The Summing Up of All Parts Postview: “Let Us Insist That Our World be Organized Under a Reign of Law”: Mary Julia Workman and the League of Nations, 1923-1945

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Yesterday afternoon’s “The Summing Up of All Parts” presentation on the Workman and Temple family was half summation of some of the more interesting aspects of their story during our interpretive period of 1830-1930 and the other looking at family members after 1930, with an emphasis on Thomas W. Temple II and his historical and genealogical work, Boyle Workman and his book The City That Grew and “elder statesman” status when it came to Los Angeles history, and Mary Julia Workman and her manifold projects and activities over more than three decades until her death at age 93 in 1964.

This “postview” follows one last night that focused on a sharp rebuttal offered by Mary Julia and her brothers, William H., Jr. and Thomas, to a couple of journalists with the Los Angeles Daily News in a July 1949 feature they wrote about the mob chieftain Mickey Cohen in which they had some less-than-favorable comments to make about the founders and early residents of Boyle Heights, where Cohen grew up.

This, it turns out, was not the only run-in Mary Julia had with the paper, which was owned and edited by Manchester Boddy, whose association with it began in 1926, three years after it was launched as the Los Angeles Illustrated Daily News by Cornelius Vanderbilt III, and then included his acquisition of the sheet the following year.

Los Angeles Post-Record, 16 January 1935.

Notably, Boddy was a Republican in those years, but came to be a strong supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal policies during the Great Depression and became a Democrat. Still, he had some views that clashed with those of long-time, die-hard Democrats like Mary Julia Workman, including some aspects of foreign policy, and this forms the basis for the bulk of this post, which examines Workman’s long-time interest in world affairs, including her full-throated support for the League of Nations.

A prior post here highlighted, from the Museum’s collection, a May 1926 letter from a Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce official to Workman in her capacity as secretary of the Southern California branch of the League of Nations Non-Partisan Association. This was a group that sought to garner support for the international arbitration organization despite the fact that the United States elected not to join in, even though the concept of the League was formulated by President Woodrow Wilson after the end of the First World War as a way to prevent another such global conflict.

Workman was elected secretary of the branch a year after its formation in 1923 and remained in that position through its life span of two decades, and, in 1929, was elected to the advisory board of the national organization. One prominent example concerning the League occurred during the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in late 1935 when Workman told the Los Angeles Record, which was absorbed by Boddy’s paper that year, that the local branch cabled the Geneva headquarters of the league with the hope that it “will stand firm” in supporting its principles in the conflict.

Post-Record, 14 December 1935.

With England and France, the dominant members, hesitant to anger Italy’s Fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, the foreign secretary of Britain and the French foreign minister hatched a plan to divide Ethiopia and placate Mussolini, who, however, had no intention of accepting anything less than a full conquest—significantly motivated by the humiliating defeat Italy suffered in its first invasion of Ethiopia in 1896. The peace plan foundered and Italy, despite League sanctions that appeared to be working prior to the British-French plan, went on to conquer the East African nation, one of only two (the other being Liberia) not colonized to that date.

The League’s weakness in the Ethiopia debacle, which came several years after the Japanese invasion and conquest of Chinese Manchuria, all but doomed it, especially as an emboldened Adolf Hitler formed an axis pact with Mussolini in March 1936 and Japan soon joined. With the United States becoming increasingly isolationist and the Second World War on the horizon and the League effectively was degraded to the point of near irrelevancy.

In its edition of 31 January 1938, the Daily News‘s “R.R.K.” in his “Yesterday and Tomorrow” editorial column noted that the attempts of China to secure sanctions from the League against Japan were met with tepid responses that meant that the exchange constituted “the first shovelful of earth into the grave that holds the cadaver of the League of Nations.”

Los Angeles Times, 22 September 1939. This was three weeks after the Nazi invasion of Poland which ushered in World War II.

R.R.K. lambasted those in England and France who still lamented the absence of the United States as a League member by averring that “there is nothing American about the League. Moreover, he ridiculed the idea of such an organization in its naïve belief that there “national and, in fact, individual virtues that our civilization does not possess.”

Citing the “despoliation of Ethiopia and China,” the columnist observed that “there is no escape from the evils which spring from innate vices of the human heart’ and he continued that “notwithstanding all the piffle of polite words and neo-humanitarianism,” the reality was simply that powerful nations would feed upon weak countries and “that obvious truth . . . is the most convincing argument for adequate military equipment for the nations that sincerely desire to live at peace within the laws of God and man.”

In his 9 February column, R.R.K. began his column with “because I have a deep respect for her public spirit so consistently displayed in local, state and national affairs, I am sorry to differ with Miss Mary Workman about anything, but chivalry balks at die-hard advocacy of that noblest, albeit most delusive and unsubstantial of all the world’s lost causes, to-wit: the League of Nations.” Affirming that he held out hope for some mechanism by which war could be averted and prevent humanity from engineering its own self-destruction, the writer added “let me first present the case of the League, as ably, if a little tartly, presented by Miss Workman in the missive, hot from the mail bag.”

Los Angeles Daily News, 31 January 1938.

Workman opened her letter by decrying R.R.K.’s “cruel, unfair and even historically incorrect” column and rued the “hopeless task” of responding, especially because she felt “the door of your mind is closed; shall I say be prejudice?” Having admired the columnist’s perspectives on domestic matters, though, she had hopes that “there is a crevice somewhere through which the light of another viewpoint might penetrate.”

Workman asserted that the claims about the League not being an American concept and that Wilson’s leadership was lacking were easily countered by the fact that the United States had key roles in peace conferences at The Hague in The Netherlands in 1899 and 1907, as well as the League to Enforce Peace which existed prior to the First World War. She added:

Let us bear in mind that the League of Nations was meant to be a means, and only a means, whereby nations may come together, and may develop mutual understanding, may collaborate for the just and rational solution of world problems and for the more effective promotion of human welfare. If nations do not use this means for the organizing of international life, it is not the fault of the means, but of those who do not use it.

The selfishness that R.R.K. cited was, Workman averred, just as present in local environments and, yet, “we keep right on trying to build and to improve our instrumentalities of government,” including legislatures and courts. If these fail, she went on, they aren’t abandoned so that we “revert to the old anarchy of every man for himself, every man a judge in his own case.”

Daily News, 9 February 1938.

In fact, we preserve “the institutions of civilization” to maintain order and progress and, in he international sphere, “international justice and peace” can only be attained by the methods which develop and keep those governing bodies and courts. Given this, Workman wondered why R.R.K. was willing to “take satisfaction in announcing that the League of Nations is ‘dead.'”

In fact, if such an organization was to come to an end, that should be a reason to mourn as “it would mean that mankind had ceased to strive for an orderly and just international life” and that there would be “a reversion to the old era of imperialistic conquest . . . to the old doctrine of might makes right; to all the old ways which have brought war and disaster down the centuries.”

Echoing George Santayana’s famous dictum, Workman observed that we can’t atone for and fix the mistakes of the past by repeating them now and she certainly hoped for “constructive policies in the present, but “we must have a ‘New Deal’ internationally and the League of Nations is the best means, yet proposed, to that end.” She ended with the wish that R.R.K. “will not bury the League too soon.”

Daily News, 9 February 1938.

In his rejoinder, the columnist exclaimed, “it is a work of supererogation [that is, beyond the call of duty] to bury the League, Miss Workman!” That was already accomplished by those “with doubtful disingenuousness” who “tried vainly to give it the breath of life.” Allowing for “honest people like you,” R.R.K. bluntly called the premise behind the organization “a myth, for, alas, the problems of the world are in the hands of politicians, not of honest people.”

He also insisted that the idea behind the League was not American and reminded Workman that the United States’ refusal to become a member at the outset reflected the fact that “the wisdom of our people has been amply established in the miserable failure” of the organization and its intents to, using Workman’s words, “organize international life,” “develop mutual understandings,” or “promote human welfare.”

The impotence of the League, of course, continued until World War II was brought to bear by the Nazi invasion of Poland a year-and-a-half later in September 1939. It continued to exist in name only during that horrific six-year conflict, but, as the Allies edged toward victory by the end of 1944, Workman penned an essay in the Los Angeles Roman Catholic newspaper The Tidings titled “World Organization Imperative To Peace.”

The Tidings, 15 December 1944.

She began by noting that

It is imperative of our time that the world be organized if we are to hope for the progressive attainment of justice and peace in the relation of nations; if we hope to prevent recurrent world wars; if we desire the right solution of world problems; if we wish moral principles t become operative in international life. The alternative to international organization is international anarchy.

Workman added that technological advances were such that they “have annihilated time and distance” and human interdependence was more developed than ever. The two world wars showed that “isolation is a myth” and no country could fare successfully on its own, including the fact that “oceans are highways, they are no longer safeguards against invasions”—soon, she could have added that jet streams functioned that way, as well.

She cited Pope Benedict XV as approving the League of Nations when it was established after the Frist World War, while the current pontiff, Pius XII supported an international organization to mediate disputes between nations. Workman lionized Wilson for giving his life in pursuit of the formation of the League and added “that effort will now prove to be useful in the building of the world organization that is to be.”

The Tidings, 15 December 1944.

She asserted that the quarter century of the existence of the League and its affiliated entities, including the World Court and the International Labor Organization, including accomplishments and failures were filled with experiences that “will all be serviceable.” Turning to the new organization, she cautioned that it had to be given time to develop and would not be an end, but a means, and that it “will develop rightly only by wise and conscientious usage.” Any failures would be attributable to the people involved, not the organization.

Workman warned that the key to success was “the fundamental moral principles that should be the basis” and which would lead to “the perfecting of the means whereby these principles may fin application in the international life of today,” but that buttressing these was “a constructive attitude.”

Daily News, 10 August 1945.

She also counseled that, while it was tempting to, as in 1920, seek “normalcy” through isolation and a retreat from involvement in international affairs, doing so meant “we shall find ourselves again winning a war and losing a peace.” In concluding, Workman implored,

No matter how much we wish surcease from sacrifice entailed by the war, let us determine this time that we shall persevere in the face of all possible discouragement, and let us insist that our world be organized under a reign of law supported by the united action of the nations including our own.

The United Nations was formed, with full American participation and the establishment of its headquarters in New York City, in October 1945. The local chapter of the League of Nations Association then transformed into the Southern California Council of the American Association for the United Nations.” Workman considered her involvement in the reformed organization through at least 1954, including serving as chair of a regional high school contest comprising essays about international affairs.

North Hollywood Valley Times, 21 June 1954.

The emphasis that Mary Julia Workman placed on international issues and world affairs was one of the more important pursuits of hers in the last 30 or so years of her life, which ended in 1964 when she died at the age of 93. She was generally best remembered for her social work with the Brownson House and its settlement and Americanization efforts, but Workman had a diverse portfolio of causes she espoused and deserves recollection for them, as well.

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