On This Day: A Letter to The League of Nations Non-Partisan Association, Southern California Branch, 21 May 1926

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

In a recent post about a Schools Peace Day commemoration for California’s public schools in 1915, I mentioned that I’ve been reading Margaret McMillan’s excellent book on the conference in Paris that followed the cessation of hostilities during World War I.

MacMillan, a descendant of England’s prime minister David Lloyd George, one of the three principals (with Georges Clemenceau of France and President Woodrow Wilson of the United States) at the proceedings, writes extensively of the movement to create the League of Nations, which was to be an international arbitrator of conflict between nations and which grew out of Wilson’s idealistic ambitions for the conference (Clemenceau, for example, was focused on punitive action against Germany for launching the war.)

New York Times, 15 December 1922.

Wilson, however, doomed the chances for his country to join the League through a number of ill-timed and poorly-conceived choices, including shutting Republicans out from involvement in the conference.   The result was that only a few nations opted out of the body, including the U.S.  Wilson’s second term was also marked by the G.O.P. taking control of Congress in the 1918 midterm elections (here we are a century later with high stakes in this year’s midterms!) and a stroke effectually disabled him during his last years in office.

Still, there were many Americans, mainly Democrats, who continued to advocate for the nation’s admittance to the League and two main organizations were launched for the purpose of promoting that cause.

Los Angeles Times, 2 April 1924.  Note that mention of attending members of the local branch of the League of Nations Non-Partisan Association includes secretary Mary Julia Workman and her brother, William H. Workman, Jr.

The American Association for International Cooperation arose in June 1922 from the encouragement of the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America and its Commission on International Justice and Goodwill.  The expressed purpose of the Commission was to be “a popular non-partisan association to unite all believers in American cooperation for World Peace through international organization.”

Notably, the aims of the organization include pursuing its ideals whether or not the United States joined the League of Nations.  The concept, however, included support for a “Permanent Court of International Justice” and commissions working on economic and social issues for establishing and maintaining “peaceful international relationships throughout the world.”

Additionally, a principal objective for the organization, which was not explicitly linked to the Council, was seeking a disarmament treaty, with an emphasis on non-partisan and apolitical attitudes toward that end “keeping them on the lofty plane on which they were formulated,” according to the June-July 1922 issue of the Federal Council’s journal.

Robert H. Clarke, former Ventura County Superior Court judge and candidate for U.S. Senate (no relation, evidently, to John H. Clarke), is lambasted for his shifting position on a world court under the League of Nations by the Republican-leaning Times, 18 July 1926.

Then, there was the League of Nations Non-Partisan Committee, which had a more focused objective of raising popular support for America’s admission to the League of Nations.  Formed in late 1922, the Committee had as its president and public face, former U.S. Supreme Court John H. Clarke, who’d retired from the court after six years on the bench in September and then “took steps to launch a movement for the League,” according to a mid-December article in the New York Times.

Clarke was quoted as saying that he wanted to form an organization that was comprised of Democrats and Republicans, as well as non-partisans to work for “a minimum of modifications of the Covenant of the League on which we can all unite.”  Another major player in the new Committee was Hamilton Holt, who was “the representative of the League to Enforce Peace” at the Paris conference in 1919 and who was executive director of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation and president of the Woodrow Wilson Democracy organization.

By the time the Committee began a formal organization, it was decided to merge with the American Association for International Cooperation under the name of the League of Nations Non-Partisan Association, with the formal coupling taking place on 10 January 1923.  Soon, a branch of the Association was opened in Los Angeles and among its officers was Secretary Mary Julia Workman.

The_Los_Angeles_Times_Sun__Jul_18__1926_ (1).jpg
Clarke’s letter to J. Perry Wood, state president of the Association, about the world court was “in possession of Miss Mary Workman, secretary of the association” in its Southern California branch.

Workman was a great-niece of Homestead owners William and Nicolasa Workman and the eldest daughter of William Henry Workman and Maria Boyle.  Her father was a major political figure in Los Angeles, serving on the Board of Education, City Council, as mayor during the peak years in 1887-88 of the great Boom of the Eighties, as a parks commissioner and, finally, as city treasurer from 1901-1907.  Workman was a rare example of a woman in the Workman and Temple families who had a prominent public life and role.

A twenty-year kindergarten teacher, she also worked extensively in settlement houses, which were created in the late nineteenth and early twenties centuries to provide services to immigrants, who were coming to America in huge numbers.  Jane Addams’ Hull House in Chicago was the best-known example and, in Los Angeles, Workman was associated from about 1901 to 1920 with Brownson House in Boyle Heights, which was founded in the mid-1870s by her father and partners John Lazzarovich and Isaias W. Hellman and named for her grandfather, Andrew Boyle.  Brownson House is still operating in the neighborhood under the aegis of Catholic Charities of Los Angeles, Inc, formerly the Catholic Welfare Bureau.

Mary Julia Workman
Mary Julia Workman (1871-1964), circa 1920s.

Workman was also an officer of the Alliance of Social Agencies, the Municipal League, the National Conference of Catholic Women and its local offshoot, the Council of Catholic Women, and was the first layperson in Los Angeles to receive a commendation from the Pope, when she was honored in 1926.  While her brother, Boyle, was president of the City Council, she was appointed by Mayor George Cryer to the municipality’s Civil Service Commission, serving as its president in 1927-1928.

She had an interest in native American issues; was concerned with the treatment of Japanese Americans interned in camps during World War II; worked on race-related and labor issues; worked for the 1938 recall of Mayor Frank Shaw; and served on the National Council of Christians and Jews.

Her biographer, Michael Engh, wrote of her that “the breadth of her interests and the length of her commitment place her in the forefront of noted women reformers in Los Angeles in the first half of the twentieth century” and observed that “few advances in social welfare in Los Angeles failed to attract her careful review and active support.”  Workman died in 1964 at age 93, active in social issues until nearly the end.

League of Nations Non Partisan Assn letter 21May1926
This 21 May 1926 letter in the Homestead’s collection is from Guy E. Marion of the Chamber of Commerce to Mary Julia Workman and refers to his receiving data from her on the League of Nations Non-Partisan Association for the chamber’s files.

The highlighted artifact from the Homestead’s collection in today’s post is a letter to Workman from Guy E. Marion, manager of the research department of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce.  The chamber was a powerful institution in the promotion of the region during the era and that is visually reflected in the very impressive vignette on the letterhead.

The image shows Los Angeles Harbor (now the Port of Los Angeles) accompanied by a motto of “The Open Gateway to the Orient” with the metropolitan area, including the downtown area at the left and the industrial section to its southeast (complete with belching smokestacks) at the right.  Flanking this neatly arranged, if somewhat artificially constructed, scene are other oft-used chamber mottos, including “Los Angeles: Nature’s Workshop” and “Largest City in the Western Americas.”  A listing of officers and directors, as well as the general manager/secretary and assistant secretary are also included.

The letter’s content is perfunctory:  Marion was acknowledging receipt of information about the local branch of the Association to be entered into the chamber’s files on community organizations and informing Workman that a request for updates would be sent out in early 1927.

Times, 17 December 1928.

As for the Association, it did hold events, usually lectures by promoters of the organization’s aims, including lectures.  Visits from luminaries like Clarke, Harvard Law School professor and League of Nations secretary Manley Hudson, and Yale professor of politics and law Irving Fisher were covered in the press.  So, too, was an interesting dust-up surrounding the U.S. Senate campaign of Ventura County Superior Court Judge Robert M. Clarke (no evident relation to John) and the Association, noted in the Los Angeles Times in July 1926 and concerning his “evolving” views concerning the concept of a “World Court” or the international court referred to above.  In fact, this issue is still a sensitive one for many Americans today with the successor to the League of Nations, the United Nations and its International Court of Justice.

In late 1928, the Southern California branch of the Association (which changed its name the next year to League of Nations Association) celebrated the birthday of Woodrow Wilson, who died four years earlier, but its activities were dwindling as the issue of the League and America’s participation was all but dead.  This condition was cemented by the onset of the Great Depression and the League’s impotence in the face of flourishing fascism in the world as the road to World War II was slowly being plotted out by Hitler and the militarist regime in Japan, while America turned inward into isolationism.  The Association continued to exist, though dormant through the Second World War and it was reconstituted in 1946 as the United Nations Association of the United States of America.

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