especially the greenest garden.

“They weren’t retiring violets,” Lucy says, speaking of her parents in a soft, steady voice.

Hardly. Her American mother, Lydia Cooper Lewis Rickman, class of 1906, met the British conscientious objector (C.O.) and physician John Rickman while working in a field hospital. The Society of Friends opened a facility for war victims and refugees during the Great War.

Lydia came from an old-line Philadelphia Quaker family with deep Swarthmore and peace connections. (More than 20 of her relatives attended the College.) Her mother, Lucy Biddle Lewis, a prominent member of the College’s Board of Managers from 1908 to 1940, also championed the cause of the Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom (WILPF). 

Among Lydia’s College friends were Alice Paul, class of 1905, the spirited suffrage leader who also came from a Friends family. Perhaps the first crop of female graduates after 1900 was determined to claim rights and liberties for themselves. Lydia first did social work with immigrants at Hull House, the famed settlement house in Chicago founded by Jane Addams. Her mother knew Addams, another Quaker, from her extensive involvement in the League.

At about age 30, Lydia set off for Russia with a group of Quakers on a humanitarian mission. Women could not be C.O.s in those days when the Great War was underway, and the Russian Revolution was not far behind. “The Unit” as it was called, was in a country village. You had to be strong to last there.

The Unit’s work was intense and life changing for Lydia and Dr. Rickman. They fell in love there and got engaged. He had refused to be conscripted on religious grounds into the Royal Army Medical Corps. Sent to a military tribunal, he risked going to prison, the fate of several thousand English C.O.s. Instead, he served in the Friends unit in Russia, treating famine and war victims. Lucy says her father was the only doctor for miles, because Russian doctors were called to the front.

“After the Revolution, they had a simple Quaker wedding in the Unit,” she says. During their civil marriage ceremony in a nearby town, they could hear gunfire in the distance.

For the rest of his life, Lucy’s father regaled family and friends with endless stories about Russia: travel on the Trans-Siberian Railroad, the time his horse fell into a snowdrift while pulling a sleigh during a blizzard. He made it sound like good fun.

Then came Lucy’s turn to further her family’s Quaker witness during wartime. Her senior year at Swarthmore was defined by the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Back home in England, she enlisted in the war effort as a member of the women’s auxiliary. Just as her parents had helped people heal, Lucy worked as a nurse during and after World War II, treating wounded soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Joining the Army seemed a lesser evil than Hitler,” she says. “Quite a lot of Quakers were active,” including her father, who joined the military medical corps during World War II. “By this time, he was a psychiatrist and was working with traumatized soldiers—he felt he could be more useful in uniform than not,” she told The Guardian newspaper this summer.

Signifying a sea change in perspectives between the world wars, more than half of American Quaker young men enlisted in World War II, the highest percentage of any conflict. 

Six years after the war ended, John Rickman died. Lucy’s wedding to Bernard Baruch happened just days later, July 7, 1951. After that, she worked part time as a psychiatric social worker and cared for her three children and her mother, Lydia. An invention of hers, a mobile play bus for disadvantaged children, drew interest from visitors, including one from Hull House.

One of Lucy’s six grandchildren, Emma Anthony, a peace activist, carries on the family Quaker flame, working for the Fellowship of Reconciliation, established in 1914 to campaign against the devastating conflict and carnage her grandparents opposed. Trench warfare on the battlefields of France and Belgium was the most ghastly the world had ever seen. And the influenza epidemic claimed even more millions of lives. 

Lucy and Emma were present May 15, International Conscientious Objectors Day, in London’s Tavistock Square at a ceremony organized by the First World War Peace Forum to recognize families descended from World War I conscientious objectors. 

Lucy spoke about her father, while Emma told the gathering about her great-grandmother’s work with the WILPF as defining moments. The event brought a revelation to Lucy.  

“I was more concerned to learn about others’ experiences—prison, the Red Cross, et al,” she says modestly. “I had never as a child thought of my father’s experiences and anecdotes as courageous. They were just interesting stories.”

Lucy’s family exemplifies that pacifism does not mean passive-ism. Quakers often find ways to make a tremendous difference in wartime—whether as conscientious objectors or working peacefully within the system. Lucy says of her parents, Lydia and John Rickman, “I think they followed the light as they saw it, in the Quaker way.”