The second of three daughters, third
of four children, Jessie was born in Brooklyn, New York to Margaret and Samuel
Hughan. Her father was born in England to a Scottish family and came to New York
in 1863. Her mother's English, Scottish, and French heritage family had come to
the United States in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Jessie, attended grammar school on Staten Island and then went on to Northfield
Seminary in Massachusetts. She enrolled in Barnard College in 1894 and with three
fellow students in 1898 founded the nationwide sorority Alpha Omicron Pi, whose
mascot is the Panda bear, color is cardinal, flower is the Jacquiminot Rose, and
gem is the ruby.
Jessie earned her A.B. in 1898 with the thesis "Recent Theories of Profits",
a forerunner of her 1932 poetry collection "The Challenge of Mars and Other
Verses". Her study of economics continued at Columbia University where
she pursued the family interest in the single tax theory, and wrote a thesis entitled
"The Place of Henry George in Economics" (1899) For her doctoral
thesis she chose the subject of socialism and in 1907 became a socialist "by conviction
and not merely by emotion". In 1910 she received her Ph.D. for the dissertation
"The Present Status of Socialism in America". Jessie began a teaching
career at schools in Naugatuck, Connecticut and White Plains, New York. She went
on to teach in Brooklyn, and a series of public high schools throughout New York.
In the 1920's she chaired the English Department at Textile High School and was
then in charge of the Cooperative Annex.
Jessie tried running for public office several times starting in 1915 when she
became candidate for Alderman in New York on the Socialist ticket. In 1918, she
ran for Secretary of State. In 1920 she ran for Lieutenant Governor and in 1924
for United States Senator. None of her campaigns were successful, but her belief
was that the Socialist vote was not a waste because it placed pressure on the
winning party to grant some Socialist reforms.
After the beginning of World War I, Jessie along with three other women founded
the "Anti-Enlistment League". The object was to have people declare themselves
opposed to war and military service in support of the war. The group felt there
was a need for pacifist organizations to counter balance the American leanings
toward entering the war. She became a charter member of the FOR (Fellowship of
Reconciliation), a Christian pacifist organization in 1915. Although she was warned
in 1917 that her antiwar feelings might result in her dismissal from the school
system, Jessie stood firm. The "Lusk Certificate of Character and Loyalty" had
been denied to her for years because she had ADDED to her teachers oath of loyalty
"This obedience being qualified always by dictates of conscience."
After the war, she held on to pacifist convictions and formed, in 1922, a "Committee
for Enrollment Against War". In 1923, she managed to get the people of FOR, the
Women's Peace Union, and the Women's Peace Society together to form the War Resisters
League. She became secretary until 1945. Through the 20's and 30's, Jessie promoted
socialism and pacifism and encouraged participation in "No More War" parades.
In 1938 she helped found the United Pacifist Committee, a group that coordinated
peace education and conscientious objectors. In 1940 she founded the Pacifist
Teachers League. She was one of the first to take a stand against the government
when Civilian Public Service Camps were established, where the objectors were
forced to work without pay. Greatly bothered by rumors of Nazi plans for the destruction
of Germany's Jews during WWII, she pushed for immediate armistice and predicted
that, without it, millions would be killed.
Retiring from teaching in 1945, Jessie remained active in the WRL and served on
the executive committee until she died at her Manhatten home in 1955. That December
(probably on her birthday) there was a memorial meeting held for her at which
the "Jessie Wallace Hughan Memorial Fund" was begun for publishing works to promote
the cause of peace.
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